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Benson's Design Got Stamp of Approval

Gulf Breeze's first postmaster wanted to commemorate invasion of The Philippines

 

To read the original article as published by the Gulf Breeze News, please visit https://news.gulfbreezenews.com. Article written by By Glenda Caudle

Gulf Breeze News© 2019 glenda@gulfbreezenews.com

 

That’s what happened when the local group of volunteers and history lovers who took on the job of preserving the past in Gulf Breeze began to dig into what was left behind in a local home.


Members of the Gulf Breeze Area Historical Society had high hopes of finding historical material sufficient to tell the early story ofthis community — and the involvement of the late Mark X. and E. Louise Benson in “grow ing” the town — more than fully realized over the past two years. A recent find with both local, national andinternational implications has them particularly excited. It has to do with Benson’s civilian and military job in the postal service.


Some Benson History

The home that stood vacant for more than a decade at 15 Live Oak St. in Gulf Breezeafter Mrs. Benson’s death on Oct. 9, 2006, passed to the historical society in 2007, as she had directed. However, it took a determined effort by GBAHS officers, beginning more than two years ago, to start the hard work of cataloging the home’s historical treasure trove of contents related to Gulf Breeze’s early history, to store those items that will eventually be available for the public to view and learn from and to auction — as part of a fundraising effort — those things that did not necessarily contribute to the society’s goal.


The stored items tell a story every Gulf Breeze resident will find interesting, since the Bensons were in the community early on as the little area across the bridge from Pensacola began to assume the dimensions of a“real” town.


The couple ran the first post office in Gulf Breeze, were involved in getting a school established, helped give Gulf Breeze areligious dimension through their support for the establishment and ongoing commitment of various churches and used their passion for politics to guide other contributions to the city they loved.


If something important to the people who began to populate Gulf Breeze was going on, the Bensons were, most likely, a part of it, according to a spokesman.


The couple also recognized, early on, the importance of the community’s history and saved letters, photos, ledgers, newspapers and personal notations that have proven to be a treasure trove of information about the town they loved and served.


For the past two years, GBAHS archivist Dawn Hargrove, board member Teresa Banfell and other volunteers sifted through the items the Bensons left behind, with help from the University of West Florida.


Soon, some of those items will be on display in a special case at Gulf Breeze Community Center, where GBAHS members hope citizens’ appetites will be whetted for more — the “more” that will be satisfied when they attain their goal of completing restoration of the home as a museum and creating space within it for research and study by residents and visitors to the area.


Gulf Breeze’s establishment as a legal entity goes back only to Aug. 10, 1961, when it was incorporated, but it was settled in 1875 and founded as Gulf Breeze in 1935. Some members of GBAHS believe that careful archaeological study may yield a rich history that predates any of those momentous years, however, and they hope the opening of the Benson House Museum will encourage such exploration.


They realize every discovery has the potential to open up a fascinating new avenue of historical travel, because they have experienced just such opportunities.


Beyond These Shores


One path, in particular, leads beyond Gulf Breeze and stretches around the globe to the Philippines, where a local resident made an impact the society was astonished to discover.


It is such finds that really enrich the search efforts being made by GBAHS.


As Hargrove and Banfell sorted through multiple cartons of material saved through the years by the Bensons, they came across several photos, letters and certificates whose import was not immediately clear, but, soon enough, they realized Mark Benson had memorialized a date of dramatic importance to both the Philippines and the United States.


The liberation of the Philippines during World War II commenced with amphibious landings on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte on Oct. 20, 1944. Benson made sure that date was noted and memorialized in a unique way, thanks to his front-row seat for the proceedings and his artistic talent.


Because of his experience as Gulf Breeze’s first postmaster, Benson was tasked by his country with helping to set up a post office in the Philippines that would facilitate mail not only to those on land but those sailors on ships in the surrounding waters.


Mail came in by biplane and the post office Benson helped establish dispensed it and then collected outgoing items and sent them back by a reverse procedure during the last months of the war.


Benson was there, doing his job, on Oct. 20, 1945 — the Philippines’ D- Day.


His job and his first-hand perspective apparently provided the impetus he needed to create an official postal service stamp memorializing that important event a year after it took place

— 75 years ago.

The rubber stamp was put into use and Benson even “made his mark” with it on an envelope containing one of many letters he sent home to his wife while he was serving in the war.

He also saved his original signed drawing for the stamp, along with first covers, but he was not allowed to bring one of the rubber stamps created with his design home with him.


Banfell says GBAHS sought assistance from auction houses about the value of their find, but while the monetary importance of the discovery does not appear to be great, the historical significance may prove to be invaluable for those involved in documenting and preserving World War II history on a national level. She has been making contact with authorities devoted to such work but is unsure what may eventually be done with the important find from the Bensons’ house.


“We’re sitting on so much history that no one has ever seen before,” she says. “We’re going to take copies (of the artwork and the stamped envelope sent to Mrs. Benson) and the first covers and put them in the Community Center display case for now.”

Included in that display will, most likely, be other items that help tell the story of the United States’ involvement in the Philippines, such as an aerial photo showing the American encampment and the many ships in the harbor, pictures of the post office Benson set up in quonset huts and the work that went on there and, possibly, some of the letters he sent his wife who was busy back home working as the Gulf Breeze postmaster in her husband’s absence.


The GBAHS search teams also found parts of Benson’s World War II uniform and multiple letters to his wife that talk about the establishment of the post office and his involvement in a church in the area.


Banfell says the society is always open to learning more about the Gulf Breeze area history and to sharing what is discovered with the community.She urges anyone who thinks they have items or information that help fill out the story to consider donating or lending it or allowing documentation to be made.


Those willing to do so may call this reporter — Glenda Caudle — at (850) 932-8986 or email to glenda@gulfbreezenews.com to be put into contact with a society member until such time as a direct contact line can be initiated by GBAHS.


There is still some work to be done on the Benson House before history lovers can satisfy their curiosity there — mainly getting the electrical and plumbing work up to code — but the home was thoroughly cleaned, the air conditioning was repaired, original furnishings were prepared for showcasing, the lot was cleared of weeds and debris and planted with flowers, and the historical treasures related to the town the Bensons loved are pretty much catalogued and destined for placement to best advantage in the house.


Mark X. and E. Louise Benson would, most likely, be well pleased with the effort to preserve the past. They might even put their personal “stamp” of approval on it

 

To read the original article as published by the Gulf Breeze News, please visit https://news.gulfbreezenews.com. Article written by By Glenda Caudle

Gulf Breeze News© 2019 glenda@gulfbreezenews.com

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