Paul Anderson was able to lift a record 6,270 pounds.

Going north through central Georgia, we stopped to see Toccoa Falls.  The falls were closed to the public that day, but a side-trip took us to see a statue of the amazing weightlifter, Paul Anderson, born in Toccoa on 17 October 1932.

Anderson developed Bright’s disease at age 5 and was given little chance to survive.  Although he continued to have kidney problems, he did survive and went to Furman University in 1950 where he became interested in weight lifting.

Paul Anderson

He returned home and created home-made weights to train: old car axles; 50 gallon drums filled with concrete;  an iron safe filled with weights; huge iron wheels; or a combination of some or all of these.

By age 19 after about a year of training, he was nearly equaling world records.  Other weightlifters began to notice. Then as he progressed, he continually broke his own and others’ records.

He was in an automobile accident and also suffered some training injuries.  He injured his hip and broke several bones.   However, he devised a way to place a cast on a broken wrist and continued training.

Paul Anderson

In 1955, Anderson won the National Championship and was put on the U.S. team which visited the Soviet Union.  While in St. Petersburg, he broke two world records and was proclaimed Chudo Prirody,  translated as a “Wonder of Nature.”  The tour was extended to the Middle East, and he became world famous.

In October 1955 he became world champion breaking two more records in the effort.

He broke three more records in early 1956 and won the Olympic Gold Medal in November.

Weighing 364 pounds himself, on 12 June 1957, he lifted 6,270 pounds off a trestle, proclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the The Greatest Lift: the greatest weight ever lifted by a human being…

After visiting several detention facilities and prisons, Anderson became concerned for young boys placed in these facilities with hardened criminals.

In 1959 he married Glenda Garland who shared his concern.  The couple had a daughter, Paula Dean Anderson, in 1966.

Anderson began to raise funds, and the couple opened a home for young troubled and homeless people in 1961.  He made over 500 public appearances a year to support the facility.  In addition to doing lifting demonstrations, he was known for his booming voice and keen wit.  The Paul Anderson Youth Home continues today on a 50-acre campus.

Anderson’s kidneys failed in the 1980s but the gift of a kidney by his sister extended his life until 15 August 1994.

In 1999, school teacher Cynthia Sanders’ fourth grade class was given the assignment to research the life of their famous resident.  On 26 April 1999, the class gave a presentation to Toccoa City Commission requesting a city park be named in honor of Anderson.  A commission was created in 2000, and the Paul Anderson Memorial Park opened 17 Oct 2008.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Trash cans and a bicycle rack: Lake Placid, Florida

Walking down a street in Elkins, West Virginia recently, I saw a woman pick up a piece of litter and commented  how clean Elkins was. “We have been trying to ‘beautify’ the town” she replied.

It seems many cultures, especially poverty stricken ones, are comfortable tossing trash onto the ground.  In recent years, I was disturbed to see the litter in Cologne and Amsterdam, probably caused by the influx of immigrants to Germany and the Netherlands.  First Americans, who boast of their veneration of Mother Earth, seem not to see the litter on their reservations.

Last week I described the murals in “the most interesting town,” Lake Placid, Florida.  You must understand in a place where people take such extreme pride in the town’s appearance, they wouldn’t want litter — and they wouldn’t want ordinary trash cans.  So without saying more, here are some photos of trash cans, a bench and a bicycle rack: click on the photos to enlarge.

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Lake Placid, Florida

Lake Placid Caladium fields

Every now and then, I am amazed at the difference one person can make.  In the case of Lake Placid, Florida, it was one couple.

This little town of just over two thousand people lies on a ridge that runs up the center of Florida [the ridge is all of one hundred feet above sea level].  It has two nicknames.

One is “The Caladium Capital of the World” because 95 percent of all caladium bulbs in the world come from the area.

The other is the “Town of Murals” because of a program started by one couple, Bob and Harriet Porter in 1992.  At the time, the town had fifteen empty stores, and many building walls were spotted with black mildew and mold.  Just twenty years later, Reader’s Digest declared it “America’s most interesting town.”  That may be disputable, but it is no longer a dying town and is certainly worth seeing.

“Town of Murals – How it All Began” by Kieth Goodson, 2013

There are at least 48 large murals on building walls [they are still adding to the collection].  But unlike murals I have seen in many places on our travels, these are kept fresh.  The Lake Placid Mural Society not only finds sponsors for the murals, it sees that they are maintained and given a protective coating to protect them from the Florida sun.

The small Chamber of Commerce Building houses a “Mural Gallery,” shows a free nine-minute film about the creation of the Mural Society, and sells a mural book and mural CD to help your mural tour.  Indeed, if you have a bus load of people, they will find you a “Mural Professional” to show you the way.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Clown cut-out

P.S.:   It isn’t “the town of clowns,” but there is a clown school, and there are 27 clown cut-out figures scattered about the town.

