This article was published in the FALL 2013 issue of CRIMSON MAGAZINE, The Magazine of the TIDE NATION Volume 5 Number 2
"This is the beginning of a new day.
has given me this day to use as I will.
I can waste it or use it for good.
What I do today is important as I am
exchanging a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever.
Leaving something in its place I have traded for it.
I want it to be a gain, not loss--good, not evil.
Success, not failure,
in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for
a poem found in Coach
Bryant’s wallet on the day of his death
On Wednesday, September 11, 2013, Bama fans around the world will celebrate the
centennial of Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's birth. Everyone else will
also have an opportunity to commemorate this important anniversary with the
premiere of a documentary and the publication of a coffee table book dedicated
to our beloved coach's life. The Bryant Museum will open a new exhibit by
holding a reception and many of the authors who have written Bryant books will
be in attendance. Although these events are significant they really can't
compare to the last time Alabama football celebrated a centennial.
In 1992, Bama saluted 100 years of Alabama football. The music group ALABAMA
kicked it all off on A Day with a big concert in Bryant-Denny. There was a
black tie gala hosted by ABC-TV announcer Keith Jackson at the civic center in
Birmingham honoring THE TEAM OF THE CENTURY and to cap off the successful sales
of CENTURY OF CHAMPIONS commemorative calendars, Daniel Moore prints, card
sets, limited edition books, audio tapes and video collections, the University
of Alabama football team went out and won the first ever SEC Championship game,
creamed Miami 34 to 13 in the Sugar Bowl and won the National Championship.
Let's all hope some of that centennial success from '92 rubs off on this ‘13
team and THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT OF THE MIGHTY CRIMSON TIDE makes history once
again this season and the Bear Bryant Centennial ends appropriately with Bama
winning an unprecedented three National Championships in a row and breaks the
"three in a row" jinx that plagued Bama teams in 1927, 1966 and 1980.
Back in 1892, the inaugural season of Crimson
Tide football, Amos Alonzo Stagg, the man whose record for most college
football wins would stand until November 28, 1981 when Coach Bryant broke it
with a 28-17 defeat of Auburn, joined the faculty at the University of Chicago
and became the first person in human history to be hired and paid to be a
college football coach. Right off the bat, Stagg understood that college
football was a coach’s game and a highly successful and lucrative spectator
sport. Stagg recognized that discipline and order put points on the board and
he also understood that the best way to promote a great university was by
fielding a championship football squad.
It took Bama a few years to figure out how to
build a championship football program but in 1912, the year before Coach
Bryant’s birth, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees hired Dr. George
“Mike” Denny as University President and the rest is history. Dr. Denny had
served as head football coach at Hampden-Sydney College in the late 1890s and
recognized the game’s potential to contribute to both the enrollment and the
actual physical expansion of the Alabama campus. During Dr. Denny’s tenure,
Bama appeared in four Rose Bowl games and the first section of the stadium was
constructed and named in his honor. Paul “Bear” Bryant played in the 1935 Rose
Bowl and helped Bama claim another national championship during the last year
of Dr. Denny’s tenure.
This season our team will pursue its 16th
national championship as Bama celebrates the centennial of Coach Bryant’s
birth. The 52 years that elapsed between the time Paul Bryant arrived on campus
in 1931 until the day he passed away in 1983 represent almost half of the history
of the team and Coach Bryant had a significant impact upon almost every year of
that half century of Alabama football. Various authors have focused upon the
forces which shaped Coach Bryant’s formative years and led him from his
birthplace in Smith Chapel, Arkansas on the Cleveland County side of Morro
Creek to the University of Alabama on the south bank of the Black Warrior River
but no writer has ever discovered the secret to Coach Bryant’s winning formula
and his charismatic mystique.
Of all the authors of Bear Bryant books, John
Underwood has come the closest to giving us a blueprint of the man who would do
so much to put Bama back on top of the college football world. By turning on
his tape recorder and asking the right questions, Underwood preserved for us to
this day the impressions Coach Bryant wanted to leave with those who would
study him in the future. As he described growing up in Southeast Arkansas,
Bryant measured the milestones in his early life by recalling major media
events like the 1925 Floyd Collins’ Sand Cave disaster or Professor Snook’s
Ohio State coed murder in the summer of 1929 or the radio broadcast of Alabama’
24-0 shutout of Washington State in the 1931 Rose Bowl. How ironic that many of
the conversations Underwood had with Bryant would be recorded while they were
sitting beside the swimming pool of Golden Flake founder Sloan Bashinsky’s
estate on Lower Matecumbe Key. As a sponsor of the Bear Bryant Show, Bashinsky
was partly responsible at the time for producing Bryant’s “Sundays at 4”
broadcast replay of each Bama game. The program became one of the most highly
rated syndicated television shows in America where Coach Bryant established the
powerful bond between himself and all those proud mamas and papas and hometowns
across Alabama where most of his players and fans would be recruited. That big
old Arkansas plowboy certainly left the mules and the piney woods behind for
good and he sure did learn some city ways right quick and by the time he took
over the Alabama program, Golden Flake and Coca-Cola allowed him to become a
master at utilizing the most powerful mass media tool of his day: the
In a recent article about his football career
and his present work with the Episcopal Church, former Crimson Tide lineman
Colenzo Hubbard described the Bryant magic:
“Then Coach Hennessy said,’ Coach Bryant thinks
you can do it.’ Because Coach Bryant thought that. It gave me this supernatural
energy. I worked twice as hard to learn the position. I could not let Coach
Bryant down if he had that much confidence in me.”
There's a great Bear Bryant
story where all his assistant coaches are laid up in the Foster Auditorium
ticket office early one morning right after Bama won their first National
Championship under the leadership of the Bear. The coaches are back on campus
but they're still celebrating. The students haven’t returned from Christmas
holidays, Coach Bryant is up in his office and the whole crew is relaxing on
the ticket office furniture; feet propped up, smoking cigars and laughing about
how they'd showed the whole country what real football was by whipping Arkansas
on national television and in front of over 85,000 people in the Sugar Bowl on
New Years Day 1962. A 48-year-old Paul Bryant comes through the door and nobody
even gets a chance to grin. BAM! He starts kicking ankles and knocking heads.
"GET UP, GO TO WORK & LET'S WIN ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP!"
The Bear Bryant Centennial
is a once in a lifetime opportunity to focus public attention upon this
national icon and the cultural phenomenon that his life represents.
The people who knew Coach
Bryant best are sadly no longer with us. One of his best friends, Julian
Lackey, passed away just a few months after Coach Bryant did in 1983 and Mary
Harmon went to her grave the next year. Mae Martin passed on in 1988. It’s been
over a decade since John Forney and Coach Ken Donohue departed us. Louise
Goolsby, the last living of his 12 brothers and sisters, passed away in 2004
and Charley Thornton the same year. Sloan Bashinsky expired the next year. We lost Coach Dude Hennessey and Jimmy
Hinton in 2011. Last year Coach Clem Gryska and Billy Varner both died and we
just lost Coach Moore this year.
After the passing of the
years, Coach Bryant’s success story will almost seem mythical and soon his
accomplishments will be reduced to an abstraction on the cultural landscape of
America. We can use this celebration to emphasize the need to preserve the
cultural resources associated with this “legend in his own time” and to stress
the importance of passing an accurate picture of Coach Bryant’s life down to
Most of the folks reading this article consider
Paul William Bryant to be the greatest college football coach who ever lived.
He experienced unprecedented success in his field of endeavor but in retrospect
he may be remembered today as a man who coached a little too long and who did
not live long enough. The last chapter of his life should cause each of us to
reflect upon just how does one get off this big old rusty hamster wheel of life
when the time comes to retire.
