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Plane crash through homes, historic fire: GMJ explores Jacksonville's lesser-known history

A local historian says knowing Jacksonville's lesser-known history can help shape the city's future.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville has a new mayor-elect and construction at its prime downtown riverfront location is set to begin next month. As people in the city look to the future, a local historian says it's important to understand the city's past.

First Coast News asked local historian Tim Gilmore about some lesser-known stories that shape Jacksonville.

"There's stories everywhere," Gilmore said. "Everywhere you scratch the surface, there's fascinating stories."

First Coast News and Gilmore begin their lesser-known stories tour outside the Carling apartments downtown. It was a much darker day in 1963.

"[It was the] largest fire since the Great Fire of 1901," Gilmore said.

The Carling, then Hotel Roosevelt, Gilmore says, was packed for Gator Bowl weekend. He says 22 people were killed and 100 were hurt in the fire.

"Helicopters everywhere and people actually repelling out the window with bedsheets tied together," he said.

Going further back in time, if you recognize a whistle in Springfield, that's because it still sounds today on Main Street 133 years later, four times a day, according to Gilmore. It's called Big Jim.

He says in 1914 the Florida Board of Health wanted to shut Big Jim down, blaming it for...

"Heart palpitations and depression and anxiety," he said. "European critics kind of made fun of that and called it 'Americanitis' and drug companies actually started to create something called 'Americanitis elixir,' which was 15 percent alcohol."

The next stop is Riverside in 1944. Two pilots were flying over Post Street.

"He wanted to buzz his mother's house," Gilmore said about one of the pilots. "It looks like the planes collided."

He says they took out nearly 20 houses and killed a man who was standing in his bathroom shaving.

"The engine from this plane came straight through the brick wall from outside," Gilmore said. "You can actually still see the spot where that happened."

These stories and people may be lesser-known, but Gilmore says it's important to know your city's history.

"I think a city needs to know its story, he said. "Often Jacksonville has not seemed to know its story."

Learn about more of the stories on Gilmore's website here.

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