P.P.S.:  It wouldn’t do to litter the streets of this pretty little town.  Next week’s post will feature their trash cans.

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Hurricane hiatus

We have been busy.  I have not posted my usual travel blog for a couple weeks.  Readers from other countries are probably aware Hurricane Irma made landfall at Marco Island, Florida and passed through the state.  But even U.S. readers may not realize some of our South Florida residents suffered significant flooding from a tropical system the last week of August.  As a result, we are now finishing our third week working with the Red Cross.

We are safe and well, and our home had no damage.

During Irma, we stayed with about thirty people in our local Red Cross headquarters group which moved 30 miles inland to the field house of Ave Maria University. There was one safe place where I could look out recessed hallway doors facing north while the wind blew from the east. Based on previous experience, I would say winds reached about one hundred and thirty miles-an-hour. The university’s bleachers for football fans were reduced to a pile of metal rubble, but the building itself suffered little damage.

The only photos I have are of the recovery effort after the August storm.  As I write this, these same homes are flooded by even higher water.

Next week I will be back with some interesting photos of Lake Placid’s murals.

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The Red Cross in New Orleans

House washed across a road up onto a dike.

On Tuesday, New Orleans commemorated the 12th anniversary of the August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina landfall.  Ironically, Harvey was waiting in the wings. What happened with Katrina provides lessons for those dealing with Harvey.

Many do not realize the Red Cross is funded primarily through donations. Damage from Katrina plus that from subsequent Hurricane Rita was so extensive, it became the greatest challenge in the history of the American Red Cross.  There is no charge for Red Cross shelters or for the food and supplies it distributes.  The organization incurred huge debt which forced it to consolidate operations and reduce staff and shaped the way it still works today.

Three months after Katrina made landfall.

My personal opinion is the people of New Orleans were betrayed by their corrupt local politicians and state officials.  Then in their grief, they lashed out at the federal government and sometimes even at the Red Cross for not providing relief that properly should have been planned in advance at the local and state level.

There were 1464 officially recognized deaths in New Orleans.   Hundreds of thousands were displaced.  Those who returned often found their homes destroyed or intact but with no water, electricity or gas.  Others found roofs damaged, water-soaked moldy walls, damaged furniture and appliances.  In mid-December 2005, the Red Cross was still providing over thirty thousand meals a day to the people of Louisiana.

Algiers kitchen at a Baptist church.

There is often a huge out-pouring of support right after a disaster.  But that support tends to wane as weeks and months pass by.  Knowing that, and because we do not have children, I chose to go to New Orleans just before Christmas. I drove an emergency response vehicle, ERV, with two other volunteers delivering food for three weeks.  It was very rewarding.  It was an eye-opening experience.

The news media immediately focuses on the extent of the disaster and the suffering.  Interspersed are stories of heroes and sacrifice.  Then as time goes by and public interest flags, they being to look for what is going wrong.  They interview what a nurse in New Orleans called BMWs, bitchers, moaners and whiners.

My first impression on arriving was I wasn’t as needed as I thought.  There was no shortage of volunteers; college students were out in force during their holiday break.

Secondly, I did not meet the BMWs on the street.  The people I met were happy to be alive, had put their grief behind them, were working hard to repair their homes and were grateful for the support they were receiving.

Baptist mobile disaster kitchen

Most food stores were still not open.  Volunteers from Baptist churches slept on a church sanctuary floor, got up at two o’clock in the morning, and prepared food in large mobile kitchens owned by the Southern Baptist Convention to be loaded on our ERVs for a seven a.m. departure.

On Christmas day, we had a few toys and cards to give out donated by children from around the country.  Some volunteers bought more on their own.  Until told it was prohibited, volunteers also bought dog food to take on their ERVs for stray dogs.

Ray, Amy, and Roger – the “senior” ERV crew

Perhaps because we were so close to the operation, we were surprised when some people thought we were paid to be there.  The Red Cross operates almost totally on donated money with a few federal grants, and ninety-eight percent of its staff are volunteers.  Phil, the site supervisor, was a bartender from Maryland.  He arrived the day before Katrina hit.   Terry, the kitchen supervisor, was an insurance broker from New Jersey.  Uba, a second generation Croatian, was a twenty-one year old student from Wisconsin.  Margaret was a retired South Carolina school teacher.  Rufus was a mortician from North Carolina.  Young man E’an, a second generation American from Scotland, was from Oregon. Probably Jessie traveled the furthest.  He was a student at the University of Hawaii, but his home was in Bogota, Columbia.  Tito, a Puerto Rican, was a retired transit worker from the Bronx.  Usa, whose mother was from Thailand, was a biology student at Cornell.  David was a California lifeguard.  Mike was a fishing guide from Montana.  Matthew was a Tuscarora Indian from New York.   Roberta was our oldest volunteer at seventy-eight.

