Devil Boats

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My reference points regarding PT boats have always been restricted to two sources: JFK’s exploits described in his book, Profiles in Courage; and the TV sitcom McHales Navy. Needless to say, neither really explained much about this unique and highly specialized craft. While the stories I read or watched regarding PT 109 and PT 73 captured my interest, they did not shed a lot of light upon this particular type of warcraft.

I have been working on a documentary for a nautical family and one of the facts that came out during the interviews was that the patriarch of the clan fulfilled his WWII service by building PT boats for Vetnor Boatworks in New Jersey.

I was surprised to learn that the PT boats were made from plywood, not steel. They were fast, highly maneuverable, and relatively inexpensive to build. The PT stood for Patrol Torpedo Boats. They were nicknamed Devil Boats by the Japanese or, as a whole, the Mosquito Fleet because they were small, fast, and a continual nuisance to the Japanese Navy.

A little research shows that the PT boats came into existence because in 1938, the US Navy sponsored a design competition for companies to devise a highly mobile attack boat. When the US entered into WWII, there were no less than 12 companies designing and building these attack boats for the US government. As time went on, the design became more standardized and two companies stood out among the rest: Elco, based in Bayonne NJ; and Higgins, based in New Orleans.

When I learned that the boats were wooden, I expected to discover a high casualty rate among them but instead found them to be surprisingly resilient. Of the 531 ships that were put into wartime service, only 69 (13%) were lost. And of the estimated 63,000 men who served on the PT boats, 331 (less than 1%) were killed in action. There are only a few of these boats that remain in existence today as most were destroyed at the end of the war due to the high maintenance that wooden boats require.

My client attributes his woodworking skills (which are considerable) to those days in the Vetnor Boatworks. This is just one story among many that were revealed while interviewing family members for this documentary. We are honored that they have chosen us to tell their story.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitizing of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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Mr. Trumpet Man

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Passion can be both inspiring and contagious. It is also immediately recognizable. I saw it for myself recently as I was transferring some videotaped footage for a client.

The footage was of her father, renowned Grammy award winning jazz musician Doc Cheatham, who at 91 was still traveling the country, touring and playing to packed venues. He died while doing what he loved, playing the music he loved to play.

Doc’s career spanned over seven decades during which he played with such notable talents as King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, and Benny Goodman. He continually worked at perfecting his technique and successfully managed the transition from lead trumpeter within various bands to having a career as a soloist – a feat he accomplished at the tender age of 60.

He didn’t begin singing, in addition to his playing, until he passed 70 but it was well received and he continued the practice until his death. His final performance was at the Blues Alley Club in Washington in 1997. He died two days later, eleven days short of his 92nd birthday.

That is an accomplishment we should all believe to achieve – to be able to work at what we love right up to the time we take our last breath. To continue to learn and grow, developing our passions and providing them with the fuel that keeps them burning strongly within our souls.

Thanks Doc, for the music and the memories.

PS. His passion was certainly contagious. His grandson, Theo Croker, is an accomplished trumpeter in his own right having just been named as one of the top jazz artists to watch in 2019 by Jazziz Magazine.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digital transfer of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

A Personal History Restored… Never To Be Forgotten

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Dear Readers,

I apologize for the long blog absence. I kind of got caught up in the holiday season/rush and fell out of the habitual practice of writing about the memories I am privileged to capture and preserve.

I had always planned to get back into the swing of things but the longer I waited, the more difficult it was to find a topic that somehow justified breaking my unintentional silence.  Until today.

I am not often surprised when I do videotape transfers. Over the years, I have observed that we, as a people, all record the same kind of events – birthdays, vacations, sports, school concerts, etc… But every so often something comes along that just floors me. And it reminds me that people are always more than they appear and have histories that run deep and wide.

Today, I transferred to DVD a videotaped interview of one of my clients. It appears to have been recorded in the early 80s. He was born in 1934… in Berlin Germany…of Jewish parents. So as a young boy he was witness to and victim of some of the hateful, unconscionable acts that occurred in Nazi Germany.