Consider Coach Bryant’s words in this
excerpt from former Michigan Coach Shembechler’s autobiography, BO :
"Bo, I don't wanna go back to the office. I
don't wanna recruit one more kid. I don't wanna coach anymore."
…"You are going to find this out someday. I hired 47 people at the
University of Alabama athletic department. If I quit what happens to them? What
happens to those assistant coaches and office people and all of them that I
brought in here? ... Here's what. They're out in the cold. The new guy will
replace them. Now how can I do that to them? ... You'll face that someday, Bo.
You will. And, damn it, I hope you are smart about."
As we consider the mythic spirit and great
legacy of Coach Bryant during this centennial year, it is a bit disconcerting
that we began the year with our star quarterback feeling comfortable enough to
tell al.com’s Izzy Gould, “I was never an Alabama fan. I don’t know the
history, at all.” And concerning Coach Bryant, he said,” I heard he was tough
to play for.” These statements,
published two days before the national championship game with Notre Dame in the
Orange Bowl, produced headlines like: A.J. McCARRON DOESN’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT
ALABAMA’S HISTORY OR BEAR BRYANT and AJ McCARRON SAID HE WAS NEVER AN ALABAMA
FAN AND DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT BEAR BRYANT. Maybe, in the future, A.J. should
either avoid Izzy Gould or discuss statements such as these with his media
consultant before making them because this ain’t exactly the best way to endear
yourself with some of the most loyal and passionate football fans in this
country. AJ ought to take a few precious moments out of his extremely valuable
time, walk across the street from the football complex, and take an extended
tour of the BEAR BRYANT CENTENNIAL exhibit in the Bryant Museum before he
begins this historically significant season.
100 years ago September 11, Coach Bryant was
born a hungry Arkansas country boy who lived his first eleven years in a small
house located on a wagon trail that didn’t even have a bridge over the creek
you had to cross in order to get to town. When he died 69 years later, the
police closed 55 miles of the eastbound lanes of two major interstate highways
for his funeral and not a single car was seen in the westbound lanes heading
from Birmingham toward Tuscaloosa. Every westbound motorist voluntarily pulled
over onto the side of the road out of respect for THE BEAR. Let us dedicate
this football season to the celebration of THE BEAR BRYANT CENTENNIAL and to
the commemoration of the accomplishments of A TRUE GIANT OF THE GAME as our
MIGHTY CRIMSON TIDE pursues another national championship.
This article was published in the September-October issue of PANAMA CITY LIVING MAGAZINE Volume 8 Number 5
ROADHOUSE BLUES AT THE OLD DUTCH:
Good Time Memories That Last A Lifetime
And just a few you might want to forget…
“Yeah, keep your eyes on the road,
Your hands upon the wheel.
Keep your eyes on the road,
Your hands upon the wheel.
Yeah, we’re going to the Roadhouse.
We’re gonna have a real
~ ROADHOUSE BLUES by The Doors
The Old Dutch was the first bar ever built on Panama City
Beach and for thirty five years, from 1940 until 1975, billed itself as “The
Oldest Recreation and Pleasure Center On The Beach” and was the first on
“America’s Finest Beach” to advertise to the public to “Eat, Drink, Dance &
Make Merry In The Cool Gulf Breezes.” By the 1960s, the kitchen had all but
closed except for short orders and the old bar and dance hall had gained fame
as a Spring Break and summer vacation destination for college students all over
the Deep South. In the words of Wilbur Walton, Jr.,” It was a Mecca for
dancing, fighting and music; like the Wild West but without the guns.” Simply
mention the three words “The Old Dutch” to most any aging Baby Boomer who went
to college in the Deep South during the Sixties and you’ll put a smile on their
face. There are exceptions to that rule as well. Many a relationship met a
premature end in the alcoholic excesses that characterized The Old Dutch.
you walked into the barroom of The Old Dutch, you felt as if you’d just stepped
into a rustic Florida roadhouse time capsule lifted out of some Forties film
noir classic. The bare cypress log walls were covered with various clocks,
curios and stuffed hunting and fishing trophies; all crowned with a high
ceiling of exposed rough cypress beams. As you entered you faced a huge stone
fireplace, constructed from 113 tons of rock that could burn logs five feet
long. The anchor of the old 160 ft. coastal freighter, Tarpon,
sunk off Phillips Inlet in 1937, stood mounted on the mantelpiece. To the left
was the unpolished bar made of cypress lumber and blackened by the tobacco and
whiskey it had dispensed since 1940. Not only did The Old Dutch offer its
hospitality to the Sixties college student but it had done the same thing for
their grandparents in the Forties and for their parents in the Fifties.
story of The Old Dutch began over 75 years ago when Sylvan Beach, New York’s
Frank Burghduff pulled his “palatial” nineteen-and-a-half foot mahogany and
steel travel trailer down Highway 98 for the first time and fell in love with
Bay County’s beaches during the winter of 1936-’37. Burghduff and his wife,
Etta, parked at the newly opened Sea Breeze Hotel near the Y. They made their
headquarters in this first hotel on the beach to offer hot and cold running
water and began meeting “the powers that be” in the St. Andrews Bay area.
could not have chosen a more perfect time to arrive on the soon-to-be Miracle
Strip than in the winter of 1936-’37. On the Panama City beaches time scale,
this was equivalent with the “End of The Ice Age”. The Phillips Inlet Bridge
had been recently completed in ’35, finally opening the Coastal Highway. J.B.
Lahan had begun development of his Laguna Beach and Gid Thomas held his grand
opening for his Panama City Beach on May 2, 1936. When the Coastal Highway
Association was formed a few years later, Burghduff was recognized for his
pioneering achievements to promote tourism and was elected secretary while only
two other men were selected to represent the interest of the beaches: A.W.
Pledger who was the son-in-law of deceased Panama City Beach founder Gid Thomas
and J.E. Churchwell, the owner of Long Beach Resort.
returned to the beaches in the winter of ’37-’38 and by 1939, after purchasing
a piece of beachfront from Wells, Dunn, Hutchison, Bullock & Bennett, was
ready to begin fulfilling his dream of building a one-of-a-kind beachside roadhouse.
Unfortunately, while construction of The Old Dutch was underway, Burghduff’s
wife, Etta, whose family was also from the Lake Oneida, N.Y. area, developed a
partial paralysis and passed away in September after being transported to a
hospital in Dothan. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery along with Frank where
both of their grave markers bear similar inscriptions, “Etta Burghduff -Wife
& Pal” and “Frank Burghduff-Husband & Pal”.
the summer season of 1940 commenced, The Old Dutch opened its newly constructed
doors for the first time but with little fanfare. The first advertisement we
find in the News-Herald is printed on September 28, 1940, inviting “Panama City
Folks” to come out to the beach for “low winter prices” and listing “Special
Meals, Cocktail to Dessert 75 cents, Seafood Grille 45 cents, Real Italian
Spaghetti 35 cents, Western Steaks $1, $1.25, $1.50” This ad is significant
because it’s the first time a Bay County restaurant ever advertised “Western
Steaks”. At this time, the Florida cattle industry was in its infancy and most
Americans considered Florida beef inferior and only good for the Cuban market.
November of 1940, Burghduff began to purchase small ads in the local papers
promoting weekend floor shows but his publicity machine really cranked up in
December when he began broadcasting a short Friday afternoon program on radio
station WDLP which was still in its first year of existence. Among the first to
appear on this radio show promoting The Old Dutch was Neal McCormick and his
Hawaiian Troubadours. McCormick, a Northwest Florida Creek Indian who had never
even visited Hawaii, felt that the Hawaiian label went along well with his
band’s pioneering use of the electric and steel guitars plus discrimination
against Hawaiians was far less in the Deep South than it was against Indians.
