Things I learned while looking up other stuff.
Listen, trying to explain Gainesville takes a lot of work and not a little bit of research.
So very often I find myself going to UF’s online archives to pour over Jess G. Davis’ 1966 “History of Gainesville Florida.
The thing about ol’ Jess was that he loved a good story. And the epic tale of the Great Gainesville Melt-Off is a corker.
Or as Davis called it, “The Duel Of The Ice Blocks,” as told to him by B.M. Tench, appropriately enough in the summer of 1953.
It seems that in 1885 one A.J. McArthur moved to GNV from Wisconsin for the purpose of opening the town’s first ice plant.
Prior to that Gainesville had to import natural ice “cut from rivers and lakes in the North and transported by schooners to Fernandina and from that point by rail to Gainesville. This made ice very expensive.”
Anyway, Gainesville being a sporting town even before the Gators got here, the question naturally arose: Which ice lasts longer? Natural ice? Or the Mac-made stuff?
“The town was about evenly divided on the question….Arrangements were made for a test and most of the male population bet two bits, twenty five cents, to ten dollars on the outcome of the test, which would determine which ice would melt faster.”
Two hundred-pound blocks of ice – one frozen lake water and the other, um, Mac-made, were “placed on the sidewalk on the west side of the Courthouse about in front of Otto Stock’s Men’s Store, 6. So. Main Street.”
“Two guards were placed on duty to prevent any skullduggery. All night long the watch was kept.”
Clearly, competition over the Great GNV Ice Melt-Off would soon come to a, er, boiling point.
“Next morning no one could tell any difference in the size of the competing ice blocks,” Tench recalled. “The day dragged on. People milled around.”
Things were getting…you know…hot and heavy.
“Several ladies drove by in their carriages drawn by curiosity and the interest of the men-folks.”
And then things really started to cook…..
“In the middle of the afternoon the lake ice started melting fast.” (Hey, this is GNV, you can fry eggs on our sidewalks.)
“About four o’clock the lake ice gave up the ghost and vanished, leaving the artificial ice victorious with only about a pound of ice left.”
And the crowd went nuts! Go McIce! Go McIce!
No doubt plans began the next day to construct a great stadium where tens of thousands of fans could one day gather to witness the spectacle of melt-downs…replete with instant replays.
“Soon the lake ice vanished from the Gainesville market.”
Because, you know, there is always a price to be paid for defeat.
And friends and neighbors, if that story ain’t true, it ought to be.