Fixed feeding station at a Vietnamese church.

We drove up and down the streets delivering food every day except Sundays when we also were in a church parking lot in the afternoon.   By odd coincidence, I spent two Christmases away from my wife, one thirty-five years earlier in Viet Nam and that one in the parking lot of a New Orleans Vietnamese church.

We met people who lost family members in the storm.  We met people who seemed to have lost everything.  They continued to smile.  Unless distracted, they always said “thank you” and frequently “God bless you for being here.”  Even elderly Vietnamese who spoke almost no English and held up fingers to indicate the number of meals needed said “thank you very much.”  One group of men asked if they could pray.  Of course, we said yes.  We thought they wanted to give thanks for their food, but they wanted to pray for our well-being.

Although it is strictly forbidden by Red Cross rules, how could we reject three small gifts wrapped in red tissue given to us by an African-American woman on Christmas day.  She gave Roger a calendar, Amy a pen and me an eyeglass repair kit I still own.

During our time on the ERV, Roger and I served (with Bill and later Amy) 8505 meals.  At that point, the American Red Cross had a 30.35 million dollar loss to make up.  It got bigger.

Before Harvey made landfall in Texas, Red Cross volunteers were already gathering in Texas and Louisiana.  Harvey did not cause as many deaths as Katrina but damage is more wide-spread and recovery will also take months.  Complete recovery takes years.

I can no longer deploy out of our area.  Southwest Florida, however, has its own flooding [but much smaller].  Our local Red Cross opened shelters, and I spent yesterday again driving up and down streets, but this time helping with “disaster assessment” to assist in later relief decisions.  As I said, it is a rewarding and eye-opening experience.

Please remember your support will be needed not just now but for months to come.  You might even want to consider going to http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.  They are swamped right now but will continue to need help later.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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San Juan Cathedral

Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist is the English translation.   It shows up on maps as San Juan Cathedral and is the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere [the oldest is in the Dominican Republic].  Built in 1540 after the 1521 wood structure was destroyed in a hurricane, it  has been remodeled many times.  The latest major renovation was completed in 1917 and demonstrates both neo-classical and Gothic architecture.

The British Earl of Cumberland sacked and looted the church during his attack on San Juan in 1598.  He was just one of many robbers to plague the church over the centuries. Nonetheless, some early stained glass windows and statues remain.

Ponce de León, the first Governor of Puerto Rico, was fatally wounded in Florida while chasing after the Fountain of Youth.  He didn’t spend much time in San Juan, but his family lived up the street at the Casa Blanca and attended church at the Church of San José which was under reconstruction during my visit.

They buried Ponce in the family church, but 350 years later it was decided to give him a more prominent tomb in the Cathedral, and he was moved in 1908.

Even older remains are found on the other side of the church, those of St. Pio.  In the 19th Century, the Bishop asked the Pope for a relic.  The Pope gave him St. Pio, a Roman soldier martyred when he became a Christian.  In 1815, the Bishop took him to Spain to have the remains “restored” but forgot them when he returned to San Juan.  A later Bishop was reminded while in Spain and arranged to have them shipped to the Cathedral in 1862.  Some refer to the relics as a “mummy” but it appears it may just be the skull [still with its teeth] encased in a wax figure.

Less dramatic are the vestments worn by Pope John Paul II when he celebrated mass in San Juan October 12th, 1984  and given to the Cathedral by Pope Francis in 2015.

“Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.”  I thought that when I read the words of a man I dislike: “you can’t change history; you can only learn from it.”  I don’t believe you will find the San Juan Cathedral particularly beautiful.  But it reflects over 450 years’ of history.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Wandering in San Juan

El Morro, built between 1539 and 1790, guards the entrance to San Juan.

It is a luxury to just wander without a destination, without a plan.  Few people care to do it.  But I wandered for about four hours in San Juan before stopping at a tourist office to get a map.  It’s in my genes; it’s in my genes to aimlessly wander; and it’s in my genes to wonder where I’ve been even if I don’t care where I’m going.

After walking outside the city wall, I cut up through a gate into El Morro’s outer courtyard and continued past the old cemetery.

 

Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in use since 1814

Then, for a long time I just walked up and down streets looking at the churches, the houses, the restaurants, the people.

I went into the Cathedral, the subject of another post.

I found myself at the top of the wall just above where I started the day.  A young photographer was there with her assistant and model.  I asked if she was shooting for an assignment — no, just to make photographs.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The streets of old San Juan:

Looking into an occasional courtyard:

Pigeon Park:

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