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Rebecca Croom Fordham oral history interview, May 25, 1980

Date: May. 25 1980 | Identifier: OH0077
Rebecca Croom was raised in Lenoir County, N.C., and taught school in the Sandy Bottom, Tull's Mill, and Bucklesberry areas of Lenoir County. She married Henry Clay Fordham on April 21, 1921. She also attended East Carolina Teachers Training School in 1917-1919. After two years of marriage, the Fordhams moved to Florida where they lived in Miami part of the time and then she managed Tahiti Beach at Coral Gables. In the interview she discusses her teaching experiences, her college years, especially during the 1918 flu epidemic, the real estate boom and subsequent bust in Florida, the 1925 hurricane in Florida, and her work at Coral Gables. Interviewers: William E. Elmore and Eleanor Fordham Cash. more...



ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
Rebecca Croom Fordham
Durham, North Carolina
May 25, 1980

William E. Elmore:

When are you going to California?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

If I go it will be about the 22nd of July.

William E. Elmore:

How long are you planning to stay?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Until I get enough money to come back.

William E. Elmore:

When was the last time that you flew anywhere?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I haven't flown any in about ten years - yes I have - I went to Florida about four years ago. It hasn't been that long. It was two years ago that Eleanor (her daughter) went down there and we flew back.

William E. Elmore:

Did she fly down there or ride down with somebody?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

She flew dawn and we flew back. Bob (her son) was there and he drove all the way up but he always had a carload and we couldn't ride with him. And Jeff (her great grandson) was with us. We flew back and he got here the next day at four o'clock.

William E. Elmore:

Where were you living and what were you doing when you got married?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I was teaching school.

William E. Elmore:

Where?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Sandy Bottom (Lenoir County, N. C.).

William E. Elmore:

How long had you been teaching there?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Well, just that year. I taught five years in all. The last year I taught at Alabama - Troy, Alabama.

William E. Elmore:

Did you keep teaching in Sandy Bottom for awhile after you were married?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

No, I went to Smith's School after that. That was near Tull's Mill but the building has been burned since then. I taught one year before I was married over in Bucklesberry and that building's been burned. Where Bessie Croom lives is where I



taught at Sandy Bottom.

William E. Elmore:

How many teachers were there?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Two. I taught with Mary Cauley there and when I was at Smith's I had a Tilghman (?) girl and at Bucklesberry I had a Sutton girl that lived over there.

William E. Elmore:

I guarantee if it was at Bucklesberry it was a Sutton.

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I forgot what the girl's name in Alabama was but anyway you wouldn't have known her. You remember Mary Cauley I know, she's Mary Moore.

Eleanor Fordham Cash:

Where did you teach with Aunt Ethel at?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I didn't teach with Aunt Ethel. I went to school to her. She was my teacher at Sandy Bottom. She was boarding at our house. That's where. Charlie (her brother) met her. I helped them court a little. He had to go overseas during the First World War and he was stationed over here for the first six months. He went down to El Paso, Texas, one time. He was somewhere close by when he asked me to write a letter to his superior to ask if he would be permitted to come home and visit his grandmother who was very ill. She was very ill okay, because she died. But I wrote the letter for him; but he went to see Ethel. I was at Greenville when she died. I was over there to school.

Eleanor Fordham Cash:

How much did you make when you were teaching at Bucklesberry?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

About $65 a month. That was big money. I paid twelve dollars a month room and board.

William E. Elmore:

Who did you stay with?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

"Miss" Fannie Elmore, Kinsey's mother.

William E. Elmore:

I was telling somebody awhile back about some of those adventures you had when you were at East Carolina - like when you were in the turnip patch when Dr. Wright caught you.

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I wasn't in the garden, I was on the way out. We'd sneak down there and get cantaloupes and things like that. I had pockets in my dress. Seems to me like I had a coat on, too. Two pockets in my coat and two pockets in my dress. I came walking



out of the garden on the little dirt path and I had cantaloupes everywhere I could put one. Professor Wright comes driving through and he looked at me and laughed. He knew just as good what I had but he didn't say a thing. He just smiled and went on.

William E. Elmore:

Where was the garden?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

It would be hard for me to tell you now. You remember where the infirmary was.

William E. Elmore:

It's still there but it's not the infirmary now. I think it's the alumni building or something.

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Anyway the dining room was somewhere in that same area at that time.

William E. Elmore:

Right beside it.

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

East Dormitory over here and the West Dormitory over there and the Administration Building right here - that's where we went to classes. Well, there's a little path that went down this-away to the garden and it was down in there where I met the Professor.

