Considering its size, Port St. Joe is surprisingly one of Florida’s best-known and popular towns. It is particularly familiar to countless beach lovers as it serves as their last stop for groceries and other supplies as they head toward Cape San Blas. Many of these beach lovers would never guess that this friendly, small town was once- in 1838 - the largest city in Florida, as well as its state capitol, where Florida’s state constitution was written. It was also the site of Florida’s first railroad. Because it was a big city, controlled by wealthy men, their power gave them a false sense of superiority and security. Soon, their misbehavior caused Saint Joe to acquire another name: Sin City.
Those who believe in a vengeful God would say that Port St. Joe earned God’s punishment because in 1841, a series of almost Biblical disasters hit the city. First, Yellow Fever took the lives of most of its residents, then an awesomely fearful fire consumed its mansions and government buildings. After that, any remaining signs of life were wiped out by a tsunami, later referred to as “The Great Tide.”
People in Jackson County have traditionally headed toward the beaches of Panama City, Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas during summer vacations. My brother, Wilton, loved Cape San Blas so much that he bought a three- bedroom condominium on the beach, then sold it and built a larger, seven- bedroom home on the bay side, where we used to enjoy fun, family reunions. His daughter, Melissa Larsen, loved the area too, but decided to raise her two children in the town of Port St. Joe, thinking she’d be better protected from possible hurricanes if they lived further inland.
Melissa also raised a menagerie of animals, dogs, chickens and goats in her back yard. When she first heard a hurricane called Michael was heading toward the gulf coast, she told me she had a premonition that she needed to leave. She was recuperating from surgery, so was not capable of moving furniture upstairs, but did manage to move all valuables, photos and important papers to the second floor. She also ordered cages for her chickens and large, pink Depend diapers for her goats.
She also told her husband, Gary, who works out of town most of the time, that they should buy a camper in case they might need to move the animals. Men seldom take premonitions as seriously as women do, and he said he didn’t think that was necessary. He was away when the evacuation warning was given, so working alone, Melissa packed two large dogs, eight chickens and four goats into their largest car, a Lincoln Continental. The trip from Port St. Joe to Quincy, Florida, where Melissa’s brother, Bill Miller, lives seemed longer than usual, but thanks to the diapers, the car was clean when they arrived.
Bill and his wife, Marti, had purchased acreage in that area as Marti is a horse lover. Melissa’s animals settled happily into a larger area than they were accustomed to, and Melissa found sleeping in the camper perfectly comfortable. If Bill and Marta don’t mind, she may stay there indefinitely.
However, something must be done about the house. After Michael finished its rampage through Florida, Melissa returned to survey the damage, and found everything upstairs just as she’d left it. However, the first floor and all appliances and furnishing were ruined, and the smell of rotting fish and animals made it impossible to stay there. The road into Cape San Blas had washed out and the pavement buckled, making travel between St. Joe and the Cape impossible until road work could be completed.
Melissa’s spirit was lifted when she saw how many people turned out to help. Even a group of Mennonites from up North traveled south to offer help with reconstruction, and neighbor was helping neighbor everywhere from Panama City to Apalachicola. This bond of kindness and empathy was the upside of the disaster, but the downside was the stinginess of the company from whom she had purchased flood insurance. Melissa was criticized for not moving the furniture upstairs, so she wished she had been given a premonition to buy insurance from someone else.
I too, believe in listening to that little inner voice that warns of impending danger. I’ve had three experiences with premonitions that worked well for me. One occurred when we were living in Arcadia California. One night, I was asked to deliver a package of sheet music to a house in an unlighted, secluded area of town. I left it in the family’s mail box, and when I got back into the car and started driving away, my car mirror reflected flashing lights revolving around what I supposed was a police car.
However, something just didn’t seem right about the situation. I was not speeding, and I knew my license plate was up to date and firmly attached to the car, so I could see no reason why I should be stopped by the police. A little voice told me to keep driving until I reached a well- lighted area. If the car was still there, I could pull over, but not until then.
Just as I reached a busy commercial area, the black car following me turned into another street and disappeared. The next week, I read in our local newspaper that a man had been arrested for posing as a police officer and pulling over cars driven by women, who he then assaulted. The rapes were committed in the neighborhood where I had been the week before.
Trouble can happen anywhere from Arcadia, California to Port St. Joe, Florida, so wherever I am, I take premonitions seriously. So does Melissa.