McCormick was the first to hire Hank Williams as a musician and there’s a good
chance that a seventeen-year-old Hank Williams played with the Hawaiian
Troubadours during the first New Years Eve show ever put on at The Old Dutch in
first hint that there was going to be trouble in paradise for Burghduff
occurred when a short comment was printed in a gossip column that appeared on
the editorial page of the Panama City Pilot on Friday, July 18, 1941. In “Our Town: Off the Record Bits and
Views”, we read, “Apparently the sheriff’s office is going quietly about
investigating the $700 burglary of
Old Dutch Tavern last weekend. That office has a habit of going quietly about a
good many things.” Not only was Burghduff missing his proceeds from the July 4
holiday but before Christmas, he ran an ad announcing to the public that they
needed to “make reservations now for your Christmas party and New Years party”.
Also included was the first of many more to come announcements of a change in
management. The Old Dutch was now being run by Maud B. Meyers of the “Exclusive
Spinning Wheel of Virginia, Specializing in Southern Fried and Bar-b-cued
Chicken and Seafood.” More importantly, 1941 ushered in something far greater
than a change of management. It brought WWII to the beaches.
war with Germany put many Bay County tongues to wagging about the tavern keeper
at the beach with the “German” name. In January, Burghduff had to take out a
large ad in the News-Herald denying the “false and damnable rumors” about him
being picked up by the FBI on several occasions because he was a Nazi spy with
a short-wave radio. He declared his
pride in his “Dutch blood” and emphasized, “I AM AN AMERICAN CITIZEN 100%”.
big ads in the local paper could not reverse the changes Burghduff faced on the
home front due to the war effort. The influx of workers at Wainwright Shipyard
and GIs at Tyndall Field could not make up for the fact that pleasure driving
had been made illegal and the Old Dutch being located by the Gulf meant that
all its lights had to be extinguished from sunset to sunrise. Being located ten
miles out of town did not help in a world where everyone had to beg, borrow,
barter and save ration stamps just to get gas and tires so they could go to
work. Even ten buses running up and down the beach from downtown to Sunnyside
twenty hours each day was not enough to prevent Frank from having to repeatedly
run ads throughout 1942 and 1943 declaring that The Old Dutch really was “Open
For Business”. By 1944, the pressure was too much and Burghduff packed up and
sold out to Cliff Stiles, the manager of downtown’s Dixie-Sherman Hotel.
Stiles had arrived in Panama City during the fall of 1938 to take over the Dixie-Sherman
after his hotel chain had purchased it. Stiles owned hotels all over the
Southeast and in 1946, he purchased one of the largest hotels in Birmingham,
The Redmont. Much of the talent that later appeared on the stage of The Old
Dutch would be recruited from the Redmont.
1944 until 1950, not much was heard from The Old Dutch. Stiles kept a low
profile and there were no promotions and no efforts to attract tourists.
Construction on the beach exploded in the late Forties so that brought in business
from the workers and Stiles remodeled the cypress log cabin and began building
a motel around it. During its first ten years, this roadhouse was generally
known as “The Old Dutch Tavern” and, occasionally, “The Old Dutch Inn” but
after 1950, it was known almost exclusively as “The Old Dutch Inn” and by the
mid-Sixties, “The Old Dutch Motel and Nightclub” or, more popularly, as simply,
“The Old Dutch”.
“Gala Opening” of The Old Dutch “under new management” occurred on April 22,
1950. The Joseph brothers out of Birmingham were brought in by Stiles to run
the show and a variety of talent was recruited from the stage of the Redmont as
well as the Joseph brothers own Jack-O-Lantern Club in Birmingham. It is not
within the scope of this article to examine the careers of all the entertainers
who performed on the stage of The Old Dutch but an excellent insight into the
status of show business on the Gulf Coast in the middle of the twentieth
century could be gained from a study of this variety of musicians, dancers,
acrobats and comedians.
management of the Joseph brothers may not have contributed to the events of
June 1952, but the arrest of The Old Dutch Hotel manager for embezzlement
brought Auburn’s H.H. Lambert in as the new proprietor of the “air conditioned”
Old Dutch Inn. Lambert lasted two years on the beach and when he turned in his
keys in September of ’54, he returned to Auburn where he built the War Eagle
Supper Club, an institution that continues to do business in the present day
and which remains, in the words of singer Taylor Hicks, “a true southern
roadhouse” that promotes itself with a slogan that could have been applied to
the Old Dutch in its heyday: “Cold Beer. Hot Rock. Expect No Mercy.”
1957, Stiles had begun selling his old properties while acquiring Holiday Inn
franchises. After building the first Gulfside Holiday Inn on property adjoining
The Old Dutch on the west in ’63, he hired Betty Koehler to manage The Old
Dutch Motel and Nightclub. As The Old Dutch acquired its reputation as the
classic Panama City Beach bar during the Golden Age of Beach Music, Stiles
began to sell his newly constructed Holiday Inns and he ceased to lease out the
roadhouse’s premises to managers. Betty and Cliff worked together and formed a
team that turned The Old Dutch into “a nickel silver plated money baling
dancers continued to perform during the Sixties but the “bread and butter”
performers during the season were rock and roll bands composed of young guys in
their late teens and early twenties. Any dreams they ever had of a summer
filled with sun, surf, sand, beer and bikinis were crushed when they realized
their schedule included at least eight sessions a week and as many as twelve a
week during the week of July 4. Guitar players regularly changed out their
strings every week from the wear that was enhanced by the salt air and sweat.
These young musicians had to be dedicated and determined to show the world that
they were special. During July 4th week, multiple bands were hired and after
1971, live entertainment began every day at noon and went on in continuous four
hour shifts until 4 A.M. in the morning.
was no such thing as a fire code in The Old Dutch and the dance hall often
looked like a smoke filled cavern; packed to the walls, shoulder to shoulder.
More than one musician who played there has made this remark using the same
words, ”I didn’t know you could get that many people in a room.”
grew up fast when you played The Old Dutch. Many a teenage guitar player witnessed
his first striptease act standing behind the stripper while providing her with
the music to which she was dancing. Many of the cocktail waitresses and Go-Go
girls didn’t appreciate male affection and many musicians first witnessed their
first open “display of affection” between a same-sex couple when the waitress’
short-haired “boyfriend” came to pick her up dressed in madras shirt, pressed
khakis and penny loafers. The first time many a Tri-State male saw a woman go
out in public without wearing a bra was at The Old Dutch. To craft your first
fake I.D. and use it to get into The Old Dutch was a Gulf Coast rite of
the summer of ’65, a beach music classic was born on the dance floor of The Old
Dutch. A band from South Alabama called the K-Otics were playing one week and
during their breaks they visited the nearby Old Hickory where the Swingin’
Medallions were performing. The K-Otics loved “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”
and asked the Medallions if they planned to record it. The Medallions said,
”No,” so the K-Otics laid plans to cut the record. Later in the fall, the
Medallions had a change of heart and recorded “Double Shot”. Both the Swingin’
Medallions and the K-Otics released their versions in the spring of ’66. The
K-Otics had a regional hit and the Medallions’ record went national and the
rest is history. Bruce Springsteen called “Double Shot”, “the greatest
fraternity rock song of all time.” Columnist Bob Greene called it “the ultimate
get-drunk-and-throw-up song. You heard it in every juke box in every bar in the
world.” In 1993, Louis Grizzard wrote, ”Even today, when I hear ‘Double Shot of
My Baby’s Love’, it makes me want to stand outside in the hot sun with a
milkshake cup full of beer in one hand and a slightly drenched coed in the
article only scratches the surface on the story of The Old Dutch. Somebody
needs to write a book about this old roadhouse. This is a story that transcends
generations. The events of the four decades when The Old Dutch stood on the
beach would chronicle the emergence of live entertainment on Panama City Beach.
writer will never forget going to see a 60-something guitar player as he lay on
his deathbed in a V.A. hospice. It was 2006 and Greg Haynes had published his
giant thirteen pound book, THE HEEEY BABY DAYS OF BEACH MUSIC, with its 552
pages and 800 images. My friend forced himself out of his drug-induced coma so
he could see the newly published book. He silently gazed at the pictures as I
turned the pages for him. He held himself up as long as he possibly could and
as I turned the page that had the image of The Old Dutch, he said, “Oh, I
remember that place.” Those were his only words and I soon left and a few days
later my friend passed away.