William E. Elmore:

Down towards where Wright Circle is now.

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Yeh.

William E. Elmore:

Who was that that took such good care of you when you had the flu?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

That was Miss Beaman. Is there a gate or something named for her?

William E. Elmore:

I believe there is.

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Anyway she was the nurse - the only one they had. I was one of the first to get sick. So they put me in the contagious ward. By the next day the contagious ward was running over so they had to fill the rest of it up. In a day or two the lower floor of West Dormitory was full. Everybody was getting sick. I know they turned my room into a hospital room. And the girls who were left able had to wait on the others. They just closed the school and we didn't have classes. The girls just waited on the sick. But we didn't lose a person - everybody lived through it. I guess I'd been in the infirmary for a couple of weeks before I began to get . . . I was delirious there for about three days and had pneumonia. Mrs. Beckwith sat up with me. She was matron. She sat up with me three nights and put kerosene rags on my chest. Evidently it did



some good because I lived through it. After about three weeks, I got well enough that they let me get out and go back to my room and everybody else was getting better. Lena Fordham was there and she had been just as sick as I had. Mamie Whitfield was there. They told Lena and I that we could go home and stay two or three weeks until we recuperated and got strong enough to go back to school. So we, smart alecks, to save money, packed our suitcases and started walking to the railroad station. We got about halfway there and we had to put the suitcases down and sit down on them and rest. We sat there for awhile and we finally made it to the railroad station. I had already notified Papa that we were coming and there was somebody there to meet us. I stayed home about three weeks and went back.

Tabb (her sister) went a little while and for some reason quit and went back home. She took the flu the next year and that's when she started having arthritis. Before she ever got well she went into arthritis. She wasn't as bad then as she is now. Later on she had two children, Milton and Marvin, and after Marvin was born she stayed in bed a year. When she finally got able to get out of bed (after the flu), she was like she is now - her fingers and everything all curled up. She was in terrible shape. Papa spent a fortune on the doctors trying to get her some help. One of her legs was drawn back up and she had to walk with a crutch. So somebody recommended the osteopath doctor. Papa was desperate - he had spent so much money on doctors and nobody had helped her. So he said that he would give that a try. He got old Doctor Fitz. He went out there and massaged that leg until she got so that she could stand on it and walk on it. And he got her so that she could go. She taught school two years after that. Then she got married and that was the end of her. When Marvin was born she got in the shape she's in now. She never got any better. Dr. Davis was her doctor and she gave her a big shot of penicillin when it first came out and it liked to killed her. She stayed in bed a year after she got that shot. Trudie (her sister) went over there one day and Tabb was so sore that she could hardly move. She'd get up and sit on the side of the bed, but Trudie got her on her feet. She got behind her and put her hands under her elbows and told her to walk. She started walking and



she walked all the way back to the kitchen and after that she kept on walking. She'd walk a little every day until she got so that she could walk well enough to keep house again. . .

William E. Elmore:

Who was that that fell in the flagpole hole over there at East Carolina?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

That was Miss Lewis. She fell in the hole. Miss Maupin was my Pedagogy teacher and Miss Lewis was music teacher and she taught folk songs, etc., so you could teach it to your school children. Miss Lewis and Miss Maupin had been somewhere that night and they were taking the shortcut across campus. That's when Miss Lewis fell in the hole. She went in head-first. Miss Maupin had a fit and she began yelling for help. I had a picture of them for a long time but I don't know where it is either.

William E. Elmore:

Did you say that you kept teaching for awhile right after you married?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I taught out at Smith's for a year and I taught down at Alabama, one year.

William E. Elmore:

Then where did you go?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Went to Miami. That was the end of my teaching.

William E. Elmore:

You didn't ever teach down there?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

No, they required four years of college and I didn't have it.

William E. Elmore:

What was Henry (her husband) doing?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Selling real estate when we first went down there. When that bubble busted, real estate went to nothing. He went on the police force. Things were just going to pot. Everything went broke. They were putting people on the train and sending them back north for half price and some of them for free - just to get rid of them because they were down there and they couldn't get anything to eat and were starving. That was during that depression when nobody up here had anything to eat either. But they were a little bit better off than they were down there. There was nothing to do down there. There were no factories or anything, you know. So they were sent back up north. But after that storm in 1925, people flocked back down there - people like plumbers and electricians to repair (the damage) and construction people. I had a ten-room house and I rented rooms. Some of them I had five cots in. I was paying $150 a month for the house and I was renting the cots for $5 a week. But I was barely



making ends meet. We finally left the house because the storm had just about ruined it. We were paying $200 and then the storm took the roof off and blew the windows out. The plaster got wet and fell off. The chandeliers crashed to the floor with the plaster falling on them. Everything was in a mess. We didn't have anywhere else to go so we had to go back and stay. We'd go over there during the day and put our mattresses out in the hot sun until they dried out enough so we could sleep on them. We slept in that house about two weeks without a roof over it - nothing but the upper floor.

