2008-12-18 / Undercover Historian

Julius 'Junkie' Fleischmann: An unsung Naples hero

BY LOIS BOLIN Special to Florida Weekly

'Junkie' Fleischmann 'Junkie' Fleischmann Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, "Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime; and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time." He must have been talking about those mighty unsung heroes who came to Naples between 1930 and 1960 — those giants who not only made Naples a better place to live, but our country as well.

An unsung hero is described as a person who has made substantive, unrecognized contributions or one whose bravery is unknown. One of ours was at one time known simply as the man who served roasted peacocks, a fare once reserved for kings.

His name was Julius "Junkie" Fleischmann, and his life was filled with anything but junk. It was replete with adventure, inspirations and memorabilia that even now lives on in the halls of the Cincinnati Natural Museum and the memories of all who have ever visited the birthplace of Old Naples, or the Caribbean Gardens, now called the Naples Zoo.

A family on the rise (pennies from leaven)

The Fleischmann story is an America story at its finest. It was a family business from the Civil War until the start of the Depression, wherein the Fleischmanns created a food conglomerate that became known as Standard Brands and ultimately merged with Nabisco in 1980. The Fleischmanns invented the coupon premium, the give-away recipe book and state fair bake-offs.

Yachting with a mission

While Junkie was born to great wealth, he chose to live a productive existence. This entrepreneurial way of life was encouraged by his paternal grandfather, Charles Fleischmann, who arrived in the U.S. from Hungary essentially penniless but with a recipe for yeast that would change both the way America baked and produced gin.

Junkie did not follow the Great Gatsbylike crowd that was a standard of his time. Instead, he became a student of cultural anthropology — and not an ordinary armchair type, but a hands-on, Indiana Jones type. As earthy as he was debonair, he dabbled in publishing, hotels, philanthropy, Broadway and, when called upon, governmental liaisons.

Junkie was also an expert yachtsman. In his yacht, "Camargo," he sailed the seven seas and immersed himself in natural history, particularly local cultures such as the Cocos Islands, New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Sri Lanka and the Arabian Peninsula. During a trip to Melanesia in the early 1930s, he chronicled many societies that for all practical purposes had become extinct.

While in the South Pacific with his wife, Dorette, and two small children on board their 225-foot yacht, Junkie secretly created the maps and descriptions that were used by the U.S. government in its attacks on many of the Japaneseheld islands in World War II. Third Street South and the Zoo

During the late 1800s, the founders of the fledgling resort community of Naples were honored to get Henry Nehrling, an eminent naturalist, to relocate to Naples. When he died in 1929, Mr. Nehrling's garden, which was filled with exotic plants from around the world, was leased to a son-in-law until it was sold at sheriff's auction in 1931.

In 1951, by which time the land was fading into disrepair, Junkie bought it and rejuvenated the gardens. His show business days gave him the idea to have animals in the garden — but not ordinary animals; he wanted performing animals. So an animal behaviorist was hired, and soon the garden's vaudeville duck had a gig on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and at the Rockefeller Center. The performing duck brought much attention — and many visitors — to the garden.

This past October, The Naples Zoo, formerly Jungle Larry's and The Caribbean Gardens, received a historic designation for 50 trees that are part of Mr. Nerhling's history — trees that would have been lost had it not been for Junkie Fleischmann and his vision.

After World War II, the graceful growth of Third Street South began under the direction of Junkie and Dorette, both of whom were charmed by the area. Their first purchase was the Mercantile Building, which became the Antique Addict and held many of the treasures from their travels. Today it is home to Campiello Ristorante.

Legacy in the sand

Mr. Longfellow also said, "The bravest are the tenderest. The loving are the daring."

Junkie was as tender as he was brave, as loving as he was daring. His legacy will linger forever in the shade at The Naples Zoo, in the laughter at Fleischmann Park and on Third Street South, where the Fleischmanns' elegance and charm can be found in each footstep around the birthplace of Old Naples.

Lois Bolin is the co-founder of Naples

Cultural Landscape, a fund at the Community

Foundation of Collier County. Naples

Backyard History is the fund's educational

initiative. For more information, visit the

NBYH Mini-Museum at 1300 Third St. S.,

call 594-2978 or visit www.naplesbackyardhistory.

org.

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