- By Eliot Kleinberg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Readers: Loyal reader Larry Grosser, a former docent at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, reminded us recently that one of the most shocking departures from public office took place 100 years ago this week. The subject: One of the region’s most colorful pioneers, Guy Metcalf. Here’s more, some of it from previous columns.
The Ohioan had founded the Indian River News in Melbourne on Feb. 24, 1887. It moved first to Juno, then in 1895 to West Palm Beach. (More on this next week).
By April 1898, as the Spanish-American War was sparking fear in the region, Metcalf asked Washington to mount guns in Palm Beach to protect its hotels. He also pushed through the first road to Miami, in 1892. And campaigned hard for the construction of Palm Beach High, now the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, which opened in 1908. After he sold the Tropical Sun, Metcalf served as West Palm Beach mayor in 1904 and 1905.
He later pushed for separation from Dade, and Palm Beach County formed April 30, 1909. It had about 5,000 residents.
J.C. Harris, founder of the downtown West Palm Beach store that still operates — was the first Palm Beach County schools superintendent. Metcalf followed.
But on Feb. 6, 1918, Metcalf was arrested and charged with forging a bill for $333.49 for science equipment. He reportedly had been through a lengthy illness and was given permission to report to the sheriff the next morning. Instead, in the early hours, a janitor found him in a chair in the vault of his office, dead of a bullet to the head. He was 52.
“The verdict of the coroner’s jury was that the act was committed in a fit of temporary insanity,” The Palm Beach Post reported.
“Guy Metcalf, urbane, smiling, clever, painstaking, has filled the last page in his loose-leaf ledger,” Post columnist W.F. Thorndyke wrote. He said Metcalf “had his faults; we all have them; but some of us cover them better or plan them more carefully than did he. There is ever sufficient good unforgotten to create the base for memory’s monument, and it is so in this case.”
Metcalf said, in a suicide note left for a friend and released by the coroner’s jury, “There is but one solution for my imminent troubles. For several months I have not had command of my faculties as I should, and it seemed to me that I was coming to the verge of a mental breakdown. Now this last trouble is on, and if I have done wrong as charged I cannot conceive why I did it.”
He added that “I hope my friends will consider my act charitably, while my enemies are welcome to the pleasure they will have in my removal from the field of further activities,” concluding, “Good-by and God bless you and yours. As ever yours faithfully, Guy.”
Next week: The Tropical Sun and the Gazetteer