SOME FACTS AND INSIGHT INTO THE GREAT KIDNAPPING OF 1958

Much has been said about the abduction of underclassmen at Palm Beach High School on the day of the fruit fight in the spring of 1958. Since everyone who took part in the affair, or even only witnessed the happening, can relay a certain perspective; what is true and what may not be true about the great kidnapping has become obscured over the years. I offer the following narrative only to clarify some facts that few of you are aware of and to encourage, even challenge, anyone to question their accuracy. Within the framework that follows all of the individual stories you have told your children, grandchildren, and friends over the years should fit very nicely.

I did not attend PBHS in our sophomore year. My parents had graciously allowed me to go off to military school in Georgia. The primary reason for allowing my “voluntary exile” was my determination to join a fraternity and the social gyrations involving rush parties during the summer after our 9th grade year. It seemed entirely natural to me for a 15 year old to graduate from watching World War II venereal disease documentaries in P.E. classes at Conniston one month to watching movies of naked ladies and swarthy Latin guys that didn’t even bother to take off their black socks the next month. Films like these became standard fare at rush parties in the back rooms of various locations that summer. Like I say, it seemed natural to me but my Father heard about it and was somewhat more narrow minded.

The genesis of my knowledge of “fruit fights” began that summer when I was invited to a Tau Delt rush party that featured an organized orgy of overripe vegetarian warfare. I don’t remember the details or team selection process but the location was the same as that we would use in the future – Brute Hill, as it was referred to, on the beach just south of the Seminole Golf Club.

I have no idea what transpired in the year of my absence, but late in our junior year (1957) the crew at the Campus Shop decided to resurrect the past and challenge the seniors to a fruit fight. Details elude me but the gauntlet was picked up and the date was set.

Because my family was in the fresh produce business, the task of rounding up rotten tomatoes, oranges, and other noxious delectable’s fell to me. By the time the chosen day arrived I had scoured all of the farms and packing houses from Delray to Ft. Pierce and had amassed two very large open U-Haul trailers of fermenting ammo. These trailers were parked at a secret location to keep the seniors from getting them and the word was out that the upper classmen had only gotten their hands on a bushel or two of scraps from the Farmer’s Market and would probably have to show up with “nothing but their jock straps”.

At this point the plot thickens. Two of the senior leaders were Ronny Slack and Jim Beaver, football teammates of mine and guys I was destined to face three years later when Ga. Tech traveled to Gainesville to play the U of F (yes Schiller, I know Florida won 18-17). Hearing that I was in charge of ordinance for the juniors, Slack and Beaver decided to eliminate me from the mix. Whether by force or subterfuge I do not remember but I ended up with my hands cuffed around a 15 foot tall steel standpipe on the Water Company property out off Old Okeechobee Rd, just west of the Shriners Club. I was told not to worry – “someone would come out after the fruit fight and set me free”.

What transpired next is hearsay to me but I feel certain it is true. When word got around that Slack and Beaver had kidnapped me, some of my fellow juniors decided to take action. Who these brave fellows were, I’m not sure but we will, via Ruthie Hall, surely soon find out!

Now back to certainty. My classmates show up at Powell Brothers Produce Co. on Clare Ave. with two senior hostages: Carl Lawson and Homer Greene. The captors tell my father that I have been snatched by the seniors and to keep the hostages locked up until my release. Daddy, willingly and in good spirits, gives the captives warm coats and locks them in the fruit cooler. Whether my timely release from the handcuffs or the large number of apples being eaten by Carl and Homer precipitated the first action, I do not know but by the end of the school day all were free and the fruit fight of “57” was back on track.

I’ll leave it to others to describe our total humiliation at the hands of Bruce Jordan and the other seniors but let it suffice to say that “it was not a pretty picture”. After being attacked from the rear (geographically not anatomically speaking) and being flushed in the rotten slop in our own U-Hauls, I ended up striped naked walking miles along the sand only to hide behind a phone booth at the Singer Island public beach waving at cars and begging for a dime to call home. My laughing father brought me a pair of pants when he picked me up.

Flash forward to one year later.

Jocks at PBHS were always scheduled for P.E. in 4th period so the net result was an hour and a half lunch period encompassing both the first and second session punctuated with a brief “get out of sight time”. With all this time on our hands, the typical Campus Shop conversation usually turned to the more intellectual pursuits in life like detecting fake gator shirts, the thinness of the roast beef on the 10 cent sandwiches, and the ever reliable fallback: lies about who was “getting some”.

Only this day was different. The fruit fight was looming but boredom set in early in first lunch hour and someone decided it would be neat (cool was still a weather term) to go back in time and snatch a few underclassmen. As is so often the case, the mission sort of mushroomed. Confirming what others have recalled, Frankie Moskowitz’s 1956 Chevy convertible played a key role but other cars and drivers were used over the next hour and a half to transport captives. The result was that somewhere between 70 and 100 juniors, and maybe even some sophomores, ended up incarcerated in the potato and onion shed at Powell Bros. My father had learned a lesson from the year before and chose not to put apples, pears, and strawberries in harms way with a group that had probably been carted off on an empty stomach.

One after another, cars would deliver a load of detainees and race off to pick up another batch. It was a scene right out of Stalag 17. Prisoners trying to climb the wire mesh gate to escape while the guards, Johnny Riggs and Robert Benton, were rapping their grasping fingers with wooden slats from cantaloupe crates. Riggs, showing a sadistic bent and his jailer genetic heritage, took particular pleasure in letting them get almost to the top before administering the “coup de back on your ass”.

Finally my father decided that it was time to bring things to a halt. Adjacent to the potato and onion shed was the equipment room where a toilet with no seat and the refrigeration compressors were located. Also in this room was a long ago boarded-up window that came out in a hidden corner of the shed where the captives were held. Taking a claw hammer, Daddy pried the boards loose and showed the guys in the cage the way out. The opening was too small to allow more than one man at a time and, once out, they still had to get past the sentries to make their escape. To solve this problem my father suggested they continue to demonstrate at the wire mesh to distract the guards while slipping out of the window one by one to form a small army in the compressor room.

The plan worked to perfection. At virtually the same instant a large group of prisoners rushed out of hiding, overwhelmed Riggs and Benton, opened the wire gate for their comrades and scattered on foot in all directions. As they did so, an automobile drove up and Mr. Adolphson stepped out.

How quickly the juniors got back to the Hill I don’t know but I don’t think Mel gave any of them a ride. The next recollection I have was in Mrs. Myers’s 5th period English class when those infamous words came over the intercom….will the following boys please report to…………………………

Jimmy Powell

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