The past year brought something very strange and deadly serious to our midst. In our search for rays of light, we can think of many occasions that were strange in our town, though in far less serious ways. Since coming to Naples in 1979 to work as a journalist, retiring from the Naples Daily News in 2014 after 35 years there, I have witnessed my share of strange.
A contingency of local citizens feared the arrival of the Ritz-Carlton would doom the local, family-oriented tourism industry. The rest is history. Subdivisions such as Quail Creek and Pelican Bay made some otherwise visionary people wonder who would ever pay so much money — $400,000 in the 1980s, for example – to live so far out of town.
A developer from Oklahoma, named Never Fail, proposed buying the Edgewater Beach Hotel and fixing it up with a federal grant based upon Naples being a blighted area – if you count Immokalee.
A Naples City Council member once wondered aloud whether the city should regulate the shine and glare of metal roofs. Council also once considered banning the throwing of plastic discs on the beach, with an advocate going so far as to call them Killer Frisbees.
A major, Collier County-funded beach re-nourishment project dumped tons of rocks mixed with the sand dredged and pumped from the Gulf floor.
The demise of AM radio station WNOG (for Wonderful Naples on the Gulf), which in its heyday was must-listen for news junkies and everyday citizens. It even served as the foundation for a cable news, weather and sports show produced weekday evenings from the same downtown building. (Working in the journalism fraternity, I was allowed access to watch behind the scenes.
Later I would get to co-host a weekly news interview show with one of the anchors, Carl Loveday, before going solo until 2014.) Talking about demises, the crash of the Naples Daily News – once one of the most successful and profitable print properties in America – certainly merits a niche in strange history.
It was strange when Collier County government policymakers and administrators blurred the boundaries between development regulators and development participants, leading to 10 indictments of public and private sector principals in the late 1990s.
At the core of the Stadium Naples scandal stood a stadium for the final holes of professional golf matches – an idea so promising that it did not need county government corruption to succeed.
A hot-air balloon festival held great promise, on paper, until the first event based at Naples Municipal Airport encountered the reality of Gulf breezes that would pull contestants toward the hospital and high-rises.
It was odd, and sad, that when Naples Police were alerted to a suspicious and abandoned small package, it was blown up, just to be safe. It turned out to be some poor soul’s ashes.
Original twin-engine WWII vintage Collier Mosquito Control planes spraying chemical fog flew so low, at daybreak, that newcomers routinely believed Naples was under attack. Some of the pilots had experience in Vietnam flying at treetop levels.
When the MGM Grand in Las Vegas had a fire that made national news, wire service mugshot photos of the arson suspect included a surprise local angle – a t-shirt with big letters across his chest spelling out “Naples Federal.” It seems marketing officers for the former savings and loan were at a convention at the resort passing out promotional items, and one shirt reached a very unintended recipient and audience.
Folks who worked in the old Daily News office, on Central Avenue, where a huge condo is under construction today, remember two unusual regular visitors to the newsroom, which was easily accessible minus security or locked doors. One was the “advance clown,” our nickname for a fellow in full clown makeup and wardrobe, who would come offering free tickets and seeking publicity every time his circus was coming to town.
Then there was Jungle Larry, the show biz name of Larry Tetzlaff, who co-owned, managed and starred in animal shows at the Naples Zoo when it was named Jungle Larry’s African Safari. The former Tarzan movie stunt double would arrive at the newspaper in full safari garb, carrying snakes or cats around his neck that would make someone run to grab a camera.
On a less grand scale, an escorted elephant once took a stroll down Airport-Pulling Road, ridden by a fringe candidate for sheriff. Or was it county commission?
The nice thing about all the oddities mentioned in this story — it really doesn’t matter. They are the fabric of our past. The strangeness in our midst these days really does matter.