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Past and Present

When it was founded in 1964, DBHS set out to collect and preserve the stories, artifacts, and memorabilia from the area’s founding families to provide an authentic record of how we got started and where we are going. READ MORE »

Tag Archives: Florida

Kate’s Corner: The Art of Oral History

Frances Densmore and Blackfoot leader Mountain Chief listening to a cylinder recording, 1916. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.





In 1877, a not-so-little thing called the phonograph burst onto the Victorian tech scene.

Bulky and unwieldy though it was, anthropologists fell in love. Within a few years, they were carting the new devices off to remote corners of the globe to record oral histories, vanishing languages, and folk music.

Historians, on the other hand, were less impressed. Many viewed this new form of storytelling with distrust. The storytellers, they argued, were subjective and biased, and they embellished the details of their lives.

But the oral history fad persisted. As the 20th century reshaped the cultural and political boundaries of the world, universities and libraries invested heavily in field researchers. The data the researchers collected revealed that people all over the world were hungry to finally tell their own histories, from their own perspectives.

Historians debated this populist blow for generations. But after several waves of theorizing, most professional historians will agree that history – that is to say, the depicting thereof – is a subjective, creative process, regardless of whether it comes out of the mouth or the pen. To know the past is to produce the past.

But professional historians have also learned to fight against the slippery slope of fictionalized narratives. In the 21st century, the discipline tends to believe that truth–or at least “truthiness”–can emerge when diverse narratives overlap, intersect, and even contradict. History is alive and very, very feisty.

We at the Delray Beach Historical Society find ourselves excited by the unfinished art of oral history, and we hope you do too. If 19th century researchers were excited by the phonograph, we 21st century researchers are excited by the smartphone. We urge everyone in our community to use the technology at your fingertips to document the lives and memories of South Florida.

Click here for tips on how to conduct an interview.  


Zora Neale Hurston, a folklorist and writer from Eatonville, believed in the power of storytelling to communicate and transform the truths of Florida’s African-American populations. By 1938, she used this passion to publish several novels, including Their Eyes Were Watching God—one of the most highly prized books in the American canon.

Soon thereafter, she joined the Federal Writers’ Project to collect oral folklore and music from communities most wounded by the Great Depression. She traveled across the state meeting with African-American workers, musicians, elders, and storytellers to capture the triumph and tragedy of the country’s blindside.

You can listen to several of her recordings at the State Archives of Florida right here.


Kate’s Corner: History & Hurricanes

By the grace of God or the whims of weather, Hurricane Irma gave Delray Beach little more than a sideways glance. But in the days following the storm, we watched harrowing images pour in from our southern neighbors. DBHS is so heartbroken, and profoundly humbled, to see the devastation. We send our love and prayers to all.

Irma’s fury was of course bookended by Hurricane Harvey’s and Hurricane Maria’s which tore apart Houston and Puerto Rico respectively. This hurricane season has given all of us in Delray great pause as we reflect on our town and wonder what could have been and what, someday, could still be.

As cultural historians, we at DBHS are keeping in touch with the work of cultural organizations in the affected regions. We are following their progress so we may both support them and learn from them. In particular, we are watching the excellent work of the following:

The Key West Art and Historical Society
The Dade Heritage Trust
Preservation Houston
Preservation Texas
Puerto Rico Historic Buildings Drawings Society
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Florida Division of Historical Resources



The memory of the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane still haunts Floridians, and in many ways it has become the reference point for natural disasters in the state.

It was apocalyptic. After shattering Puerto Rico in September 1928, it headed straight for West Palm Beach with 160 mph winds. No part of Palm Beach County was spared. But it was the inland areas around Okeechobee that suffered the most. An estimated 2,500 people died, many of their bodies swept into the Everglades and never recovered. A mass grave in Port Mayaca holds the bodies of 1,600 victims.

The September 28, 1928 Palm Beach Post describes the damage to Delray:

I confess feeling a macabre comfort in this reckoning because it reminds me that we, as a state, can recover from nature’s most violent rages. If history has a purpose, it may simply be to sit with us in our tragedies and patiently remind us that we don’t walk alone. Our road is well-trodden by those who have suffered before us, and they will quietly guide us through this forest of pain.



As I was working on this blog post, I had a surprise visit at the archive from one of my favorite Delray nonagenarians, Mr. Bob Miller. Born in 1921 in the building that now houses The Original Popcorn House, Bob remembers the hurricane through the eyes of a child. What a wonderful member of our community:



Mrs. Olive Chapman Lauther described the 1904 Hurricane in her beautiful memoir The Lonesome Road. The memoir is filled with her original poems, and this cheeky one shouldn’t be missed:




Finally a note on our archive.

While DBHS has a superb record showing how Delray Beach weathered past storms, nothing can quite predict how the city will fare in these new superstorms. But like our ancestors, we ought to leave a record of how we are experiencing this meteorological chapter.

Here are some ideas for things we always love receiving from the public:

  • photos, hard or digital copies
  • diaries, letters, stories, or other prose
  • poetry
  • song lyrics, scores
  • audio recordings, analog or digital
  • video recordings, analog or digital
  • original artwork, comics
  • iconic or striking advertisements

Some of the best items in our archive are those that are unrefined. An impromptu song recorded on the deck of your fishing boat is just as appealing to us as an original score written in your studio.

We also encourage you to tag images on social media with #delrayarchive.

May you and your loved ones stay safe throughout our hurricane season,

Kate Teves
DBHS Archivist