Blog writing: Real estate

I haven’t posted any examples of real estate writing to this point, but I’ve done quite a lot of it, and here’s why: My wife Beth is a Re/Max real estate agent and she has a blog, I’ve written quite a lot of copy for that blog over the past few years, a lot of it under her name. Most of the blog stories have to do with fun or interesting things to see and do in North Pinellas County, where we live and where she works. As with all aspects of my life, I often find interesting or offbeat things to write about. If you just keep your eyes open, you will find all kinds of interesting stories and photo subjects. The fellow mentioned in this story made a big contribution to the war effort back in the 1930s, but he might have been forgotten were it not for a small brass plaque that I found one day while out for a walk.


Donald Roebling didn’t have to work, and he could trace that very good fortune all the way back to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Roebling’s great-grandfather, John Roebling, was the original chief engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge project, the construction of which began in 1870. But John Roebling was injured at the construction site and had to turn his chief engineer duties over to his son, Washington Roebling. John Roebling died of an infection related to his injury before the bridge opened to traffic in 1883.

Which leads us back to Washington Roebling’s grandson, Donald.

In the 1930s, Donald Roebling was living a comfortable life in Clearwater, Fla., where he had build an impressive estate on the shore of the Intercoastal Waterway. Then in his 30s, Donald didn’t need to work, but he did share his grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s interest in mathematics and engineering.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, three powerful hurricanes struck Florida. Many people were injured and killed, and many others were left stranded for days and weeks because there was simply no way to reach them through the wreckage and the flooded ground. Donald Roebling read about all the hurricane-related carnage and decided to do something about it.

He had a modern, well-equipped machine shop built on the grounds of his estate; he hired a staff of workers; and he set about designing a vehicle that could travel on land was well as through water. Such a vehicle, he thought, could make it through deep water and over blow-downs, and could be used to rescue people should another hurricane come ashore in Florida.

The result was an ungainly-looking two-tracked vehicle with a large open compartment that could hold people or equipment. Roebling called it the “Alligator.”

Roebling thought the Alligator would make a dandy military vehicle, and he tried to sell that idea to the U.S. Government. Try as he might, however, he could not get anyone to listen to his story.


Donald Roebling’s Alligator

Finally, however, he did get a Life Magazine reporter to write about the Alligator, and that got things rolling.  Marine Corps officials saw the article and kicked the Life clipping up the ladder.  Before long, Marine Corps officials were in Clearwater, looking closely at Roebling’s creation.

They liked the Alligator and thought it would be great for transporting troops from ships onto beaches and then back again. The trouble was that the Marine Corps didn’t have any money that could be spent on research and development of equipment. That didn’t really bother the wealthy Roebling, however; he agreed to do the research at his own expense, and turn out a new version of the Alligator that might make a better application for military use.

Within a few months, Roebling’s newer design was approved, and Alligators were being manufactured in Lakeland for the Marine Corps. Not long afterwards, four factories were turning out thousands of the amphibious machines, which saw much action at Guadacanal and throughout the South Pacific during World War II. The machines also were used in Korea and Vietnam, and the modern military amphibious vehicles  in use today trace their lineage directly back to Roebling’s original 1930s design.

Continue reading

Grave robbing and other deep subjects

UPI was absolutely in love with the strange, the creepy and the absurd. The odder the story, the more they wanted to go after it. The company believed that readers were fascinated by the peculiar, and I have to say that I saw plenty of evidence that they were right. So if I heard about some story that was macabre or unusual, I went after it. This story, about grave robbing, is an example.


NORWAY, Maine (UPI) – Oxford County Sheriff Alton Howe said Monday persons who robbed three graves in (the town of) Sweden may have been after skulls to sell to an out-of-state cult.

Howe said three graves were opened at the Black Mountain Cemetery more than a week ago. Other counties have also reported the opening of graves, most of them more than 100 years old.

“We found out that a cult out-of-state is paying more than $100 for skulls,” Howe said. ”Whether or not this is it, or some other stupid thing, I don’t know.”

The three graves, one of a woman and two of men, were dug up more than a week ago. The holes were six feet deep, five feet long, and two feet wide. Howe said the skulls appeared to be missing from each grave, but said the remains were in such condition it was hard to tell what, if anything, had been taken.

“We found a set of false teeth in one and a few small bones and fragments of fabric and hair in the others,” he said.

Most of the bones, Howe said, appeared to be from a foot. Another bone, which appeared to be a thigh bone, also was found.

The grave robberies were not the first in the state in recent months. Another grave was opened at the Black Mountain Cemetery last year, and other grave openings have been reported in Cornish, Waterboro and Fryeburg.

In addition, there was a twist to the previous grave opening at the Black Mountain Cemetery.

“The peculiar part was that one of the new grave openings was alongside the one that had been previously dug up,” According to Sweden Civil Defense Director Donald Laffin. “Whoever did that one filled the grave back in.”

“All we found were some fragments of clothing and pieces of the casket.”

