Town Receives Edison Gift
The Town Council Meeting held Friday, March 13, will go down in the history of Fort Myers Beach as one of the most momentous meetings ever. The session began with Council cancelling the 62nd annual Shrimp Festival and 22nd annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and near the end, Council declared the Town in a State of Emergency and authorizing Staff to cancel permits for almost every upcoming Fort Myers Beach Special Event through at least Easter. After those gloom-&-doom bookends, it seemed it would take something of Biblical proportions to put a smile on the face of anyone in Council Chambers.
Then during final Public Comment, Jacki Liszak, the Executive Director of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, stepped to the podium. “I remember getting to the microphone,” recalled Jacki, “and saying, ‘in the middle of all this terrible news, I can at least bring you a little ray of sunshine!’ I then held up for Council to see the Jim and Eleanor Newton Family Bible I received as a donation roughly one week earlier!”
Jacki stated that the Newton Family Bible “just showed up one day, in the mail for the FMB Chamber of Commerce, without any clue that it was coming. I opened up the box, it took me a minute or two to realize what it was, read the note from Sandy Starbuck, then exclaimed loudly, ‘Are you kidding me; how cool is this!’ I immediately emailed Alison Giesen, the Mound House Director and Director of Cultural Resources for Fort Myers Beach, but she was out of Town, so I hung on to it. My hope was that Alison could join me at the March 13 Meeting to make the presentation to Council, but she had a previous commitment, so it was up to me to show it to them.”
The Starbuck Letter
The February 20, 2020 Starbuck letter adds context to the Newton Bible, offered Jacki. “Once you read that, it explains everything!”
To whom it may concern:
When my father’s aunt, Eleanor F. Newton, passed away, he received this Bible. As you will note, Mrs. Edison gave it to Aunt Ellie and Uncle Jim on the occasion of their wedding.
My four siblings and I found this among our Dad’s things at the time of his passing and we all agreed that we would like this to be placed among the memorabilia in the Park. All of us have such very fond memories of our visits with Aunt Ellie and Uncle Jim at that house. They were such kind, generous, remarkable people and we miss them very much.
Sandy Starbuck & my siblings; Thyrza Whittenmore, Rob Whittenmore, Deb McKinnon, & Dan Whittemore
“While the note is wonderful,” Jacki added, “what it did not include was any telephone number or email, as all we have is the return address in Connecticut, so am I writing Sandy a Thank You Card, as is Alison, where we hope to establish a connection.”
“First of all, there is just something about holding the Newton Family Bible in your hands that is indescribable,” Jacki marveled. “Then you open it up to the ‘Presentation Page,’ and there, in her own handwriting on the date of their 1943 wedding, is Mrs. Edison penning, ‘James and Eleanor Newton: The most sacred and beautiful relationship in life,’ and then, just below her own signature, she put in quotes, ‘Mother E.’ Then you go through the Bible and you find small handwritten notes and there is a prayer card and little photographs between some of the pages, like people used to put in their Family Bibles back in those days.”
Jacki feels that it is incredible that the five siblings have such fantastic memories not only of Jim and Ellie Newton but their own happy times at the Newton Cottage, or the “Seven Seas Cottage” as the Newtons christened it, that they thought of the Town of Fort Myers Beach, unsolicited, for such a priceless donation. “That they remember those days and visits to that site so fondly is great, but then that is the effect Fort Myers Beach tends to have on a lot of people; you visit even once and this island hooks you in forever! Alison is still formulating her final plan for the Newton Bible, but since the five kids request in their note that they would like it at the Newton Cottage, I do not imagine that it will end up in any other collection but there.”
Newton Beach Park at 4650 Estero Boulevard features the Seven Seas Cottage formerly owned by the late island resident Jim Newton, who gained fame through his book, “Uncommon Friends,” about his relationships with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Charles Lindbergh and Dr. Alexis Carrel. The Seven Seas Cottage, built in 1953, was a major focus in the life of Newton and his wife, Ellie, where they lived, worked and entertained influential friends. Because of this significant history, the Town secured a Florida Community Trust Grant to help finance its $2.3-million purchase in 2003, with the Town paying $310,000; Lee County $969,000; and the Florida Community Trust the balance, with the site becoming the first Town-owned public park in 2010. In addition to the Seven Seas Cottage and beach frontage, it has a tiki hut, paid parking, nature and educational programs, recreational opportunities, and historic and environmental signage, among other amenities.
“It was an honor and privilege to not only see but actually hold something so precious,” concluded Jacki. “It was truly a gift and really important that I could make the Newton Family Bible presentation at that March 13 Council Meeting that had such bad news for the beach community, because that breathed a little bit of life back into all of us when we absolutely needed it, knowing that if we just believe and take care of each other, we will all be back stronger than ever!”