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Lifestyle Stories

World War II photos beg readers' input

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 04:37 AM

My interest in World War II has taken me to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., and the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. Mostly, I spend hours sitting at microfilm machines reading 1940s Florida newspapers, or in local archives looking at old photographs.

Newspaper articles from the war years tell us a great deal about the home front during World War II. But photographs remain the most evocative artifacts, and readers and veterans have provided me with unforgettable prints.

Three remain my favorites. Curiously, we know precious little about these images taken in Tampa, Starke, and Miami.

I'm hoping some of you will recognize something in these, whether it is the people, the place, the circumstances. If you can shed any light, please contact me at the addresses printed below. I'll share some of your responses here in the Tribune.

Photo 1: Tampa

World War II brought prosperity to Tampa on the heels of the Depression of the 1930s. It brought thousands of good jobs to Hookers Point with the construction of a massive new power plant in 1940 to meet the area's growing residential and military needs. With the men heading off to war, women filled the ranks of union welders and were paid handsome wages.

We know very little about the two women in this photograph. Were they friends? Was working at a shipyard one of the high points of their lives, or simply a grimy, sweaty job? What became of them after the war ended in 1945?

Photo 2: Midgets

This touching photograph was taken in the early 1940s at Sweetwater, a city west of Miami incorporated in 1941.

Among the first land buyers in the community were members of the Royal Russian Midget Troupe, circus performers who had been on tour during the Russian revolution in 1917. Advised of the danger in their homeland, they chose not to return and instead wandered the world performing.

In the late 1930s, many were ready to find a place to retire. They were among the first buyers in a new development called Sweetwater Groves, where they built mini-scaled homes suited to their stature. In 1941, they and 13 other residents voted to incorporate. Their manager and confidante, a 6-footer named Joe Sanderlin, became the new city's first mayor.

While the miniature homes were demolished in the 1970s, the circus performers' legacy remains strong in Sweetwater. Can anyone add details to their story, or know information about the people pictured here?

Photo 3: Starke, 1941

Famed photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990) framed two GIs hanging around a street light in the sudden boom town of Starke in 1941. Starke resembled a gold-rush town because of its proximity to Camp Blanding, a sprawling military base.

Readers who have been to Starke recently may have trouble picturing it as New York Sun journalist Ward Morehouse did in 1942.

"Starke is gauche," he wrote. It "is as fantastic a spot as America now presents."

What happened to the two GIs? Did they survive the war? Were they aware that a famous photographer captured their smugness on camera?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and observations.

Gary R. Mormino is director of the Florida Studies Program at USF St. Petersburg. He invites your letters and stories. Reach him by e-mail at gmormino@mail.usf.edu or in care of the Florida Studies Program, Snell House, 140 Seventh Ave. S., St. Petersbur