Friday, May 27, 2011

Closure of Dozier School marks end of historic facility

Dozier School from the Air (Bing Map)
The announcement this week that Dozier School in Marianna - now officially titled another name, but still called Dozier School by local residents - will mark the end of a facility that has served the State of Florida for more than 100 years.

Originally known as the Florida Reform School, Dozier came into existence in the 1890s when state leaders realized Florida needed a better facility for housing juvenile offenders. At the time it opened, it was a state of the art facility.

The boys housed there were both black and white. Living quarters were segregated in those days, but the boys of both races worked on a farm and in a number of other industries to learn skills and help support the expense of operating the school.

There was a terrible fire in the early 1900s, followed by the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. Those two events alone claimed two dozen lives at the facilities, taking both boys held at the reform school and employees who watched over them.

The media - particularly the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times - has delighted in telling stories of alleged horrors at the facility during its early days.  In their search for sensational angles, however, they often do not provide the perspective needed to judge events such as the fire and flu outbreak.

In the fire, for example, a boy died after going back into the burning dormitory to save the life of an employee he thought was trapped inside. It was a sign of the concern that most employees and youths at the school had for each other and was a remarkably heroic act that seems to always be overlooked in accounts of events at the school.

The same is true of the horrible conditions that developed at the school during the 1918 flu outbreak. A federal health official visited the school and found boys writhing in misery in abominable conditions, virtually uncared for and dying rapidly from the ravages of the flu. This report is often quoted in news stories about the school as a way of offering "perspective" on how horrible things have been there over the years.

In fact, what the accounts often do not mention, is that employees of the school were writhing in misery along with the students and that the flu had so ravaged the facility that everyone was sick, not just the boys. In fact, the 1918 flu outbreak killed hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and millions worldwide. Entire cities collapsed during the outbreak and in parts of Georgia towns went so far as to ban church services and all public assemblies as a way of halting the spread of the deadly outbreak. Walk through any cemetery that has been around for 100 years or more and you will see a startling number of headstones with the death date listed as 1918.

In short, history is more than a collection of sensational events. History is a mixture of things, some good, some bad. History proves that most people are good hearted and that those who usually reap what they sow.

Dozier School, not so long ago, didn't even have fences. It looked more like a college campus than a juvenile detention facility. People from all over the region went there every Christmas to ride the train or to see the wonderful animated Christmas displays the students used to assemble each year.

Dozier School, in the early 1980s, had the best success rate of turning juvenile offenders from criminals into responsible citizens of any school in the state. It offered a success story that was studied by other such facilities across the nation.

Over the last couple of years, there has been much negative publicity about both the school and Jackson County. People, many of them long dead, have been accused of attrocities. Many of those allegations were patently false.  Did bad things happen at Dozier?  I'm sure they did occasionally, just as they do in prisons, veterans hospitals, public schools, private schools, college campuses and in our own homes.

Were the so-called "White House Boys" abused at Dozier School four decades ago?  I don't know. They say they were, others say they were not. I do know, however, that many of the allegations made by them turned out to be false.  There are no mystery graves at Dozier School. The little cemetery shown so often on the news and in newspaper photographs actually contained the graves of boys, employees and even animals that died at the school over the years. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated and found that the large majority of the graves date from more than 90 years ago. FDLE also found that there are no "missing boys." Every offender sent there is accounted for in the records.  Claims of murder and of boys disappearing are simply untrue. The only juvenile murdered at the school was killed by other juveniles.

It is a shame that so much negative publicity was heaped on the facility and our community. It is a shame that so many reporters did not bother to look for the truth behind allegations before airing or printing their stories. It is a shame that reporters from Miami and St. Pete didn't take time to look at the histories of incarceration facilities in their own communities, where I suspect they would find horrors that make anything that happened at Dozier look pale by comparison.

