Beyond Tourism: Florida's Yesteryear

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Before Walmart there was Webb’s City Drug Store April 5, 2010

During the Florida Land Boom of the 1920’s a man in his twenties, by the name of James Earl “Doc” Webb, moved to St. Petersburg and opened a drug store in 1925. It would become huge before the store closed in 1979. The drugstore would cover 7-10 city blocks.

According to Holly Atkins, James got the nickname Doc because he made his own drugs such as Sorbo-Rub, Indian Wahoo Bitters and Doc Webb’s 608. This was only the beginning. His store eventually had 77 different departments including prescription department, surgical supplies, cosmetics and toiletries, Furniture City (covering seven floors!), a florist, a dry cleaning plant, a service station and automobile association, a bank service, a dance studio, an ice cream plant, a coffee roasting plant and, of course, Doc’s Original Drugstore.

When the land boom ended in Florida, a forerunner to the Great Depression, that didn’t stop James. He kept his store open and had deep discounts to keep his customers. He even held circuses and small fairs in his parking lot. He dropped some of his prices so low that Bristol-Meyers took James to court for selling their toothpaste below retail price. It went all the way to the  Florida Supreme Court where it was ruled in James favor. A few years later some distilleries also took him to court for the same reason. The court again ruled in his favor.

The drug store survives the Great Depression but according to Florida’s Lost Tourist Attractions it just wasn’t enough. St. Petersburg was losing it’s status as Florida’s tourist capital and began a long slow spiral downward. In 1974 James sold all his shares in the drugstore and retired. The company went bankrupt in 1979. What did Webb’s City Drug Store leave us with? They invented the 10 items or less speedy check out lane. I’m sure there were plenty of people with a cartload of items in the speedy checkout though.

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Wanted Wednesdays: Code Adam March 24, 2010

I have decided to add a new type of post to my blog. It’s called Wanted Wednesdays and will explore the history of Florida’s criminal underbelly.

I’m going to start it off with Code Adam.

Adam Walsh 6 1/2 years old

Code Adam was named after Adam Walsh who was murdered in 1981 in Hollywood, Florida. On July 27, 1981 Adam and his mother Reve went to Sears to look at lamps. Adam saw some video games which were new. Anyone remember Nintendo?  He was allowed by his mother to play video games while she went to look at the lamps. When she came back to the video games Adam was gone. It is thought that he was abducted outside the door after being asked to leave by security along with some older children who were also playing the video game.

On August 10, 1981 his severed head was found in Vero Beach, Florida 100 miles away. The rest of his remains have never been found. Possible suspects for Adam’s kidnapping and death were Jeffrey Dahmer, Ottis Toole, and Henry Lee Curtis. While no one was brought to justice it is believed that Ottis Toole performed the crime.

In 1984 he co-founded National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Adam’s kidnapping and murder spurred John Walsh to begin the television show America’s Most Wanted. It has been since 1988. It has helped “television program has helped take down over 1,050 dangerous fugitives and bring home more than 50 missing children.”

Code Adam was founded by Wal*Mart in 1994 and was named after Adam Walsh whose story you just read. Many public places including museums, amusement parks and retail stores voluntarily participate in Code Adam. In 2003, Congress passed legislation requiring all Federal buildings to participate in the Code Adam program.

The program consist of six steps.
1.  If a visitor reports a child is missing, a detailed description of the child and what he or she is wearing is obtained. Additionally, all exterior access to the building is locked and monitored; anyone approaching a door is turned away.
2.  The employee goes to the nearest in-house telephone and pages Code Adam, describing the child’s physical features and clothing. As designated employees monitor front entrances, other employees begin looking for the child.
3.  If the child is not found within 10 minutes, law enforcement is called.
4.  If the child is found and appears to have been lost and unharmed, the child is reunited with the searching family member.
5.  If the child is found accompanied by someone other than a parent or legal guardian, reasonable efforts to delay their departure will be used without putting the child, staff, or visitors at risk. Law enforcement will be notified and given details about the person accompanying the child.
6.  The Code Adam page will be canceled after the child is found or law enforcement arrives.

While law enforcement and John Walsh himself believe that Ottis Toole committed the crime it will never be known for sure since Ottis recanted his confession and died a few years later of cirrhosis of the liver without a deathbed confession. In 2008, Adam Walsh’s case was officially closed and Ottis Toole named as the perpetrator.

TV trivia: John Dogget from the hit TV science fiction show X-Files, loses a son in the same manner as John Walsh did. Because it is television and X-Files they were able to solve Dogget’s son’s murder.