In Waterboro, Leland Swett knew about the grave openings in that town because the robbers had dug up the resting places of some of his relatives.

The diggings there took place in the Swett Cemetery, a private burial plot on Ossipee Mountain.

“One of the graves was my great grandmother,” Swett said. “They were all relatives,. There’s three generations buried there, if not four.”

It wasn’t known if anything was taken from the graves, because the local road commissioner filled the graves back in.

Howe isn’t sure what the diggers were after if it wasn’t the skulls.

“None of them were war veterans, so there were probably no medals,” he said. “And I doubt if it is a matter of finding jewelry, so we are considering the possibility of occult practices.”

“The persons responsible worked hard for whatever they were after.”

Political writing: Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy comes to Maine

I haven’t posted any examples of political writing to this point, but that’s what I spent a lot of time doing when I was a reporter for UPI in Maine. My office was on the fourth floor of the Maine State House, and most of my days were spent covering government hearings, legislative sessions and gubernatorial news conferences. In this case, a national presidential candidate came to town. I don’t really recall this visit by Eugene McCarthy in 1975, but I’m sure I considered it a break in the usual routine and a chance to get some national coverage for one of my stories.



AUGUSTA, Maine (UPI) – Independent presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy says both major political parties are in trouble, and the Democrats are in more danger of extinction than the Republicans.

McCarthy, a former senator who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, said Thursday an independent stands a good chance in the presidential election next year because of the public’s growing disaffection.

“If you have a party that can nominate Richard Nixon twice, that ought to cause them problems for at least 20 years,” McCarthy said. “And if the other party can’t put up someone to beat him, that ought to say something about them.”

McCarthy said the Democrats have lost sight of their objectives and could be in danger of fading away.

“There’s no reason why a party shouldn’t disappear,” McCarthy said. “It happened to the Whig party between 1856 and 1864.”

McCarthy said the Republic Party is sort of like moss on a rock; “It gets green in the spring and grey in the fall, but it doesn’t change much.” he said. “I think the Republican Party is closer to fulfilling its function.”

The former senator said there is the best chance of the past 30 to 40 years for an independent to be elected president.

McCarthy came to Maine to talk with independent Gov. James B. Longley about a suit the two men are involved in which challenges the federal campaign funding law. The suit goes before the U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 10.

McCarthy said the campaign law discriminates against independent candidates and works to perpetuate the existing parties.

McCarthy said he felt the suit would result at least in changes in the act.

“We’re very optimistic. It is our feeling that even if it is constitutional it is a very bad act, and we’re hopeful we can stop it,” he said.

The act limits contributions to $5,000 to any one candidate and to $25,p000 in any election; requires that contributors’ names be made public; imposes spending limits on candidates; and provides federal funding to the party candidates.

Longley, who attended the news conference with McCarthy at the Blaine House, said the federal act serves to discourage people from running for office.

“I think we need to do more to encourage people to run for office,” he said.

McCarthy said the act has made it difficult for him to run for president.

“It’s made it difficult to finance our campaign,” he said. “It gives a clear advantage to the Democrats and Republicans by giving them funds to start with.

Horizoners: UPI’s series of feature stories

Back in the 70s and 80s, UPI offered a regular diet of feature stories to its newspaper clients. Since I worked in New England, my weekly 500-word feature was distributed along with the work of people in the other five New England states in a package called New England Horizons. Maine was rich in feature story opportunities, so this chore was usually fairly simple to accomplish, and the lighthearted nature of these stories was a welcome break from the usual grind of stories about state government and politics. Lakewood, a nationally-known summer theater, was usually good for at least one feature story per year.


Lakewood tent in 75th season


SKOWHEGAN, Maine (UPI) – The play first produced at Lakewood in 1901 comes back this year as the oldest continuously operating summer theater in the nation celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Lakewood began in a roller skating rink at the end of a trolley line at the very start of this century.  And it hasn’t missed a season since “the Secretary” was first produced way back then.

For Joe and Katy Denis, who have been operating the theater the past three summers, finding a script for the “The Secretary” was a difficult task.



“In 1973 the artistic director for the American Theater Co. in New York, Richard Kuss, suggested that we try and find the script,” Mrs. Denis said. “The former owners had seen a script for the play and said they didn’t think it was playable. But we said we would consider it if Kuss could kind a script.”

Kuss searched for a year and a half, and finally found the original script in a library in Philadelphia.

“The script was sent here, we read it and thought it was great,” Mrs. Denis said. “It ran for six weeks in New York, I went down to see it and the audience received it like a newborn babe.”

Beside “The Secretary,” Lakewood also will present “Life with Father,” which premiered at Lakewood in 1937. In addition, Patty Duke and her husband John Astin, Betsy Palmer, and Imogene Coca will appear this summer in such productions as “In Praise of Love”, “My Fat Friend,” “Irene,” and “Kiss Me Kate.”

The last production of the season will be a new one, “Winter Chicken.”

“We’re sort of starting the season with the very oldest and ending it with the newest,” Mrs. Denis said.

Continue reading