The interviewer took him through his earliest memories and into his families’ experiences during WWII. It was horrifying but at the same time riveting. I could not imagine living through what he was describing… and yet, he had little choice but to live through it.

Memories are not always pleasant but they are always important. The past informs our present and can help to shape our future. The quote attributed to George Santayana says it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I am honored to have been able to have heard and preserve this slice of personal history. I would like to think that we, as a people… as a culture… will remember and learn from it so as to be spared from having to repeat it. As I look at the world today and hear the hateful rhetoric being spewed daily across the airways and internet… I’m sad to say that I’m not so sure we have.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Once A Shellback, Always a Shellback

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A Shellback walked into my studio today… not that I would have noticed. I had never heard of one before. Fortunately for me, he decided to tell me his story. 

He came in to have a series of 35mm slides transferred. They were taken during his Navy days  and as he related his tale, I learned how and when he became a Shellback. It is a designation given to seaman who cross the equator (which can be found at 0 degrees latitude.)

But he was no ordinary Shellback. He achieved the rarified status of Emerald Shellback which is reserved for the few who managed to cross the equator precisely where it intersects with the Prime Meridian.  In other words, he passed through the intersection of 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude. There aren’t that many who can lay claim to that status. But my client is one of them.

In doing a little research, I’ve found that there is a strange little shipboard ritual that takes place during the Shellback initiation that dates back centuries. On that my client was a little close-mouthed. But apparently Neptune makes an appearance, there’s a bit of hazing that goes on, and an embarrassing time is generally had by all… or at least by those slimy Polywogs who are undergoing the initiation into trusted Shellback status.

After reading some of the descriptions of the rituals, I’ve come to the mindset that it is probably a good thing that they happen at sea.  I think it’s kind of like Fight Club… The first rule of the Shellback ritual is… you don’t talk about the Shellback ritual.

But I found a few photos…

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Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more info, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. Reminder: our Fall Food Drive continues through Oct 15. Bring in an order along with a food donation and receive a 30% discount. Food donations will be given to Lake Cares Food Pantry.

Forever Lighting The Way

Today’s blog is a repost taken from The Real Estate Reporter and ERA Grizzard Real Estate. Thanks for the history reminder.

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Set against the backdrop of the Harris Chain of Lakes, Mount Dora is a historical city that dates back to 1846. Nestled along the shores of its namesake lake is arguably the city’s most iconic landmark, the Mount Dora Lighthouse. 

The Mount Dora Lighthouse was built to serve as a navigational aid for boaters and water enthusiasts. Sitting along the edge of Lake Dora on Grantham Point, the lighthouse guides boaters along the shoreline to local boat ramps at Gilbert Park and Simpson’s Cove as well as the Mount Dora Marina.

Those who call Mount Dora home have grown to know the lighthouse as one the most recognizable and beloved landmarks in the city. 

The Story Behind the Lighthouse

Boasting some of the largest lakes in Florida, the Harris Chain of Lakes is an area treasured for its natural beauty as well as the ideal destination for boating and fishing. This chain includes Lake Dora – the lighthouse’s home.

These interconnected lakes were an important draw for the area’s first settlers and remain a fisherman and boater’s paradise today. Encompassing 4,475 acres, Lake Dora is one of the largest bodies of water in the area and therefore has become a prime location for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year. 

Its origins  stem from local fisherman and boaters who were finding it difficult to travel from nearby Tavares to Mount Dora in the dark. Civic leaders and members of the community took this need to heart and began researching ways to alleviate this issue. 

With an appeal to members of the community, over $3,000 was raised to erect this 35-foot lighthouse that stands watch over the Port of Mount Dora. Open since March 25, 1988, the Mount Dora Lighthouse was built using a brick base and a stucco outer surface.

Powered by a 750-watt photocell, the lighthouse utilizes a blue pulsator to help guide boaters around Lake Dora after dusk and stands as the only inland freshwater lighthouse in Florida today. Its trademark look was created using alternating stripes of red and white paint as well as a white hexagonal lantern. 

Today’s Beloved Icon

Visitors are encouraged to walk along Grantham Point and enjoy its spectacular views. Referred by locals as “Lighthouse Park,” this area is a short walk from the quaint streets of downtown Mount Dora and is ideally situated next to Gilbert Park and Simpson’s Cove.

Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the point and follow a pathway to the nearby Palm Island Park Boardwalk. This stretch of boardwalk offers picturesque views back to the lighthouse, particularly when the sun is setting.

Residents of Mount Dora treasure their beloved lighthouse and celebrate its history and beauty with events held during the year. A boat parade kicks off the holiday season with local boat owners displaying an array of lights and decor as they cruise along Grantham Point and the Mount Dora Lighthouse.

On New Year’s Eve and the 4th of July, the Mount Dora Lighthouse comes alive as fireworks light up the sky along Grantham Point. Regattas and boat races are also a regular event along the waters of Grantham Point, offering scenic vistas of the sailboats as they pass this iconic lighthouse.

From reminding us of the city’s historic past to holding a special place in our hearts today, the Mount Dora lighthouse is just one piece of what makes calling this city home so special. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

White Dove Of The Desert

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When married to a history buff, you kind of get used to making little unexpected side trips.  Yesterday, it was to the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation, located about 40 minutes from our hotel.  There, in the middle of nowhere, appeared an attractive, gleaming white multi-storied structure. Nicknamed “the White Dove of the Desert,” the Mission San Xavier del Bac is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.

The Catholic mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, and the structure itself was built some 100 years later. It is still in operation, serving the local community, the village of Wa:k.

The history is kind of interesting. When the mission was built in the 1700s, Southern Arizona was actually part of New Spain. Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. And it finally became part of the United States with the Gadsden Purchase of 1854.

Renovation and restoration efforts continue as the mission has survived an earthquake in 1887, a lightning strike in 1937 and years of neglect as changes in territorial rights and authority led to an absence of oversight.

Still, thanks largely to the local population, the mission continues to fulfill its purpose while attracting thousands of visitors to the area. If you happen to find yourself in the Tucson area, it is certainly worth a side trip.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Note: Michael & Kate remain in Tucson, Arizona while attending the 18th annual Home Video Studio Getaway. Our gala awards banquet is Saturday night. Our studio has been nominated in seven different categories. We’ll post the results once they are known.

The Tale Of The Lucy Evelyn

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First day in AZ… It’s hot. Really hot. How hot is it? It is so hot nobody here has body hair… it has all been singed off. We wisely stayed inside the hotel most of the day. After all, we’re not here on vacation.  We’re taking part in the annual Home Video Studio Getaway. It’s a time to recharge our batteries and re-educate ourselves on industry trends and new developments. The morning’s session… Documentary-style filmmaking: from proposal to final product.

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This comes at a great time. One of the jobs waiting for me once I return home is a commissioned project for a family who wants to tell the story of the Lucy Evelyn.

Briefly, the Lucy Evelyn was a three masted schooner which from 1948 to 1972 sat aground as a permanent fixture of the boardwalk in Long Beach Island, NJ where it served as a landmark, tourist attraction and home to a series of unique gift shops. It’s going to be an interesting story to capture on film and I look forward to getting started.

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Normally, I would blog about this project after it was completed however, I have an unusual request. If any of my readers, who are local to the Mount Dora area, can remember visiting the Lucy Evelyn during the time it was beached on Long Beach Island, we’d love to capture you on film sharing those memories for possible inclusion into the film.

If you are willing, contact me at michael.O@homevideostudio.com. We’ll set up an appointment and get the cameras rolling. It’ll be fun. 

In other news, nominations for this year’s Hanley Awards are being announced Wednesday night. We’ll keep you informed of any developments.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

(Note: Home Video Studio of Mount Dora will be closed until Monday, July 30th while Michael & Kate attend the 18th annual Getaway Conference in Tucson, Arizona. See you when we get back.)

Light Up The Sky

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We had a great time in Mount Dora on Tuesday night at our local Freedom on the Waterfront celebration which culminated with a spectacular fireworks display. It made me think back to what might have been the most memorable 4th of July in my memory.

There was the time my family drove to a local Maryland park and we laid out a blanket and had sandwiches and sodas while listening to an army band and watching the explosions in the sky. I was probably 8 or 9. It was my first major fireworks display that I saw in person.

Then there was the time I was driving on I-95 on my way from DC to Cape Cod. I just happened to pass NYC as they were lighting off the fireworks. The year was 1986, the year we celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. I’m told the fireworks were incredible – I didn’t dare look at them, traffic was intense and we were traveling at 70 mph plus. My eyes stayed locked on the bumper of the car in front of me.

There was the one year in Orlando where my family and I, along with thousands of others, gathered around Lake Eola even though a lack of rainfall caused the fireworks display to be cancelled. City planners instead quickly arranged for a laser light show in its stead. It fizzled.

But the fourth of July that stands out the most in my mind occurred a few years ago. We were visiting my son, who is in the Coast Guard, and we were invited to take part in their 4th of July family day. Servicemen and women were invited to bring their families onto the base to celebrate the day together. What made that particular celebration most meaningful was not necessarily the pyrotechnics, although they were impressive… It was that, as we stood there looking up at the night sky, surrounded by men and women who had made the decision to join the military to serve our nation, we could not help but have a deep appreciation for that service and their sacrifice. Celebrating our country’s Independence Day with them and their families put the day’s celebration in its proper perspective.

Wherever you may be, have a Happy Independence Day but try to remember the why of the celebration. As John Adams once wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail:

“I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory.”

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Dust-filled Memories

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I filmed a section of a LifeStory last week. This is when we set up our cameras in the studio and give people an opportunity to record some of the memories they have of growing up in their day and time. This one involved a woman who, as a child, lived through what is sometimes called “The Dirty Thirties” – a period more commonly known as the Dust Bowl. Her recollections were harrowing, leading me to try to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of this US environmental disaster.

Here are some little known facts about the Dust Bowl, reprinted from an article by Christopher Klein which first appeared on History.com in 2012.

Families were driven out of the once fertile great plains by massive dust clouds–one that rose to 10,000 feet and reached as far as New York City.

1. One monster dust storm reached the Atlantic Ocean.

While “black blizzards” constantly menaced Plains states in the 1930s, a massive dust storm 2 miles high traveled 2,000 miles before hitting the East Coast on May 11, 1934. For five hours, a fog of prairie dirt enshrouded landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol, inside which lawmakers were debating a soil conservation bill. For East Coasters, the storm was a mere inconvenience—“Housewives kept busy,” read a New York Times subhead—compared to the tribulations endured by Dust Bowl residents.

2. The Dust Bowl was both a manmade and natural disaster.

Beginning with World War I, American wheat harvests flowed like gold as demand boomed. Lured by record wheat prices and promises by land developers that “rain follows the plow,” farmers powered by new gasoline tractors over-plowed and over-grazed the southern Plains. When the drought and Great Depression hit in the early 1930s, the wheat market collapsed. Once the oceans of wheat, which replaced the sea of prairie grass that anchored the topsoil into place, dried up, the land was defenseless against the winds that buffeted the Plains.

3. The ecosystem disruption unleashed plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers.

If the dust storms that turned daylight to darkness weren’t apocalyptic enough, seemingly biblical plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers descended on the Plains and destroyed whatever meager crops could grow. To combat the hundreds of thousands of jackrabbits that overran the Dust Bowl states in 1935, some towns staged “rabbit drives” in which townsmen corralled the jackrabbits in pens and smashed them to death with clubs and baseball bats. Thick clouds of grasshoppers—as large as 23,000 insects per acre, according to one estimate—also swept over farms and consumed everything in their wakes. “What the sun left, the grasshoppers took,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said during a fireside chat. The National Guard was called out to crush grasshoppers with tractors and burn infested fields, while the Civilian Conservation Corps spread an insecticide of arsenic, molasses and bran.

