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This week in history: Camp Murphy site turned over to state for use as a park

On June 9, 1947, the federal government transferred the 11,000-acre Camp Murphy to the state of Florida. The World War II radar operation training base was officially decommissioned in 1944 and used for migrant worker housing during the fall and winter of 1945. The state had planned to use the base’s hospital buildings as a tuberculosis sanatorium, but those plans were scrapped because the site was too isolated, making it difficult for employees to travel to and from nearby cities. Jonathan Dickinson State Park opened in July 1950.

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Family taking a break at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection, on the Florida Memory website of the State Library and Archives of Florida)

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Posted in Flashback blog June 6, 2011 at 6:00 am.

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Camp Murphy Message spotlighted local female wrestlers

Last week we told you about the collection of the Camp Murphy Message from the World War II base, now Jonathan Dickinson State Park. We’ve made the issues of the newspaper available online here at HistoricPalmBeach.com.

The papers had been saved by Robert Maertz of West End, Wis., near Milwaukee, who’d done radar training at the camp.

The family recently came across them in a box as Maertz prepared to move, daughter Sally Wise said this month.

Sally said her dad, who later ran a family clothing and general store, also had taken many photographs and “kept really detailed information. All the names are on the back.” She said he sent the pictures to his childhood sweetheart, whom he’d later marry.

It was Sally, a retired schoolteacher, who contacted the Post after deciding the public should have access to these treasures.

In a Nov. 5, 1943 photo (below), a lady flexes her muscles. A caption reads: “Carmelita Mullis, ‘Amazon Bone Crusher,’ will wrestle here in the Camp Murphy Ring on November 16. This female flounderer of feminine pulchritude will appear in an exhibition match with another of her fair sex.”

Carmelita, an Oct. 29, 1943 story says, was 18 and “a commercial artist during working hours.” It said she wasn’t a pro but had wrestled in exhibitions at area military bases. It said she was willing to wrestle any soldier between 120 and 130 pounds, including officers. By the Nov. 5, 1943, story, that offer had been rescinded.

The Nov. 12, 1943 article identified her opponent as “Annette Henderson, also of West Palm Beach.”

Sadly, we don’t have the Nov. 19 issue, and the Nov. 26 edition makes no mention of the epic match. But we weren’t nearly as intrigued as 58-year-old Danny Waters of Lake Park, son of Carmelita, “My goodness. I never had a clue. I never heard of any of this growing up,” he said this month.

He said his mom died young, in 1957, when he was 3, and his dad in 1972, when he was a teen.

Records show Bonnie Carmelita Mullis married Charles Eddie Waters. Son James, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, was born in 1950.

“I hardly knew my mom,” older son James said. “Fond memories, from what I can remember.”

Special thanks to Post staff researcher Michelle Quigley.

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The sports page of the Nov. 5, 1943, edition of the Camp Murphy Message featured an upcoming wrestling match featuring ‘Amazon Bone Crusher’ Carmelita Mullis.

Photos courtesy of Robert Maertz

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The note on the back of this photo from Robert Maertz lists, left to right, Geiger, Major, Mandarish, Dunn, Cook, Sgt. Schefts, Ney, Rynders, Lee, Eklund, Hanfland, Kurtz, Owen, Kissin, Maertz, Malek, Blumquist, Cohen, Henry, Polkowski (a few men are not identified).

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Left to right, Hanson, Mainwaring, Cook (one of the men is not identified)

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Robert Maertz at Camp Murphy

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Mass at Lummus Park

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Jay Walker on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach

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Urinals at Camp Murphy

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Tents set during 13 mile trek

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Ione Jensch, Robert Maertz’s fiancee

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Ione Jensch on the road to Jackson Beach near Stuart

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg and Our history in photos May 19, 2011 at 8:08 am.

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Old newspapers key to region’s bygone days

History often is about coincidences. After director Sidney Lumet died April 9, our May 5 column mentioned the play he produced at Camp Murphy, now Jonathan Dickinson State Park in southern Martin County. It got a rave review in the base’s Camp Murphy Message.

As we were writing the column, Post staff researcher Michelle Quigley got a thick package from, coincidentally, her native Wisconsin.

Inside: 12 issues of the Message, from Oct. 1 to Dec. 24 of 1943.

The Murphy newspapers are rife with news about promotions, transfers, marriages and babies; the usual inside jokes about the dreariness of camp life, and “cheesecake” — publicity photos of long-forgotten bit actresses — as well as not-so-nice comments about Germany and Japan that would be politically incorrect today but were allowed during war.

You’ll recall that last year we got several copies of the newspaper at Morrison Field, later Palm Beach International Airport.

