Filmmaker relives Marco history

Story and photos B. Elaine Michaelis
Special to the Sun Times
  • Hughes has about 150 films running on television and dot.coms%2C and another 250 archived

A good, old-fashioned "double feature" highlighted the Marco Island Historical Society's latest monthly meeting at Rose History Auditorium.

Close to 200 people showed up.

The films were "Marco in the Making" and an interview of prominent Island philanthropist Ms. Jane Hittler, who died in 2006. Both films were produced by well-known Island filmmaker Bill Hughes.

The Society's Board President, Pat Rutledge, welcomed the audience with a little bit of humor. "You know, I didn't think there were this many people left on Marco. Was Jurassic Park so bad?"

Rutledge went on talk about the Museum's newest permanent exhibit, The Modern Marco Room, which is scheduled to open in a just a few months and will tell the story of Marco, from the 60s when the Mackle brothers first purchased the Island to present times.

Next year, the Pioneer Room will also open and focus on important historical figures, people like W. T. Collier and Tommie Barfield. "This is your museum, this is your history, these are your stories," said Rutledge, encouraging all to return in the future.

Board Member B. J. Henning, who organizes these monthly events, took over the mike and introduced Hughes, describing him as a "preserver of history," and "being from a generation that is still opening doors for women." There was only one problem left to deal with before the show could begin. "Marco in the Making," the first film on the billing, had no audio.

While technical problems were addressed, Hughes regaled the audience with stories of his youth, his first visit to Marco, a little Marco history, traffic patterns on the local highways, anything to keep the audience occupied and entertained. He went on to introduce two of Marco's more prominent citizens who were sitting in the audience: 84-year-old Marion Nicolay and 96-year-old Herb Savage.

Nicolay, a long-time Historical Society re-enactor, is known for her portrayal of Deaconess Harriet Bedell, who worked with Indians throughout Southwest Florida and was proclaimed a saint by the Episcopal Church in 2009. And Savage, known as the Island's architect, helped the Mackle brothers transform Marco into the planned community it is today.

"The Mackles wanted modest, affordable homes for young, working families and retirees," said Savage.

Twelve model homes were built near the yacht club on the water and another 10 inland, near City Hall. In January of 1965, when Marco Island officially opened, approximately 25,000 people came to see these models, which ranged in price from $19,000 to $45,000.

Savage agreed to lead the audience in singing God Bless America (something he is often asked to do) somewhat reluctantly. He joked and told the audience his wife complains that he "sings the song either too high or too low." Once, when asked what key he used, his answer was "the Marco Key, of course."

Eventually the first film could be shown and while the sound was still a little "sketchy," the visuals were anything but. Produced in honor of Marco's 50th anniversary, Hughes juxtaposed early photos of Marco from the 60s with video footage and still photography, often from the air, at various stages of completion.

Several well-known celebrities, among them Joe Garagiola, Gene Sarazen and Jack Parr, supplied the commentary, and two songs about Marco, one by Stan Gober of Stan's Idle Hour on Goodland and the other by well-known Island entertainer Frankie Ray, provided the score.

The second film of the evening introduced the audience to Jane Hittler, who was known as the "First Lady of Marco Island."

Filmed at the old Marco cemetery, Hittler sat in the hot sun, straw hat on her head, and talked about the early settlers, the Calusa Cat, the arrival of the Mackle brothers, her own move to the Island, key limes and much, much more. At one point in her monologue, Hittler stopped, took a breath and told her viewers "history goes deeper than just the cemetery."

A member of the original Marco Island Beautification Committee, Hittler is responsible for much of the shrubbery and tree plantings that can be seen today and for starting the Island's first youth center, which ultimately became the YMCA. She also was the first contributor to the Museum's building fund, with a check for $1,000.

According to Hughes, Hittler shot the entire film with a broken clavicle. "These women (Hittler and other women like her) are a testament to being tough and still having grace," said Hughes. "With a smile on their faces and God in their hearts — these are the people we need to exemplify."

Hughes came to Marco in the year 2000, and has been recording people and events ever since. Currently, he has about 150 films running on television and dot.coms and another 250 archived, but not available to the public. His intent is to store his collection on a hard drive for anyone to access, perhaps at the Museum via a media player. He also has been salvaging and scanning the collections of others — mostly still photographs — who according to him don't realize what they have.eHe

"I don't want Marco's history being erased," said Hughes.

Copies of the films shown at this event are available for purchase at the Museum's gift shop. For more information about Hughes and his videos, call 435-1188 or check out his website: