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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
Lifestyle Stories

Tampa’s news always has provided information, amusement


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Tampa’s newspapers have always done a good job of documenting the important and interesting events that have taken place in and around the city. The role and reach of newspapers has changed over the years as new forms of media have gained favor, but until fairly recently — historically speaking — newspapers were the main source of information and, in the more distant past, entertainment.

What follows are a number of stories of interest gleaned from the pages of the Tampa (Morning) Tribune and the Tampa Daily Times (the evening newspaper). The stories range from whimsical to serious, and they serve to show us how much has changed in our area over the past century.

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April Fools’ Day jokes are nothing new, and readers had to be somewhat skeptical when they opened the Tribune on April 1, 1906, and read about a 22-foot whale that was caught eight miles off the coast of Tampa Bay and towed into the harbor to the Garrison area (now the Channelside District). The Tampa Morning Tribune reported that it was the first time a whale of that size had been seen, much less caught, this far south, and that large crowds gathered at the Garrison to see the prize catch.

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Evangelist Henry Stough was not joking when the newspaper reported on a sermon he made on April 2, 1916, in which he preached to an all-male audience that “immoral” women held too much power. “Why is it some men wouldn’t run for mayor?” he asked the audience. He then answered, “It’s because Hilda Raymond and Genie Gilbert won’t let them.” Raymond and Gilbert, Stough claimed, were “sporting women” (a euphemism for prostitutes), and he said they held enough secrets about Tampa’s power structure to cause “murder and riot, and divorces and bankruptcies on Franklin Street.”

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Construction and real estate news items were as popular in the 1910s as they are today. On April 7, 1911, the Tribune reported that the previous day, the board of directors for the Citizens Bank & Trust Company of Tampa met to discuss the construction of a 10-story “skyscraper” on Franklin Street. The new building, which would be built on the northeast corner of Franklin and Zack streets (where TECO Plaza now stands), would replace the old bank building just across Franklin Street (a building that still stands, minus its original tower).

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Feel-good stories held as much sway then as they do now. An April 8, 1901, story related that friends and family gathered for the 60th birthday of James H. Brandon at the family home at Brandon Station. James Brandon was the son of John Brandon, founder of the Hillsborough County settlement. The Tampa Morning Tribune described James Brandon as “one of the county’s oldest and most esteemed residents.”

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Along with stories of economic development, articles on transportation were of great importance to Tampa readers. Beginning with the 1884 completion of Henry Plant’s railroad, Tampa had become a hub for rail and steamship traffic by the turn of the 20th century. On April 10, 1906, work began on the Tampa Northern Railroad, which would provide a third railroad to bring people and products in and out of Tampa.

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Salacious news was also part of the daily papers. The Tribune reported on a trial that began on April 13, 1916, that pitted the people of Seminole Heights against the Hillsborough Country Club. Neighborhood residents claimed the club was nothing more than an illegal speakeasy, and that drunks, gamblers and prostitutes frequented the club.

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Five years later, it was a different kind of wild life from the Seminole Heights area that received the attention of the local press. On April 18, 1921, it was reported that local fisherman John Anderson took a stroll down Franklin Street with a 2-foot-long alligator on a leash. Passersby were interested in and terrified by the live, though restrained, animal. Anderson caught the gator in the Hillsborough River near Sulphur Springs and didn’t have any plans for his new pet, though he said he would sell him “if the price was right.”

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Sports were also a popular topic. Though they would not get a special section for decades to come, there was a constant stream of information — particularly regarding baseball. The Tribune reported on April 23, 1901, that Tampa’s amateur baseball team lost the rubber game in its series against the “Conchs” of Key West. The game, which was postponed for one day for an unknown reason by Sheriff William T. Lesley, was a high-scoring affair, ending after the Key West team broke an 8-8 tie in the top of the ninth inning. The Tribune noted that “competent sporting men say that more money changed hands on the game than on the entire series of race meets (horse races) of the winter.”

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Civic-minded improvements to the city were well documented in the newspapers of the day. The first meeting for the City Beautiful Association was held on April 26, 1916, at the DeSoto Hotel. The movement, which grew out of California and featured a desire to support “any person, firm or corporation that under a well defined plan shall seek to beautify any street, highway or public place in the city of Tampa or its surrounding territory.” Though World War I would curtail the association, the architecture of the new city hall building, which opened the previous year, reflected the City Beautiful Movement.

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Civic booster-ism sometimes got the best of local leaders. On April 29, 1911, Frank Bower, president of Tampa’s Board of Trade, claimed that Hillsborough County was “safe” from being broken up, stating, “I am confident that the bill to divide Hillsborough County will never get past the [State] House [of Representatives].” Bower was wrong, and Pinellas County was created from Hillsborough County the following year.

Rodney Kite-Powell is the Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay History Center. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached via email at rkp@tampabayhistorycenter.org, or by phone at (813) 228-0097.

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