Old Dutch passed away in 1975 due to damage produced by Hurricane Eloise and by
the summer of ’76, it was ready for demolition.
Old Dutch was built on shifting sand, moving each day in countless ways,
reforming thousands of times. The beach itself never stands still yet The Old
Dutch stood for over 35 years serving the migratory hordes of vacationers each
summer. The memories of those excesses of so long ago were made within
alcoholic oblivion but those memories of The Old Dutch are not lost. To my
dying day, I’ll say, ”Oh, I remember that place.”
you can see over 50 images pertaining to THE OLD DUTCH plus some comments.
Anyone who would like to share their reminiscences
or images of The Old Dutch is welcome to contact me at email@example.com
This article was published in the July-August issue of PANAMA CITY LIVING MAGAZINE
Volume 8 Number 4
STAYING ZEN : THE ART OF CHILLIN’ OUT AT THE BEACH
“Mother, Mother Ocean, I’ve heard you call.
Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall.
You’ve seen it all. You’ve seen it all.
Watch the men who rode you
Switch from sail to steam
In your belly you hold the treasures
Few have ever seen.
Most of ‘em dream, most of ‘em dream”
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do
is keep on walking.”
~ Zen proverb
Sometimes in our hectic lives even the most ambitious among
us desire to turn our backs on the daily pursuit of power and success, to leave
the suburban sprawl behind and to embrace the enchanting but unprofitable art
of beachcombing. Like our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors who started
some of the mounds around St. Andrews Bay, we may choose to begin our
intertidal zone scavenger hunt for shells, driftwood or some other part of
Poseidon’s treasure on one of Bay County’s many isolated Gulf front beaches
[see the BAY COUNTY’S BEST GULF BEACHES box in this article] but even if we
don’t get a kick out of having the chance to enjoy Neptune’s blessing by
getting something for nothing, a nice stroll on a peaceful beach is a great
opportunity to decompress in the salt air, to calm your soul , to “give your
head some space” and in the current cultural vernacular, “to stay Zen.”
The word “beachcomber” made its first appearance in print in
Herman Melville’s 1847 book OMOO. Melville used the term to describe unemployed
sailors who foraged along the beaches of Pacific islands for the remains of
shipwrecks. Over the course of the next 166 years, the term has been associated
with deserters, free-loaders, bums, drifters and in some cases, the criminal
class of wreckers who were known to set up false beacon lights to lure ships
onto shoals. Wrecking became such a tradition in the Shetland Islands that
Christian preachers there once included this appeal to the Almighty in their
prayers, ”Lord, if it be thy holy will to send shipwrecks, do not forget our
Well, times have changed and these days it’s not your Mama’s
Not only do we have “Dr. Beach”, “Dr. Beachcomb” and pricey
expeditions that promise “full immersion” within “the beachcombing experience”,
we have the annual International Beachcombing Conference, beachcombing
autobiographies and self-help beachcombing books that “explore self-being”
while bringing a “simplified perspective to beachcombing.” In other words,
BEACHCOMBING, INC. (made up of a variety of shamans, neuroconservationists and
born-again eco-environmentalists who desperately need copy for their next book
or mixed media presentation) is now selling a mixed bag of beachcombing gear
and amazing adventures in unadulterated nature.
Beachcombing is really not a tough sell for the corporate
beachcomber because it’s hard to argue with the joy beachcombing brings
us. A simple walk surrounded by the
beautiful backdrop of shifting sand and shimmering surf, accompanied by the
sounds of rolling waves and shrieking shorebirds, somehow has the magical
ability to transform us, to bring us deep contentment and to return us to
memories of our childhood and our families. In fact, there’s a great deal of
scientific curiosity concerning exactly why the sea has this ability to
suddenly bring us deep contentment. In the midst of the stress of work, smart
phones and deadlines, we often find ourselves daydreaming about our beachcomber
life and find ourselves revisiting our excursions in our imagination.
On just about any beach on Earth, beachcombing takes you
through some really cool nature but Bay County beachcombing has an added bonus
that makes it unique to all of North America. These Gulf front beaches are
absolutely, astonishingly beautiful. When clear water comes in with the tide,
it doesn’t take a trained eye to see the spectacular display of color produced
by sunlight upon the exceeding whiteness of the sandy bottom. Any painter of
landscapes who can concoct the right combination of pigment and is able to get
just some of that beauty down on canvas, deserves to charge a good price for
From the intersection of Highway 98 and Florida Road 386 in
Mexico Beach on the east to the Walton County line in Inlet Beach on the west,
Bay County is blessed with over 40 miles of cherished Gulf-front beaches. Even
though Bay County is only 100 years old, accurate maps of the area have been
available for almost 250 years. During this time the sea has pounded and
flattened this strand of sand many times and over the years, geographical terms
like St. Andrews Island (1766), Crooked Island (1827), Sand Island (1827),
Hummock Island (1827) and Hurricane Island (1855) have come and gone. This is
not the place for a discussion about wave erosion and marine geology but,
suffice it to say, the form and extent of the sandy barrier between the bay and
the Gulf have changed over the years; in fact, there are no true barrier
islands in Bay County anymore, only peninsulas. Even with all this geographical
alteration, high rise condominium construction and urban beach, much of Bay
County’s shoreline remains in the same natural state it was when the Spanish
found it: a quartz white sandy beach with a few scrubby weeds in the dunes.
It’s hard to believe that beachcombing would become a
potentially criminal activity but that’s exactly what we have in our present
day. Everyone knows there’s always been rules and regulations at the beach like
“no dogs”, “no glass containers” or
“walking on sand dunes or sea oats prohibited”, but now we have the threat
of “no shell collecting allowed” or
barriers that keep people from walking on the beach such as closing walkways
that go through the dunes to the beach. The recent events pertaining to the
locked beach walkways at Bid-A-Wee are not the first time this conflict between
the private and public has occurred on our beaches. Bay County has seen the
horrific results that can occur when private property owners become a barrier
between the public and the beach. In the summer of 1930, the owner of Long
Beach Resort decided a great way to limit access to this treasured and limited
public resource was to pistol whip a man the owner claimed was trespassing “on
property of the beach “ when the man decided to relax in the sand just west of
the resort. While his entire family stood by in shock, the “trespasser” not
only was struck against the head repeatedly with a pistol by the Long Beach
owner but was also kicked repeatedly in the groin. This assault resulted in
permanent brain damage and impotence in the “perpetrator” and he ended up
having to be institutionalized in Chattahoochee but not before May 23, 1931,
when someone walked up to the owner of Long Beach Resort as he was getting out
of his car on Highway 98 near St. Andrews and sent him to an early grave with a
load of buckshot in the face.
The bad arrests on Shell Island during the summer of 2006
were amicably resolved but they exposed the erosion of legal principles as old
as the common law itself but you know something’s happening to our right to
walk on the beach in the United States when an agency like the Hawaii Division
of Aquatic Resources issues a standing prohibition that “denies the removal of
any natural artifacts from the public beaches of Hawaii.” Could this type of
regulation be in some Bay County beach’s future? For beachcombers, the hunt for shells, driftwood and artifacts is
as ingrained within us as our own DNA so we bristle when we are permitted to
pick up unoccupied shells but not allowed to take driftwood or sea glass. The
marine resource enforcement bureaucrats who come up with all this “look but
don’t touch” mumbo jumbo, are afraid we might remove an important clue from
some ancient shipwreck blown to shore. So next time you find a gold coin on the
beach fronting Spanish Shanty Cove, feel free to photograph it but make sure
you leave it in the sand the same way as you found it. Always remember that
touching anything on the beach could cause terrible erosion or destroy the
natural oceanfront camouflage so important to insects and shorebirds.