Goodbye Dozier and the jobs you provided. It is a shame that it came to this and that state officials did not have more courage in the face of unwarranted negative publicity.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Charles Hentz was Jackson County's Best Known Antebellum Doctor

Dr. Hentz was the son of famed 19th century
novelist Caroline Lee Hentz, the probable
creator of the Bellamy Bridge ghost legend.
By Dale Cox

The best known of Jackson County’s antebellum “plantation doctors” was Dr. Charles Hentz. A son of the famed 19th century novelist Caroline Lee Hentz, he came to the county in 1848 hoping to make a living by providing medical services to the area’s growing planting community.

Practicing first at Port Jackson on the Chattahoochee River and later in Marianna, Hentz tended to families and slaves on plantations of all sizes and his diary and autobiography provide a fascinating glimpse of life on these farms. His knowledge of medicine was rudimentary at best. A good example was his treatment of Betsy Owens, a young woman of 20 who lived at Owens Hill near today’s Parramore community:

Sunday, January 14. Most beautiful morning. I rode to Mrs Owens; found her daughter Betsy, a stout good looking maid of about 20, very sick; prescribed, came home to late dinner….

Monday, January 15. Rode to Mrs. Owens again. Met the old lady, ere getting there, looking for her son, going to Billy Hair’s after him, talked about her daughter & returned; dissected my hawk all afternoon….

The problem with Hentz’s treatment of Betsy Owens was that he prescribed for her a high dose of calomel. Then used as a laxative, calomel is better known today as Mercury Chloride. Highly toxic, when administered in high doses it can lead to salivating (excessive drooling), hair and tooth loss and even death. Its use as a medicine was discontinued by around 1860, although in England it continued to be used as an ingredient in dental powder, leading to widespread mercury poisoning in that country.

Hentz overdosed Betsy Owens with calomel and within two days received an urgent message that she was salivating. Noting in his diary that he was “sorry to hear it,” Hentz mounted his horse and made the long ride from Port Jackson to Owens Hill, where he “found her quite perplexingly ill.” He reduced the dose, bemoaning the fact that he would not be paid for his services. Finally, four days after he initially dosed Betsy with enough calomel to cause mercury poisoning, she began to show signs of improvement:

Thursday, January 18. I went to widow Owens’ again this morning, am getting quite tired of the road, for the very good reason that my labor will meet with no pecuniary remuneration. I had the satisfaction to find Miss Betsy improving. The day has been charming, bright and beautiful….

Betsy would continue to experience problems for several more days, but Hentz was finally able to end his “treatment” of her. As bad as things went for Betsy Owens, they went even worse for some of Hentz’s other patients. Robert Crawford, for example, died in agony after taking medicine prescribed by Hentz with assistance from a doctor called in from Bainbridge, Georgia:

…He arose violently from bed, with several terrified cries, & rushed out, notwithstanding all efforts of bystanders to the contrary. He struggled violently, & gradually sunk to the floor in convulsions, in which he died, rolling his eyes fearfully; gritting his teeth; gasping & convulsed; he died in about 10 minutes….

Not all of Hentz’s visits went so poorly. He spent much of his time sewing up injuries, setting broken bones and taking care of other everyday medical needs for the planters of Jackson County. His diary indicates that he treated slaves with as much care as he did their white owners and that he was often called to their bedsides by the planters themselves.

One such visit, to the Wood plantation between Marianna and Port Jackson, turned into quite an escapade:

…Went to Mrs. Wood’s after dinner, saw some ailing negroes, sat in the parlor for the afternoon…Miss Kate King sang some, I had carried my flute & played a little. We all tryed the Chloroform, as Miss K. wished to see its effects, both ladies looked happy & embraced each other, & I felt like a thunderstorm, made great stamping & noise; ate some more fine watermelon; a good peach & a good fig….

In addition to his accounts of medical visits to plantations far and wide, Hentz’s diary provides fascinating insights to daily life and social customs in Jackson County during the plantation era. He describes boisterous election day gatherings, quiet Christmas Days spent reading, church services attended by whites and blacks alike, hunting expeditions along the Chipola and Chattahoochee Rivers and even fishing in Blue Spring.

Note: This article is excerpted from my 2010 book, The Early History of Jackson County, Florida: The Civil War Years. It is available locally at Chipola River Book & Tea in Downtown Marianna (across the street from the Battle of Marianna Monument) or you can order online at the upper right of this page.