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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2019 1 year ago

'Life in stages:' local forms part of Ormond Beach history

Meet a former Hotel Ormond elevator operator turned author.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

James F. Daniels has seen a lot of things change in Ormond Beach.

He was just 11 years old when he arrived in 1939, fresh out of a Georgia plantation with his family. It took all 16 of them — including a couple cousins — about 14 hours to travel the estimated 300 miles between the plantation and his Aunt Lily Mae's house. His father had extended the bed of an old Model T Ford truck for the journey, and all the family members rode in it with all their possessions, along with a few chickens. 

“You ever seen the Beverly Hillbillies?" Daniels said. "...They were high-class as far as what we were.”

Daniels, who now lives in Daytona Beach, recalls his aunt was surprised at the number of people that showed up on her front step. That night, relatives crammed into her two-bedroom house, with some sleeping in the truck and across the street at a neighbors house. 

The children took a long time to fall asleep, he said. They had never seen electricity or toilets before. 

This is one of the accounts Daniels tells in his book "Metamorphosis," which was published in 2016. It tells the story of his life in stages, from growing up in a plantation in Cordele, Georgia, to coming to Ormond Beach and having a white storeowner look him in the eyes for the first time while he bought candy and lard, and later going to college and studying political science. Daniels tells accounts of working as an elevator operator in Hotel Ormond, and how at 13 he became a caddy for the South Atlantic Women's Amateur Championship at what is now the Oceanside Country Club. He speaks about race relations and compares his experiences.

"Life in Ormond, even digging in the garbage, was far superior to what we'd experienced on the plantation."

Excerpt from "Metamorphosis" by James F. Daniels

When Daniels arrived in Ormond Beach with his family, one of the first things they all did was get jobs. They would each bring their paychecks home and put it on the dining room table. Daniels's father would count the money and put it in the post office. 

“And boy, we thought we were rich," Daniels said.

But it didn't take long until the Daniels children were formally enrolled in school, for the first time. Daniels was put in third grade at Rigby School, which used to be housed in the current PACE Center for Girls building. There he met his teacher, Miss Lila Scott.

“That woman changed my life forever," Daniels said.

She taught him how to read and write, tutoring him at her house to help him catch up to the other students. Not only did Daniels catch up, but he surpassed expectations.

“At the end of the school year, I had a straight A average," Daniels recalled. "Straight A. And she made me the president of the class.”

When he wasn't in school, Daniels worked. One of those places was Hotel Ormond, where he started out in the kitchen washing pots and prepping food for the cooks. Later, he got promoted to bellhop and elevator operator, and never missed a chance to get a good tip for carrying guests' luggage up to their rooms. He recalls that, every time he spotted a limousine pull up to the hotel, he would zip outside to help.

Those tips would be handed out in little brown envelopes every Saturday morning. All hotel employees would line up in the lobby.

“I used to get a lot of brown envelopes," Daniels said.

Daniels, who is working on his second novel, said he put his story down on paper because he wanted to share it with the community. He thought it might be something of interest. Daniel's novel is available for purchase on Amazon, and at the Halifax Historical Society and Museum.

“I thought it was kind of unique — the life that I had lived, and the things that I had seen, all the people I met, the things I’d known that happened so many years ago that I’m pretty much the only person in Ormond Beach that would know about all that stuff,” Daniels said.

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