William E. Elmore:

Hope it didn't rain anymore.

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

It didn't after that storm passed over. I had to help clean up the mess. They found out that we were going to move and so they came down on the rent to $150. But we moved anyway. We found a house up in Miami and we moved up there. Eleanor remembers that house. It was right back of the Flagler Theatre. That's where we were living when Nannie (her sister) died. I came home for the funeral. After the hurricane, Henry went to Coral Gables and volunteered to help patrol the city - there were so many looters trying to steal everything they could put their hands on. After things calmed down and they got things under control, they offered him a job and he took it. It got so bad that they had to let some of the policemen go and so they put him on the fire department for just a little while. He ran for constable and won and that's what he was doing when he died.

William E. Elmore:

What had he done between the time he was selling real estate and the time he became a policeman?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I was taking in boarders and that's how we were living. He was looking for a job but there was nothing to be had.

William E. Elmore:

How long did that last?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

We went down there in 1925 and things were pretty good for about six months I guess. In September we had the bad storm... It was a rough tine down there. We had to buy water in five gallon demijohns. There was nothing to drink and nothing to take a bath in. You had to go to the ocean if you wanted to take a bath and it



was salty. The Miami River backed right up to our backdoor almost but it was salty, too. We had such a mess down there. People would go buy truckloads of bananas and you could buy bananas for 5 cents a pound.

William E. Elmore:

When did you all get into the beach business?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I don't remember exactly what year it was. It was pretty soon after that storm, though. Trudie went back to Florida with us in 1929 and we were already running it then because we had a storm while we were up here. We drove back through it all the way to Savannah and when we got back, the tables and chairs were out in the Everglades. The wind had blown them out there. Trudie was trying to help pick up some of the stuff and put it back on the beach and she mired up in that muck clean up to her hips and she said, "To hell with it." It cost us about $5000 to replace the furniture and make repairs.

William E. Elmore:

Did you all exactly own the beach or were you renting it or leasing it?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

We were renting it from the Dearing Estate. The Biltmore Hotel used to own it when they were going full-swing but they didn't last very long. They started it and they'd take their guests down there to swim. It was a lagoon and over here where the water came in, the dolphins and the sharks and things could come right on in, too. So we put a steel wire across there - a barricade. When those dolphins hit it, it was just too bad because they would knock a hole right through it. Then we'd have to dynamite the lagoon. The fish would all come floating to the top and we'd skim them off and put another net in. Everytime we did that it was $60. What we got was actualy a porpoise. There's a difference I think. You could see those black things rolling out there in the bay. They looked like they were just rolling over and over. They can travel at a terrific rate of speed.

William E. Elmore:

How often did you have to do that?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Just depends on how often one of them decided to hit that net. We had a sailboat regatta down there one day and that was real pretty. We had a prize for the winner. I took in a thousand dollars at the gate that day and admission was 25 cents.

William E. Elmore:

Now who was that you were talking about selling a Coca Cola to?



Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Al Capone.

William E. Elmore:

How much did you charge him for it?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

10 cents. I was a racketeer.

Eleanor Fordham Cash:

Did you know who he was?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

I didn't know until after I had sold him a Coca Cola.

William E. Elmore:

Who told you?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

The lifeguard. He came up and he said, "Do you know who you just sold a Coca Cola to?" I said, "I don't have any idea." He said, "It was Al Capone." I said, "Oh, hell!" I think he was looking it over to see whether it was worth coming back to or not. He had a woman with him. He might have been out just sightseeing but he didn't see much.

William E. Elmore:

Was it down there where you saw Lindbergh?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

That was at Hialeah. It was all in the Miami area. I saw Amelia Earhart at Hialeah.

William E. Elmore:

I didn't know that.

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

Lindbergh was blazing a trail for the Pan American Airways to South America. I saw him take off from Hialeah and we were there and saw him come back. It was not too long after that that his baby was kidnapped. Now wait a minute, I don't believe he was married right at that time, he might have been but I don't remember. I know the baby was born and kidnapped before Henry ever died.

William E. Elmore:

What was Amelia Earhart doing down there?

Rebecca Croom Fordham:

They were always having air shows and she was down there showing her bit.

[End of Interview]

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