Falling in love again with taking a stroll down a lonely
beach may be the perfect way for each of us to take control of our cluttered
lives. In May of 2013, Cruzan Rum took the “beachcomber lifestyle” as the state
of mind and the way of life they want to brand onto their rum. In their
television commercial, the viewer finds himself adrift within the towering
waves of a stormy sea and hears the announcer say, “You are drowning. You are
literally drowning in a figurative sea of busyness. When…wait! Is that?” The
viewer suddenly sees an island on the screen and hears a greeting from a voice
with a strange accent, ”Welcome! Welcome to the Island of Don’t Hurry where
life never moves too fast and Cruzan Rum flows freely. For two hundred and
fifty years our pastime has been ‘passing time.’ Join us. Come leave your
hurried life behind.”
After introducing you to the National Bird, a rapping parrot
who “can fly but chooses not to” and showing a domesticated tortoise hauling a
cart of rum on the beach, the announcer gives you a preview of the national
sports of “Zero K Runs” and “Sleep Yoga” along with advertisements for “Monkey
Massages”. Then the announcer ends the ad with the words, “Slow down and enjoy
the Don’t Hurry lifestyle wherever you may find it. When you hurry through
life, you just get to the end faster.”
There’s is a tendency to underestimate our experiences
walking the beach. How much is “pretty” worth to you? The value to the elderly
or infirm of their entire life’s catalogue of beach scene memories has not been
accurately calculated but a nice testable hypothesis would be whether pleasant
memories at the beach are a great predictor of late-late-late life
satisfaction. Stay tuned…
BEST GULF BEACHES
#11 City Pier Beach – This spot might have made
Number 11 on our list but this beach is definitely Number 1 when it comes to
memories for the Baby Boomers. This was the location of the old Wayside Park and
the site of countless summer picnics and winter walks on the beach for families
in the 1950s and 60s.
#10 S. Rick Seltzer Park Beach on Thomas Drive – A walk in either
direction introduces you to the Grand Lagoon Peninsula and will lead one to
excellent venues where you can take a break from your travels, relax at a bar
overlooking the beach and enjoy the eye candy.
Pier Beach – A two-mile hike east of here will take you along an urban beach
under the shadows of towering condominiums. This stretch was once the center of
all activity on PCB. Today there are few memories of the “Good Old Days” still
standing but Goofy Golf located across from the pier has stood the test of time
for almost 60 years. Its theme could also stand for Bay County’s beaches: “This
is the Magic World, where the ages of time abide in a garden of serenity, with
perpetual peace and harmony.”
#8 Bid-A-Wee Beach- The locked iron gates on
the walkways are an ugly nuisance but the 1600 feet of unoccupied beaches and
dunes have delighted the entire public since the beginning of time and have
been dedicated “for Park Purposes” since 1938.
#7 Laguna Beach- West of the Panama City
Beach City Limits, this 7/10 mile of dunes and beach is the first on our list
that takes us completely away from the tourist mayhem and traffic gridlock so
choose this beach or one of the next six when you are a little cantankerous and
having problems “staying Zen.”
#6 Sunnyside/Santa Monica Beach- Put ten toes
in the sand and head in either direction. The cares of the world are waiting to
#5 Mexico Beach- The seventeen miles of
beaches between Pinnacle Port and Moonspinner on the west side of the Bay
County seem like they’re light years away when you park your car next to this
roadside slice of paradise located next to the Gulf County line and with the
lack of commercial development, you’ll feel like you just stepped back into the
#4 St. Andrews State Park Beach- Gorgeous
beaches, the jetties and the gateway to Shell Island but it does have one
little disadvantage: an admission charge and the place doesn’t open until 8
o’clock in the morning and closes at dusk. Annual entrance passes can be
purchased each year for $60 but they are only good for you and your car. Your
passengers will be charged two bucks a head.
#3 Phillips Inlet Beach- You may walk to
this beach through Camp Helen State Park and the entrance fee is a little lower
than the one at St. Andrews. An alternative is to drive down Highway 98 a bit
and park at the Inlet Beach Access parking spaces just across the Walton County
line at the end of Orange Street. The beach is only a hundred yards away and
the walk from there to Phillips Inlet is one of the most beautiful in all of
#2 East Crooked Island Beach- This a U.S.
Air Force property but with no gates and no need for paperwork. Be prepared to
show an ID and if you walk over three miles west down this pristine, unoccupied
beach, you might get turned back when they launch one of those drones out into
#1 Shell Island- Bay County’s sparkling
jewel shimmering in its tranquil, watery seclusion. This subtropical paradise
is home to the northern limit of the wild sabal palm tree and even though it
can now be accessed by land via Tyndall, it is still functionally an island.
Tyndall’s portion is called Tyndall Beach and you can visit it if you have the
right kind of paperwork with the Air Force. Leave only footprints. Only trash
This article was published in the MAY-JUNE 2013 issue of PANAMA CITY LIVING MAGAZINE Volume 8 ~ Issue 3
TOLLOFSEN: GRAND LAGOON’S SOLITARY MAN
that I will but until I can find one, a girl who’ll stay and won’t play games
I’ll be what
I am: a solitary man, SOLITARY MAN.”
One day in
1954, Claude Willoughby, hired in ’49 as the first manager of St. Andrews State
Park, stopped by a ramshackle squatter’s cabin built beside the shimmering blue
green waters of Grand Lagoon to check on the condition of the tenant and found
the old man unconscious and sprawled out on the floor. Later that same day, the
state park’s most legendary resident passed away at a local Panama City
hospital; so ended the strange intriguing nautical life of Bay County’s Nordic
version of Robinson Crusoe, Theodore Tollofsen.
By ’54, Theodore,
better known as Teddy, had lived the primitive solitary life of a castaway for
at least 25 years on a spit of sand that is today occupied by one of the most
popular state parks in Florida, attracting almost a million visitors each year.
It certainly wasn’t so crowded when Teddy first showed up, shipwrecked on Grand
Lagoon after a 1929 hurricane. Eighty four years ago, there were no jetties, no
full service marinas, no Thomas Drive, no close neighbors and although Teddy’s
part of Grand Lagoon was only four miles across the bay south of St. Andrews,
it was centuries away from the running water, electricity, telephones and city
sidewalks of Panama City.
There are a
couple of stories about how Teddy and his boat ended up wrecked on the southern
shore of Grand Lagoon but one fact is certainly known: Teddy blamed himself for
the demise of his beloved vessel and to the day he died he would affectionately
pat the decaying wreckage of his boat and, in his heavy Scandinavian accent,
explain to visitors,”The boat wrecked here and so we’ve stayed together.”
months before his death, Teddy must have had a foreshadowing of things to come.
He’d begun selling some of his possessions to visitors and had told Willoughby
about where to find the money he’d stashed in his shack in case he passed away.
Teddy wanted the money to be used for the final expenses associated with his
end of his life vandals and burglars had become occasional visitors to Teddy’s
cabin. The thieves were probably attracted by the nearby abandoned army post at
the jetties that had manned a gun battery at the jetties during WWII to guard
Panama City Inlet. Even with the improvements made by the army during the war, the
jetties area was still not very accessible by land and a four wheel drive
vehicle was necessary to traverse the six miles of dunes that separated the
area from Highway 98. Nevertheless, the army barracks were vandalized and
Teddy’s cabin had been plundered. Teddy believed that a box containing his 1911
U.S. citizenship papers and his U.S. Navy discharge papers from WWI had been
stolen during one of the crimes. For this reason, Teddy never received any form
of a pension during his lifetime.
Teddy’s death Willoughby found the money in the shack Teddy had told him to use
for burial expenses along with a box containing all the personal papers that
Teddy believed to have been stolen. Willoughby used the money from the shack along
with donations to give Teddy a proper burial. The city donated a plot in
Greenwood Cemetery and as many as 100 attended Teddy’s funeral, including some
Tallahassee dignitaries. One story goes that Teddy’s grave was at first marked
with ballast stones from a foreign vessel yet another goes that the ballast
rocks came from the wreckage of the beloved boat which first brought the
Norwegian to the watery seclusion of Grand Lagoon. In the present day, the
second story seems so much more appropriate as one visits Teddy’s grave and
sees ballast stones set in the concrete around his burial vault.
the friendship Willoughby had established with Teddy, visitors to St. Andrews
State Park’s new Environmental Interpretive Center can catch a glimpse of the
little estate on Grand Lagoon that sustained Teddy for a quarter century. It
was Willoughby’s job to demolish Teddy’s dwelling and outbuildings and to
dispose of his possessions. This wonderful exhibit of a few of Teddy’s tools
and personal items along with photographs donated by Willoughby provides us
with a window into Theodore Tollofsen’s life as a castaway.
fishermen are world famous for building
cabins and cottages on the beaches of northern European islands to house
themselves during the summer fishing season. For Teddy a winter on Grand Lagoon
was probably the equivalent to a summer near the Arctic Circle so Teddy, who
ran away to sea at the age of 14, utilized his nautical experience in the
construction of his little home on the lagoon. Not only were Norwegians at the
end of the 19th century the most desired deckhands on the world’s
sailing ships but they were also famed on the Gulf Coast as wreckers and
salvagers so it was understandable that the shutters on Teddy’s cabin would be
zinc plated skylight hinges retrieved at low tide from some wreck in the Old
Pass. The inside of Teddy’s cabin contained so many nautical items that you
felt like you’d just climbed below deck into the captain’s quarters. A wood
cook stove was the centerpiece of this Spartan affair with a built in table and
bunk. Nine lanterns of various designs hung, stood or rested around the small
room along with a battery powered radio Teddy used to hear the news and weather
of the day. The inside of Teddy’s cabin contained so many nautical items that
it looked like he’d raided a maritime museum. The ornately carved nameplate of
the TECUMSEH crowned one window. The Tecumseh was built in Gloucester, Mass. In
1911 and sank in the Old Pass at Land’s End, possibly in the same hurricane
that wrecked Teddy’s boat in ’29.
resourcefulness with the driftwood and the wrecked lumber that came in on the
tides of the Grand Lagoon Peninsula was also evident in the small structures
that surrounded his cabin. From his lumberyard, which included everything from
pieces of plywood to massive 10 inch by 10 inch pilings, Teddy constructed a
small pier on the lagoon with a fish cleaning house. A single concrete block
served as the step off his front porch and salvaged lumber was used to build a
smokehouse, a well cover, privy, storage shed, chicken coop and “South
Florida,” a raised roofed sleeping platform without walls built about three
feet above the dunes behind Teddy’s cabin in order to take advantage of the
summer breezes and avoid the season’s heat and mosquitos. Keeping with the
nautical theme, Teddy’s hen house was covered with tarred cotton fish net.
to the heat of the summer, the cold of winter and the sting of mosquitos, Teddy
also had to adapt to less that crystal clear drinking water. He had hand
drilled a twenty foot deep well through layers of sand, muck, shell, clay and
hardpan to get to a stream of dark brown, tannic acid stained water. Willoughby
told a story about how Teddy’s well water was so brown that Teddy would often
forget to drop in tea leaves when he brewed his “tea.”
refrigeration Teddy dug a root cellar in order provide a cool space to store
his chicken’s eggs. In addition to eggs, Teddy’s breakfast often included
oatmeal and sea greens. Sea greens are green leafy algae of the genus Ulva that
grows on the rocks of the jetties and is exposed at low tide each day. Teddy thrived on the abundance of seafood and
his smokehouse was filled with split mullet and maybe a ham or two from one of
the wild pigs that inhabited the Grand Lagoon Peninsula at that time.
reclusive and lacked any close neighbors but he still needed money so at least
once a week he’d make his way into town, either by rowing or by motoring his
small boat across the bay and walked the streets of St. Andrews peddling the
fresh flounder he’d gigged the night before or searching for odd jobs such as
repairing nets or rigging boats in the marina. Teddy may have turned his back
on society but he certainly didn’t turn his back on the dollar. He needed cash,
not for liquor, he claimed to have given up drinking in Mobile in 1907, “I quit
drinking in Mobile after I figured I’d been a fool long enough.”; nor for
tobacco. Teddy never picked up that bad habit but he did need cash for canned
milk, oatmeal, grits, sugar, flour and tea as well as for radio batteries,
chicken feed, lamp oil and outboard motor fuel.
apparently had little need for human companionship in his sandy solitude but he
did have a soft spot in his heart for animals. He kept cats and he had his yard
birds and he told Willoughby a story about raising a pet hog. After saving the
little pig from drowning in shallow water near Shell Island, Teddy placed the
little porker in his boat and took it home to raise. Within a year the pig had become Teddy’s
constant companion and had acquired a love of fishing. The moment Teddy picked
up his cast net or his homemade rod and rusty reel, the pig clamored into the
boat, positioning himself in the bow and placing his front hooves up on the
gunnels, ready for a bumpy ride on the bay. Things rocked along well for about
a year but by then the pig had grown so large that he’d almost sink the bow of
the boat and out of necessity Teddy passed his pet hog along to a fellow
Norwegian in St. Andrews. Stories vary on whether Teddy’s pig ended up on the
dinner table or lived out his days in the neighborhoods around Beck Avenue.
So how does
one come about to choose such a strange lifestyle? Was Teddy’s irrational
attachment to the rotting wreckage of his old boat enough to explain a quarter
century of self-sustained isolation?
Could Teddy have been mentally handicapped? He certainly had the
opportunity to experience neurological damage. On at least two occasions during
his career as a deckhand he’d been poisoned into unconsciousness before being
shanghaied. He’d been struck by lightning on three occasions: once in South
Dakota; once on board a fishing schooner in the Gulf; and once on Grand Lagoon
near his little shack.
All of these
things are clues to why Teddy chose the life of a rugged individualist but
Teddy’s secret may exist in a mysterious photo Willoughby found after
Tollofsen’s death in the long lost box containing Teddy’s personal papers.
Teddy claimed he’d always lived a solitary life and had never married but
Willoughby found a photograph of a bride and groom in the box and the picture
of the groom bears a remarkable resemblance to what Teddy may have looked like
before he became a shaggy gray headed and weather beaten old man. Could Teddy’s
story be another Norse legend of the sea, one that includes one last dangerous
voyage that left not a widowed mother and lost children but a lost love that
asks the haunting, eternal question: “Is it better to have loved and lost or never
to have loved at all?”
summing up the strange life of Theodore Tollofsen, perhaps the author of the
1950 article about Teddy in the Florida Parks Service magazine describes best
how Teddy’s self-sufficiency and independence turned his life into a legend
that lives on until this very day:
money he’s a memorial to the frontiersman that has made our country the
greatest in the world today, living proof that an energetic person can get his
just share of fish and grits come hell or high water.”
for this article came from Jeannie Weller Cooper’s PANAMA CITY BEACH: TALES
FROM THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES, James Burgess’ SAND IN MY SHOES, and
page 26, February 23, 1975 Panama City News Herald article entitled, TEDDY THE
This article was published in the MARCH-APRIL 2013 issue of PANAMA CITY LIVING MAGAZINE, Volume 8 ~ Issue 2
SPRING IS IN THE AIR!
Yellow Daffodils and Purple Japanese Magnolia Blossoms!
TIME TO CELEBRATE THE SEASON AND HEAD FOR THE BEACHES!
King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Much of Panama City has changed over the past sixty years. An international airport, modern highways, shopping centers and high rises have replaced much of what was almost a wilderness just after WWII. Change has been a certainty and our adaptation to change a necessity but some things haven't changed. The sun has its cycle, the moon its phases and the tides ebb and flow and in the month of March, the sun's warmth renews our world once more while the cobia move west just off Panama City Beach's shoreline along their ancient migratory path. As I write this column in the middle of January, most cobia are feeding in deep waters south of Panama City but in the next few days an ancient genetic program will trigger a secret and unique navigational system within each of these fish and the cobia will activate some sort of unknown compass needle to lead them through their spring spawning migration to breeding grounds in the Northern Gulf off of the Mississippi River delta. The sun passing over the equator on the first day of spring; the full moon on March 27th; the gradual warming of Gulf waters; all of these factors probably put the cobia on its path to migration but regardless of why they begin their journey, the maritime trail of the cobia leads through the water just off Panama City's shoreline and somewhere, somehow, exactly the same factors that lead the cobia to our beaches trigger the detonation of a DNA timebomb within each one of us and we drop everything we're doing and HEAD FOR THE BEACHES!
"It started long ago in the Garden of Eden
When Adam said to Eve, baby, you're for me
So come on baby let's start today,
come on baby let's play
The game of love"
lyrics to THE GAME OF LOVE by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders
Everyone has their priorities. College students need to study hard for an exam for that business course called HOW TO SPEND ALL MY PARENT'S MONEY. The family man worries about the possibility of his mother-in-law moving into his house and staying forever. It's spring. The IRS wants to have a talk with you. Your yard already needs mowing. Your kid's failing math. The house needs painting. The air conditioning is on the blink and it's gonna get hot soon. The bills are overdue and the credit card's cancelled. The human race is facing runaway inflation, third world starvation and nuclear terrorism. Another "useless jobs" bill is being passed in Washington, D.C. and to think you could hardly wait to become a grown up but locked within your DNA is an innate impulse that explodes within you at this time of the year and you decide just to leave your troubles behind. You pull out all the beach stuff you stored before Thanksgiving and head across AMNESIA BRIDGE for another new year's adventures at the beach. It's the siren song of the surf, the salt and the sand that draws you back in a seasonal ritual.
Some of you might be wondering where AMNESIA BRIDGE is located in the Panama City area but remember that before the advertising slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," folks have crossed Hathaway Bridge and suddenly lost their memory of the 9 to 5 Suburbatory they just left and 48 or 72 hours later they go back to the same Suburbatory across the same bridge, automatically erasing all the files pertaining to what just recently occurred in Panama City Beach.
Not only does this innate and cherished seasonal urge to merge at the beach occur in the genus species Homo sapiens who are natives and locals from Panama City but it also occurs in our neighbors to the north and the month of March begins a not so ancient migration south by many members of our own species who live as far as 150 miles north of Bay County. It is quite true that no one truly understands what kinds of unique navigational systems humans may have but it may be argued that just about everybody raised in an area as far north of Bay County as Greenville, Alabama and as far east as Albany, Georgia are imprinted with a homing instinct that works like clockwork.
IT'S ALL THE SUNSHINE'S FAULT!
Perhaps you remember the movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. It may be contended that like the characters in the film, those raised in Southeast Alabama and Southwest Georgia have cultural influences from childhood that have pre-programmed each and every one of them, imprinting them with a homing instinct to return to the Florida Panhandle when March arrives.
Many tax dollars have been spent to study the migratory corridors utilized by the cobia as they move west through the gully between the first sand bar and Panama City's beaches but little has been spent to learn about the spring migration of our own species back to the panhandle. Could it be possible that we could reawaken the migratory spirit within "best and brightest" of these springtime voyagers to the Panhandle and channel them this way so that Panama City Beach becomes their destination of choice each spring?
The origins of the spring migration to Panama City by humans is cloaked in mystery, however, as far as we know, it can only be traced back about 60 years. Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson, Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer at The Anniston Star, discovered an interesting 1960 Mobile Press-Register article that is an important document confirming that the onset of March's migration of our neighboring teenage "Goths and Vandals" from the north began as early as 1954.
Feb. 17, 1960, edition of the Mobile Press-Register, under the heading “News from Florida.” Headlined “Liquor Restriction,” it read:
“Panama City (Special) — The sale of beer and alcoholic beverages will be curtailed this year at three beach municipalities during the Alabama Education Association days March 15-20.
Panama City Beach Mayor Roy Martin, Long Beach Mayor J.E. Churchwell and
Edgewater Beach Mayor M.C. Buckley have joined in the move to ban the sale during the time several hundred Alabama teenagers are here at the beaches.This will mark the sixth consecutive year when sale of these beverages will be prohibited during the meeting time.”
In researching the veracity of this 1960 newspaper clipping, Professor Jackson interrogated several Bay Countians who lived through many A.E.A. Holidays from the Fifties and Sixties. They concluded that this news article couldn't be completely true and even if it was true, it wouldn't matter because,"Those kids could find cold beer in Saudi Arabia."
This teenage need for fake IDs during the month of March presents unique challenges for any Panama City Beach tourism development executive because it only takes one viral video of Bluto yelling "Go Bulldogs" while urinating off of a PCB balcony to "negatively impact our brand."
Regardless, the month of April will get here soon enough and the job of any self respecting tourism executive is to effectively overcome all obstacles so the challenge is clear. We have a mandate to scientifically identify the SPRING BREAK MIGRATORY PATTERNS of our neighbors to the North and help them get in touch with their "homing instinct for the beach" so they can experience the joy of expectation which occurs when you know that within a matter of less than three hours, you'll have left all your cares behind and that your very own ten toes will soon be in the sand and you'll be looking south over the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico saying to yourself," MAN, I AM SO GLAD TO BE BACK AT PANAMA CITY BEACH!
The following article was published in the JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2013 issue of PANAMA CITY LIVING MAGAZINE, Volume 8 ~ Issue 1
THE WAYSIDE PARK
by Robert Register
One afternoon after school my Daddy came home early from work and asked me this question,
"Bob, how'd you like to go to the picture show with me tonight?"
"Yes,sir, Daddy!" I exclaimed.
"Well, get your toothbrush. Tell Mommy to pack you some warm clothes and bring some books and toys to keep you busy."
"To go to the picture show?" I asked.
"We're going to the Martin Theatre in Panama City, son."
"Hot dog! So we're not coming home tonight?"
"No, Bob, we'll be staying at the Dixie Sherman Hotel in downtown Panama City tonight."
"What about school tomorrow?"
"Tell Ms. Odum you were sick."
"Daddy, won't that be telling a story?"
"You're sick, aren't you?"
"Aw, I bet you're sick. Sick of school."
"Oh boy!" I ran down the hall screaming, "Mommy, Mommy, Daddy's taking me to the beach!"
There is no doubt in my mind that on that winter afternoon in 1958 I was the happiest eight year old boy in Alabama. Even after over 50 years, the memories are so sweet that they bring tears of joy to my eyes. My most vivid childhood memories are of my father, Earl Register. He was loud and he was strong and he loved his little boy. He'll always be my best buddy. Neither time nor the unspeakable tragedy of his death, nor anything else can take that man's love away from me.
That is my inheritance. (Thank you, Daddy, I love you.)
When it came to going to the beach, it didn't take me long to pack my satchel.
