|I wish I knew how to embed "Yakkity Sax" here.|
But Jacksonville had a darker side, a face we hid from the rest of the nation. No, I'm not talking about the paper mills, those have been gone for decades. No, not the Civil Rights struggle, white people were dicks here just like in every other Southern city.
I'm speaking of the Great Ice Cream Riot.
Local historians ignore the Great Ice Cream Riot of Sometime in the Mid '90s. This could be a deep-reaching conspiracy to protect the city's image. Or it could be because it was all made up.
We had a great team at the Fine Arts Department at the old Hayden Burns Library. One of the advantages to working there was that the new Main Library was about to open, so nobody really cared about the old library. That meant we could do whatever programming we wanted.
And boy, did we.
We had a series of themed amateur film festivals, which went over well - the theme would be whatever our obsessions were at the time - Liberace, '70s truck driving movies, whatever. They were a lot of fun and got a few people into the library who otherwise might not have come. We hosted annual Halloween festivals which would combine whatever public domain movies we could play with live bands and whatever scripted foolishness and in-jokes we could get our part-time pages to perform.
Then one of the librarians mentioned something about an ice cream riot.
She vaguely remembered hearing something on the news years ago about a riot erupting at the Jacksonville Landing after the frozen treats ran out during a free ice cream day.
We had a new obsession and had to had to have a program. So, tempting fate, we decided to stage an ice cream social, combining more public access films with special guest appearances from Kenny Rogers and a cranky Thomas Edison. I'm sure Liberace was in there somewhere, along with the free ice cream. We immediately started work on the centerpiece of the program, a Ken Burns-like recreation of the Great Ice Cream Riot's aftermath.
We wanted to slowly pan over a sepia-tinted photo of kids clutching ice cream cones while lying on the ground while a narrator said something like, "Ice ... cream...Everywhere, I see the remnants of ice cream."
Then we discovered that such a film was way beyond our capabilities and some digging discovered...well, I'll let her tell you. Ladies and Gentlemen, Laura will walk us through the real story of the Great Ice Cream Riot.
Q: So did you have the Great Ice Cream Riot in your mind for years? Like if someone mentioned the Landing was that the first thing that came up?
Do you remember our plans to reenact the Great Riot? I seem to remember wanting to do a Ken Burns-style panning over the bodies reaching out for ice cream.
A: Yes, for some reason that story really stuck with me and it did come to mind when I thought about the Landing. Something about those 11 o’clock news stories. There was another one about a guy who donated a giant robot (like the ones they have at monster truck shows) to a small town in Texas and the police used the robot to tear down crack houses. You might want to research that for another “Great stories that might not be true.”
I’m sure the reason we never made the film about the ice cream riot was because our vision was so ambitious.
Q: So it was basically just a food fight that broke out in the food court, right? How did that make the news? And this would have been in the early ‘90s, right?
A: It was in the mid ‘90s. Maybe it was a slow news night? I wish I had saved the article Glenn found for us. The problem is I wanted to believe the riot was a result of the ice cream social so much that I forgot the truth. I think they were actually two separate news stories from the same night. We found evidence that the Winn Dixie-sponsored ice cream social happened at the Landing and Glenn found a story about some guys who started a food fight up in the food court. For some reason I’m thinking the guys were in their early 20s and the whole thing started at Sbarro but I could be making that up.
Q: I seem to remember you were pretty disappointed when you actually found the truth. There is a lesson there. Not that it stopped us from trying to portray the Great Ice Cream Riot in all our following programs. Speaking of which, am I correct in remembering that you and Matthew both feel the Thomas Edison Ice Cream program was one of our worst? I think that was a totally underrated program.
A: You’ve been talking about how great the Edison program was for so many years that I’m starting to believe it myself.
Q: Was there a point after you found out the truth that you didn’t want to accept it or at least tell me and Matthew about it?
A: No, Scott. That would be crazy. My version of the story didn’t mean enough to me to consciously deny it.
Regrettably, the story of the Great Ice Cream Riot will have to be rated FALSE, which deeply pains me, as the idea of a riot breaking out over free ice cream is simply awesome. HOWEVER, even if the story itself is false, it inspired both some extensive library research and an underrated program, as well as an entertaining story, so we shouldn't be too hard on it.