Pickens Provides Aerial Perspective in Twilight Talks
The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village will launch a new evening lecture series which will focus on local history as well as the personal history of some of our local people. Touted as Twilight Talks, the series commences on January 27 with a presentation by Jim Pickens who will offer something of a bird’s eye perspective on changes in the local landscape over time complemented by a series of aerial photographs that date back more than 80 years ago.
Pickens is a rarity among the many that have migrated to Sanibel in recent years because he is someone who was actually raised on the island in an era long before the construction of the causeway bridge. “I’m not older than dirt, but I’m older than some of the sand on Sanibel,” says Pickens. That said, he is more than capable of sharing a few tales about the Sanibel of yester-year. He can account of a certain German submarine that was sunk off the coast of Sanibel back during World War II. He also tells a story about how Army Air Corps used to fly over from Page Field to Sanibel to conduct strafing exercises, and sometimes, aircraft bullets would hit more than the beach. He says there was a certain man named Shanahan whose home, every so often, would get punctured by one of the bullets, “But he’d just cut the bottom out of tin can and use that to patch the hole,” says Pickens.
Pickens has particular interest and knowledge of matters in military aviation. After graduating from high school in the mid-50’s, he went on to enlist in the Air Force. He served with a Recon Technincal Squadron of the 12th Air Force that was responsible for capturing reconnaissance photos, particularly over the corridors of Berlin, which, in turn, helped in the creation of maps that were highly valued by military interests. After his discharge, Pickens went on to work at Kennedy Space Center and later served as civilian technician with RCA. In the late 60’s, Pickens returned to Sanibel and opened a camera shop which was in business for more than 30 years.
Beyond his ability to talk of the technical intricacies of the equipment and process of capturing aerial photos, Pickens has a unique perspective on area history that isn’t easily realized in the Sanibel of today. The photographs, in themselves, depict a topography far different than it exists today. For one, there was a time when there were far less trees on Sanibel. Pickens describes the island as existing more like a prairie of scrub. He says there was a time when one could actually stand on the porch of the old Bailey homestead and look out onto the Gulf of Mexico. His photos reveal some of the earliest wagon trails that existed on the island, long before the creation of roads like Periwinkle Way. There wasn’t much traffic in that time either. Of course, back then, Pickens says they weren’t always concerned about riding on the road. He and his friends used to cruise up and down the beach in an old jeep. Going to school meant hitching a ride on the local ferry to Fort Myers. And outside of school, there wasn’t TV and video games as there was always work waiting in the garden. Somehow, there was always time for fishing too. Pickens says most people remember Sanibel “as they first saw it.” However, “They don’t have any idea what it was like back in the day.”
When asked to characterize whether the changes that have occurred in Sanibel are good or not-so-good, Pickens says he doesn’t think of it in those kind of terms. “It’s just different,” he says, adding that some facets of the past, he hopes to never see return, namely – mosquitos.
For an in-depth overview of history from an aerial reconnaissance veteran and legend among local folk, plan to attend Twilight Talks on January 27, (7:00 to 8:00 p.m.) in the School House on the grounds of Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.