Mommy took care of my clothing and I gathered up Dr. Zim's Insect Book,
my color crayons, my tablet and my shovel.
I've always been ready to get sand in my shoes!
My mother, Kate, hugged my neck in the driveway and told me to "be good" and next thing you know we're heading for Panama City. Our house in Dothan was on Gaines Street and it was located one door down from the intersection with South Oates which was U.S. 231 South, the Panama City Highway. Being eight-years old, I was very concerned about getting to the beach as quickly as possible so I was a little worried when Daddy hung a quick left onto the Hodgesville Highway.
"Hey, Daddy. Where are we going?"
"To P.C., son. Why?"
"But this ain't the road to Panama City."
"What have I told you about saying the word 'ain't'?"
"I'm sorry. But this isn't the way to Panama City."
"Sure it is. Hodgesville is due south of town and from there we can cut over to Graceville or maybe Campbellton or maybe even Grangerburg."
"Daddy, why do you always go a different way every time you go somewhere? You even do it when we drive over to Grandma's house and it's just across town."
"Bob, I'm not like a cow. I don't go down the same trail back to the barn every evening."
"I just don't want us to be late. What time is it, anyway?"
"Confucius say, 'He who work by the hands of a clock will always be a hand.' "
Daddy had already handed me a strongly worded explanation of that little saying before, so I decided to climb over into the back seat of the company car and take a nap.
The next thing I knew Daddy was yelling, "Wake up, Bob. We're about to cross the Lynn Haven Bridge!"
I loved Lynn Haven with its pink houses and views of North Bay.
"Are we stopping by Aunt Estelle's house?" I asked.
"Nope. We're heading straight for downtown. We'll check in and then eat supper at Angelo's."
To this day, I always think of Daddy's Aunt Estelle whenever I eat fried scallops. That woman could cook the steam out of a mess of scallops. Every time we went to Aunt Estelle's house in Lynn Haven, she fried scallops. If she didn't have any, she'd send out for some.
The last time I saw Aunt Estelle was in the late 70s at the insane asylum at Chattahoochee.
Old age had caught up with her and she didn't know where she was from the man in the moon, but she remembered me though. She told me,"Bob, let me go get out of these clothes and put on my apron and I'll fry you up some scallops." That's the last thing Aunt Estelle said to me as the nurse led her back to the ward.
I never saw her again.
Daddy and I checked into a great room on the top floor of the Dixie Sherman.
That hotel was Panama City's tallest building and it wasn't a skyscraper but as far as Bob Register was concerned, we had a penthouse suite in the Empire State Building.
image courtesy ofhttp://www.beaconlearningcenter.com/weblessons/bayhistory/bhis29.htm
I turned on the TV and opened the curtains so I could see the sun going down over St. Andrews Bay.
"Get away from that window and get ready for supper, son. Go wash your face and hands. We're going to Angelo's."
It didn't take me long to follow directions. I laced up my paratrooper's boots and I was ready for action. Everything we needed was right there around the block from the Dixie Sherman. Restaurants, movie theatres, newstands, soda fountains- downtown Panama City had it all.
Soon we were seated at a shiny formica table beside a plate glass window inside Angelo's Steak Pit. We watched the traffic and the people on the sidewalk as we waited for our steaks. Angelo Butchikas was the owner and he knew Daddy real well because Panama City was on Earl's territory route with Goodrich. My Daddy was one of Mr. Angelo's favorite customers.
When we were through eating, Mr. Angelo came to our table. He treated us like we were royalty. I really liked him a lot.
"How was your steak, Bob?" he asked.
"Real good, Mr. Angelo," I replied.
"I noticed that you didn't touch your black olives."
"I eat green olives, but I don't like black olives."
"Please, Bob, try one of these," said Mr. Angelo.
I tried one of Mr. Angelo's ripe olives. It tasted real strong but it went down all right. Just like eating fried bay scallops reminds me of Aunt Estelle, black olives always remind me of the nice man who had the great steak house in downtown Panama City, Angelo Butchikas.
& many times, when I try something new, I think of Mr. Angelo and his winning smile.
After Daddy paid our check, we walked down Harrison Avenue to the Martin Theatre. We took our seats and sat down to watch Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in what was probably the most exciting Western filmed up to that time, "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral."
image courtesy ofhttp://www.panamacitydowntown.com/play.php
image courtesy of http://www.martintheatre.com/history.html
It may have been a great movie but it was too long for this little eight-year old from Dothan. I fell asleep but I didn't miss the good part. All that gunfire at the end woke me up so even though I felt guilty and disappointed for falling asleep and missing the movie, I was sure happy about seeing that gunfight at the end.
When I woke up in the morning, Daddy had already gone to work. The night before he'd told me not to worry, that he would leave early and not wake me up. He told me to hang around the room, draw and color and watch TV so I did. I stared out the window at the beautiful bay. I watched a little TV. I drew insects out of my Dr. Zim book and colored cartoons I copied out of the News-Herald. Before noon Daddy was back and we were checking out of the hotel.
Now came the good part. We were going to Panama City Beach!
It was raining cats and dogs plus it was freezing but that didn't matter to us. We were heading for the beach! As we drove over Hathaway Bridge the weather began to break and the rain slacked up a little, but it was still bitter cold. I had on a couple of sweaters, my windbreaker and my toboggan. [Yankees call them "stocking caps"]
Panama City Beach was a ghost town. Nothing was open except a little grocery store across from Wayside Park. There were no cars on Front Beach Road. No lights were on in any of the motels or in any of the other businesses and not a soul was down toward the Y at the Wayside Park. We had the beach to ourselves. Miles and miles of snow-white dunes & crashing waves abandoned for Bob & Earl's day at the beach.
At Wayside Park, I jumped out of the car and ran straight for the sand dunes. The sand around the concrete foundations for the picnic tables were riddled with ghost crab dens and I immediately began to terrorize those little critters. Down by the water we found plenty of big cockle shells that the storm had washed up on the beach. When we got tired of picking up shells, Daddy chased me down the beach so far that I collapsed in the sand from fatigue. We laughed and walked back to the picnic tables to seek shelter from a fresh rain cloud blowing in from the Gulf.
We sat silently on top of the picnic table & watched the storm come in.
Daddy said, "Son, God knows this is the prettiest beach on the face of the Earth."
"Well, Daddy, you ought to know. You saw lots of different beaches during the war."
"Some of the best. The islands of the Caribbean, the coast of Brazil, North Africa, the islands of the Mediterranean, the French Riviera, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and the Adriatic Coast.
But I still like Panama City best."
Years later, when I was first out of college, I went back to Panama City Beach for a weekend with our family. Daddy was a little mad at me because I'd showed up a day late(blame Tuscaloosa for that), but he forgave me.
(He always forgave us children, but he never forgot.)
At night, Daddy and I buried a light pole in the sand at the edge of the surf behind the Admiral Imperial. This light attracted skates & rays to the shore and we celebrated the excitement of resting our lawn chairs in sting-ray infested waters by toasting each other.
We were having a lot of fun when Daddy made a very serious statement.
He said,"Bob, you've always obeyed me with the exception of three times.
THREE TIMES YOU WENT AGAINST ME!"silence
I was scared to death.
Believe it or not, I was speechless. (quite an accomplishment for someone who's Cloverdale neighborhood nickname was "LUNGZZZ" )"Three times you went against my advice & each time you were right."
"I'm sorry, Daddy, but what times are you talking about?"
"Three times. When you changed your major;
when you dropped out of ROTC;
& when you let your hair grow out.
Three times you went against me and every time you were right.
I was wrong."
OK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I had no idea this would be my last conversation with my father but I'm glad it happened at the beach.
Panama City Beach always brings back memories of my Daddy.
For that reason alone,
Bay County, Florida,
will always be THE HOME OF THE WORLD'S MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES.