Chasing Shadows: Memories of the Hill's 'Miss Love'
A lot happened in 1947. Among other things, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Princess Elizabeth married Phillip Mountbatten, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play on a major league baseball team, Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific in the Kon-Tiki, the average cost of a loaf of bread was 13 cents, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was born.
In Apalachicola that same year, Sylvester Tarantino caught the largest sturgeon ever recorded, seven-and-a-half feet long and 251 pounds; a tornado careening down 12th Street killed two African American children, destroyed 27 homes and damaged 31 more, all in 30 seconds; and Bing Crosby put the city on the map with the song “Apalachicola, Fla.,” written for him by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke after Crosby met the Florida city’s native son Jimmy Bloodworth then playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, which Crosby co-owned.
Finally, 1947 marked the deaths of Al Capone, Henry Ford… and Julia Love.
Julia Love, you are probably asking yourself, as your brows knit together, trying to place her. Julia Love? But, unless you lived in the Hill section of Apalachicola those many decades ago, her name will mean nothing to you. She wasn’t a celebrity. In fact, like most of us, she was just an ordinary person, gone and all but forgotten with the passage of time.
When my husband and I bought our property here seven years ago, I set about learning the history of both the city and my new neighborhood, the traditionally African American part of town known by all as “the Hill.” In particular, I wanted to know about our piece of property. I pestered people up and down my street, and then pestered the people they connected me with.
I’ve forgotten now from whom I first heard the name “Julia Love,” the former owner of our 9th Street lots, but when I did, she became my obsession. I haunted the city clerk’s office, looking up old deeds and vital records, and I hunted through vast amounts of data at ancestry.com. I brought Julia’s name up in nearly every conversation I had with native Apalachicolians. Although I collided with many brick walls, I also had “accidental” strokes of great good luck, and slowly, slowly the story of Julia Love emerged.
She was born Julia Ann Baxter in Apalachicola in about 1872. Her parents were Willis Baxter, an African American from North Carolina, and Mary Griffin, a mixed-race woman, born in Florida. Given that they were born many years before the Civil War, it is likely they had been slaves.
Julia had two older sisters, Katie and Sarah (Sallie) Freeman, from her mother’s first marriage, and an older brother, William (Bud) Baxter. Willis Baxter worked on a steamboat while Mary had her hands full running the house and taking care of the kids. A fifth child, Henry, came along in 1878. Tragically, sometime between Henry’s birth and the 1880 census, Willis, only in his mid-40s, died. The records are mute as to the cause of his death. The older girls, Katie and Sallie, married, and Mary and Julia Ann went to work as domestic servants.
Julia was hired by Adolph Flatauer, a German-Jewish dry goods merchant, and his wife, Regina. Flatauer family papers say that Julia started work with them when she was 12 years old, and that she “was a Christian character, showering the Flatauer children with love, and sharing her faith in God with them. Julia was a wonderful cook and was strict with the children.”
She didn’t live with the Flatauers, but maintained a home with her mother on the Hill. By dint of hard work, Julia was able to put aside some savings and, in July 1893, she bought a house on Cedar (9th) Street from John Ruge for $75. The house was a lovely hip-roofed, two-story home graced with long, narrow windows and a center entrance framed by a transom and sidelights. It has been described as “one of the few I houses in Apalachicola” – an I house being a popular 19th century Southern house style, at least two rooms in length, one room deep, and two stories high with gable ends.
In 1899 (again as reported in Flatauer records), Julia “moved to Atlanta with the Flatauers. There she met and fell in love with William Love. After moving back to Apalachicola, Adolph Flatauer sent for William Love and helped him get a job at the Cypress saw mill and Julia and William were married” on January 29, 1903.
Five years later, Julia and William, with their two incomes, were able to buy the lot next door to their house for $200. Also in 1908 the Flatauer mansion was built on Chestnut Street (73 Avenue E). Life seems to have gone on fairly predictably for both the Baxter-Love and Flatauer families for a while, but by the time of the 1920 census, much had changed: Julia was widowed, although the reason for William’s death is not known, and both Freda and Regina Flatauer (daughter and mother) were dead, the girl from typhoid fever and the woman as a result of the Spanish flu pandemic. A few months later, Adolph Flatauer, consumed by grief, put a bullet to his head. And all these personal losses occurred against the backdrop of World War I. A short six years later, one last blow came with the death of Julia’s mother, Mary Griffin Freeman Baxter.
Julia continued to work for the Flatauer family through both the Great Depression and World War II. Through those nearly two decades, she – along with her grand-nephew - stayed on in her lovely old home, filled with the many antiques given to her by Adolph and Regina when they’d purchased new furniture. She was able to increase her real estate holdings by purchasing another abutting lot as well as a narrow length of one across the alley. To supplement her income, she rented out a small house next to hers.
In 1945, a young family from out-of-state made this rental their first home in Apalach. Willie Williams is now 80 years old, but she has fond memories of her former landlady, “Miss Love,” especially her practice of carrying all her housekeeping supplies in an old, rusty-wheeled baby carriage. Willie says you always knew when Miss Love was on her way to or from work because you could hear the carriage squeak-squeaking its way down the street. Another woman who remembers Julia Love described her as “short, dark-complected, and pleasant,” and yet another spoke of her as a “good woman.”
When Julia Love died in 1947, she left her graceful old home to her half-sister’s daughter, Mary Julia Clark, who was the mother of one of the city’s great educators, Charles Watson Clark, after whom 11th Street was renamed. The house was rented out for a long time, but gradually fell into disrepair and, finally, ruin and was dismantled almost 50 years ago.
Old cemetery records at City Hall led me to Julia Love’s gravesite in the shade of some noble old live oaks at Magnolia Cemetery. It was marked by nothing other than a palm tree, any wooden cross or memorial having long since rotted away. Coincidentally, at about the same time, an advertisement appeared on my Facebook page for small gravestone plaques, and I had one delivered to me. We mounted it on a cement square and, a few days later, Willie Williams and I went out to Magnolia with the plaque, a potted geranium, a trowel, and a jug of water. We said a few words in Julia’s memory, returned to the car and drove, wistfully, away.
Pam Richardson, a member of the Apalachicola Area Historical Society board of directors, can be reached at email@example.com.