Our parents and grandparents leave us memories. Hopefully, yours left you good memories. My grandfather, who I called, “Papa,” continues to give me memories and things many years after his departure.
He was packrat, keeping things “just in case” he might need them some day or perhaps so that someone would find it and realize some meaning. The other day I did just that.
My older brother and I were going through some of Papa’s things the other day together and my brother held up a Florida road map from the American Oil Company and asked me, “Do you want this?”
Sometimes it’s eerie, I see my Papa in my older brother and when he asked me the question, it was almost as if Papa was asking me.
Papa and I would load up in one of his little cars with his little dog and head off to Florida on many occasions. Sometimes we would get there and sometimes we would not. It all depended on who we met along the way and if we found too many other interesting places to stop.
We would eat peanuts, hoop cheese and crackers. We would try new soda waters along the way. Papa was guilty of letting little boys drink too many RC Colas, Fanta’s, Nehi’s and any other sugary drink you could get from a roadside store or vending machine.
My older brother knew I wanted the road map of Florida. By asking, he was simply telling me I needed it.
It was old, but I couldn’t really tell how old it was. There was no date stamped on the front and I wanted to handle it carefully until I could get to a place I could examine it more carefully. We were in a dark place where my Papa hid things that only we know about. (I say this just to irritate some of my relatives who think we know the hiding place of my Papa’s treasure.)
In trying to determine the age of the map, I first looked at the “popular points of interest.” As the American Oil Company map states, “To help add adventure to your trip, high lights of popular points of interest are described below.”
One place of particular interest to me was Cape Canaveral, Florida. On the map it noted that Cape Canaveral was home of the United States Missile Center and launching site. I knew that around 1960, the "Missile Firing Laboratory" as it was called had become an extension of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Later in 1962, Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Operations Center was established as an independent NASA field center, separate from the Alabama NASA location.
The map seemed to be from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s.
Checking Boca Raton’s key attraction, I found “Africa U.S.A.” This turned out to be a really interesting place on the map (or it used to be). On March 10, 1953, John Pedersen opened Africa U.S.A. to the public. The admission to the gardens areas was free, and the Jungle Train Tour was 95 cents.
The Jungle Train was open-air. In other words, there were no bars protecting you from the wild beasts.
It sounded like a lot of fun. It was a zoo with no cages where visitors “could safely interact with the animals.” Pedersen roamed the world collecting animals and buying them from other zoos. These included camels, elephants and giraffe. The herds began to grow as the animals adapted to the South Florida climate.
There were also cheetahs and other exotic animals running around. I’m not so sure about “safely interacting” with some of these creatures. It reminds me a little of Jurassic Park.
Reading more about John Pedersen, I found that he and his wife were an incredible story by themselves.
Pedersen came to Florida from Racine, Wisconsin. He was a fellow had struggled through many hard times early in his life. John was a fellow who had fallen on hard times who always wanted an “African Safari” of his own. After trying his hand at a number of things to keep his family fed through very rough times including the Great Depression, John found his “goldmine.”
Actually his wife, Lillian found it or found a way “to rope it in.”
Lillian was real handy with crafty things and started making these little fancy ropes she called “curtain tie-backs” out of scraps of material. They got real popular with her friends and neighbors. Her husband, John after patenting the curtain tie-backs, went to Chicago and sold them to all the major Chicago department stores like Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck. With these contracts, the Unique Novelty Company was born and the Pedersen’s began dreaming about that African Safari again.
With the proceeds from the curtain tie-backs, John bought land around Racine where he constructed affordable housing for workers. His two bedroom houses cost $1000 to buy, and he built 70 houses for rental properties. He became well-known for his "one cents sale" - if you bought one house you got another for one cent!
Can you believe that?
Well, he eventually ended up in Boca Raton, Florida and bought a lot of land where he built Africa U.S.A. I guess you could say the Pedersen’s just needed to pull back the curtains to see their dreams.
Africa U.S.A was sold and closed its doors on September 4, 1961. All of John’s animals were sold at auction to zoos around the country. Mr. Pedersen was 65 at the time and tired of fighting city hall. I guess folks got a little edgy living so close to an African Safari.
Therefore, I figured out my map had to be around 1960 or so.
Then, I came across a site on the internet that “decodes” the numbers used on road maps to determine when they were published, the version, the original map date, etc. I figured out the year it was published and the other particulars.
It was a good feeling.
My brother had asked me if I wanted my Papa’s Florida road map which I found to be published in 1962, using the mapping information and points of interest from a few years previous.
My brother knew I wanted it. My Papa knew I would want it. He had saved it for me.
I was born in 1962. Over the next 10 to 12 years, my Papa would take me back and to forth to the Sunshine State for adventures that he keeps reminding me of.
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