4. Proposed solutions were truly out-of-the-box.

There were few things desperate Dust Bowl residents didn’t try to make it rain. Some followed the old folklore of killing snakes and hanging them belly-up on fences. Others tried shock and awe. Farmers in one Texas town paid a self-professed rainmaker $500 to fire off rockets carrying an explosive mixture of dynamite and nitroglycerine to induce showers. Corporations also touted their products to the federal government as possible solutions. Sisalkraft proposed covering the farms with waterproof paper, while a New Jersey asphalt company suggested paving the Plains.

5. A newspaper reporter gave the Dust Bowl its name.

Associated Press reporter Robert Geiger opened his April 15, 1935, dispatch with this line: “Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer’s tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent—if it rains.” “Dust bowl” was probably a throwaway line for Geiger, since two days later he referred to the disaster zone as the “dust belt.” Nevertheless, within weeks the term had entered the national lexicon.

6. Dust storms crackled with powerful static electricity.

So much static electricity built up between the ground and airborne dust that blue flames leapt from barbed wire fences and well-wishers shaking hands could generate a spark so powerful it could knock them to the ground. Since static electricity could short out engines and car radios, motorists driving through dust storms dragged chains from the back of their automobiles to ground their cars.

7. The swirling dust proved deadly.

Those who inhaled the airborne prairie dust suffered coughing spasms, shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis and influenza. Much like miners, Dust Bowl residents exhibited signs of silicosis from breathing in the extremely fine silt particulates, which had high silica content. Dust pneumonia, called the “brown plague,” killed hundreds and was particularly lethal for infants, children and the elderly.

8. The federal government paid farmers to plow under fields and butcher livestock.

As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government purchased starving livestock for at least $1 a head. Livestock healthy enough to be butchered could fetch as much as $16 a head, with the meat used to feed homeless people living in Hoovervilles. The Soil Conservation Service, established in 1935, paid farmers to leave fields idle, employ land management techniques such as crop rotation and replant native prairie grasses. The federal government also bought more than 10 million acres and converted them to grasslands, some managed today by the U.S. Forest Service.

9. Most farm families did not flee the Dust Bowl.

John Steinbeck’s story of migrating tenant farmers in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” tends to obscure the fact that upwards of three-quarters of farmers in the Dust Bowl stayed put. Dust Bowl refugees did not flood California. Only 16,000 of the 1.2 million migrants to California during the 1930s came from the drought-stricken region. Most Dust Bowl refugees tended to move only to neighboring states.

10. Few “Okies” were actually from Oklahoma.

While farm families migrating to California during the 1930s, like the fictitious Joad family, were often derided as “Okies,” only one-fifth of them were actually from Oklahoma. (Plus, many of those Oklahoma migrants were from the eastern part of the state outside of the Dust Bowl.) “Okie” was a blanket term used to describe all agricultural migrants, no matter their home states. They were greeted with hostility and signs such as one in a California diner that read: “Okies and dogs not allowed inside.”

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Tale Of The Three Sisters

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I heard a new story today. Actually it is an old story… it was just one I hadn’t heard before. One of my clients was telling me about a place where he used to live. It was by the Blue Mountains of Australia. He described it by saying “imagine the Grand Canyon… only green and full of life.” He said he lived within walking distance from the three sisters.

When I said I didn’t know who the three sisters were, he told me the Aboriginal legend of ‘Meehni’, ‘Wimlah’ and ‘Gunnedoo’. They were three beautiful sisters of the Katoomba tribe. They were in love with three brothers who were from a neighboring tribe. Unfortunately, their tribal laws forbade any possible relationship from forming between them.

The brothers, being members of a warrior tribe, decided to take their chosen females by force. In order to protect the girls during the ensuing battle, a witch doctor cast a spell which turned the sisters into stone. The plan was to restore them to human form after the battle was over. Unfortunately the witch doctor was killed in the skirmish and no one else knew how to reverse the spell. And so the sisters remain – frozen in stone overlooking the lovely Jamison Valley in New South Wales, Australia.

What a sad story in such a beautiful location but it does answer a question I had. We were in Sedona Arizona last year when I noticed this unusual rock formation.

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I always wondered what happened to Snoopy.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.