These periodicals serve not only as snapshots of a long-gone era in South Florida, but give insight to the everyday life of GIs training in what was for most of them a strange and beautiful but blasted-hot place.

Many, of course, liked it so much they came back. Florida’s population in 1940 to 3 million in 1950 and 7 million in 1970.

Quigley has painstakingly scanned every page and posted them on our here for you to enjoy.

One person who’s viewing the pages — and who read last week’s column with interest — is Irwin Wiesenthal of suburban Boynton Beach. He was in the show!

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Wiesenthal, 1943
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Wiesenthal, 2011

“We sang. We danced,” Wiesenthal, now 88, recalled last week. “It was a farce on the Army. About basic training.”

The show had only one performance. Not because it bombed. But because the cast was shipped out and scattered to other bases. Wiesenthal said he briefly saw the director after the war, when Lumet was struggling to break into Broadway, but never again after that.

Wiesenthal was in the Pacific but saw no combat. He later spent decades in sales and marketing in fabrics in the New York area and retired to South Florida in 1992.

Next week: “The Amazon Bone Crusher.”

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Front page of first edition of Camp Murphy Message, Oct. 1, 1943.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg May 12, 2011 at 9:38 am.

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Sidney Lumet was a hit at Army camp

Legendary film director Sidney Lumet died April 9 at 86. He directed more than 40 films, including 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Fail-Safe. But it’s likely that few, if any, of his obituaries mentioned the boffo performance he staged as a 19-year-old in Florida.

From 1942 to 1945, more than 10,000 men moved through the Southern Signal Corps School in southern Martin County. As many as 6,000 were there at one time, giving the place a larger population than nearby Jupiter.

It is now, of course, Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

The July 2, 1943, edition of the Camp Murphy Message raved about the original comedy On the Ball, co-written and directed by a GI named Sidney Lumet.

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Sidney Lumet in 1956 (Associated Press file photo)

Despite only six weeks in preparation and rehearsal, Lumet’s three-act play, with six original songs, “was a distinct hit and brought down the house,’’ the Message said. “About 1,000 GI’s jammed the hall, sitting, standing and hanging from the rafters! It was easily the best thing of its kind ever done by Murphy actors.’’

The strategic training site was named for Col. William Herbert Murphy, a Signal Corps officer and radio pioneer who died in battle Feb. 3, 1942.

When the military had come to Florida looking for land for installations, the Reed family of Jupiter Island turned over 1,000 acres with the provision the land be restored to its natural state when the Army was done with it.

The Army bought about 17 acres from the pioneer DuBois family for $1,000.

In a winding 9-mile path between U.S. 1 and the railroad tracks, the military threw together more than 1,000 buildings.

Camp Murphy was deactivated in October 1944, although the Air Force and NASA operated there into the 1960s. Most of the property was turned over to the state for the park. The theater became a trash dump, the finance center a garage.

In 1947, a concrete water reservoir was converted into offices; later, it became an emergency operations center for a nation fearing nuclear war. It operated from 1953 to 1985. It is now the park office.

Through the years, the camp’s mess hall, chapel, many of the barracks and even the latrines were sold and became cottages, warehouses and other building scattered across the Treasure Coast.

Next week: The Murphy Message returns.

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Army troops train at Camp Murphy, which is now Jonathan Dickinson State Park, in 1944. The camp was a training center for the Signal Corps. Sidney Lumet was a GI there in 1943 and entertained his Army buddies with a three-act comedic play titled On the Ball. The base newsletter featured a piece on it, saying it ‘brought down the house.’ (Palm Beach Post file photo courtesy of U.S. Army Signal Corps)

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The Camp Murphy Players present “The Army Day by Day” for a bond drive at the Paramount Theatre in Palm Beach. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg May 5, 2011 at 7:08 am.

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The Camp Murphy Message: The weekly newspaper of the World War II Southern Signal Corps camp

Camp Murphy in southern Martin County was established in 1942 as the home of the Southern Signal Corps School for radar operation instruction during the early years of World War II.

We’ve been fortunate enough to receive a dozen copies of the camp’s weekly newspaper from a Wisconsin reader whose father was stationed at Camp Murphy.

The newspapers provide a wonderful snapshot of life at the camp during the last three months of 1943. We’ve scanned them so you can read every page online here.

Camp Murphy Message, October 1, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, October 8, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, October 15, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, October 22, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, October 29, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, November 5, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, November 12, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, November 26, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, December 3, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, December 10, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, December 17, 1943

Camp Murphy Message, December 24, 1943

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Posted in Archives and Flashback blog May 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm.

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