A St. George Island resident has recounted the story of one of Franklin County’s most colorful citizens, the legendary “The Oyster King” in a newly published work of prose, poetry, and pictures.
The idea that a poet and evangelist could buy all of St. George Island on the basis of a series of romance novels is strange, but true.
James L. Hargrove, a retired professor of nutrition from the University of Georgia who lives on St. George Island, will sign copies of his new book on the legendary William Lee Popham this Saturday, June 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Downtown Books, 67 Commerce Street, In Apalachicola.
Popham purchased the island in 1916 from a Tallahassee banker, George Saxon, using publishing rights to his novels as down payment. Popham became known as “The Oyster King” when he tried to use oyster harvesting to generate an income for investors who bought land on St. George Island.
Readers of The Oyster King will learn how an ‘inlander’ became an ‘islander,’ a resident of Apalachicola, and eventually its mayor - only to meet his downfall after accusations of mail fraud and rivalries with oystermen capsized his plan to develop St. George Island.
The book traces Popham from his teen-age years near Louisville, Kentucky, as he developed superb speaking abilities that captivated audiences in the Southeast on the Chatauqua Circuit at the beginning of the 20th century. Popham augmented his income by churning out romance novels, sermonettes, advice, and poems.
Although written as a narrative, The Oyster King is rooted in historical fact, and describes the pristine beauty that drew William and Maude Popham to Apalachicola. More than that, the book describes little-known facts about the life history of oysters that Popham tried to exploit to provide dividends for his investors.
To lighten the narrative, The Oyster King contains numerous humorous quotations about oysters penned by people as diverse as Andrew Carnegie, Cole Porter, and Thomas Henry Huxley. The book is replete with recent and period photographs, illustrations, and even a cartoon about Sex on the Beach, which is composed more tastefully than it sounds.
The Oyster King provides numerous examples of Popham’s original poetry and sermons on love that he gave in Apalachicola and elsewhere. It concludes with his trial for mail fraud, and points out how these events led to later development of Saint George Island and Apalachicola.
This entertaining book is recommended as a ‘beach read’ for any visitor who would like to know more about the colorful history of Saint George Island. Signed copies of the book are available at Downtown Books, as well as the the Cape St. George Lighthouse Gift Shop.
Hargrove’s prior books are scientific, for example, Muscadine Health (2008) and Health Benefits of Pecans (2013).