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Rube Allyn's Contrasting Decade in Sarasota

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Rube Allyn's Contrasting Decade in Sarasota photo

He came as a humorist and entertainer. He left as an accused, but never tried, murderer. Rube Allyn's decade in Sarasota was one of great contrasts. In "The Story of Sarasota," Karl Grismer described him as " a cross between a genius and a bum...(with) the eloquence of an old-time Shakespearean actor...a man of mood...long hair...seldom if ever bathed...never wore socks...an excellent writer."

In October 1911, the Sarasota Times ran a notice that Rube Allyn, humorist and impersonator, would be entertaining at the school hall. Tickets were 25 cents, 15 cents for children. In the following year, Allyn made known his plans to publish a second newspaper for the Sarasota community.

The first issue of his weekly Sarasota Sun appeared on Saturday, February 6, 1913. Rose Wilson, editor and publisher of the established Sarasota Times, announced the advent of her competition on the bottom page of page 4 and opined that Allyn "is a good writer and has a newsy paper."

Allyn had purchased his printing press from the White Springs Messenger and moved it into the building at the end of a dock off North Gulfstream Avenue. Some time after his wife and two children moved to Siesta Key from Palmetto and made a home in the old Sarasota Yacht Club building, his son Robert became the linotype operator.

The few remaining copies of the Sun illustrate a variety of formats used by Allyn. One devoted the first two pages to an effusive eulogy of Davie Worcester who, with her husband Thomas, had planned and built a large retirement home on Bird Key. (Mrs. Worcester had died shortly before completion of the house that she called New Edzell Castle, after her ancestral home in Scotland.) In another edition, on what today would be the editorial page, Allyn acknowledged, "The good live ads in this issue of the Sun are the best feature we have to offer this week." Another column caricatured the political leaders and countries that had contributed to the recent outbreak of World War I.

In the "Woman's Club Edition," published less than three months after the club was formed in the spring of 1913, Allyn provided a venue for club members to write most of the columns and introduce themselves and their work to the community.

The Sarasota Sun was short-lived. Due apparently to a shortage of funds and a decline in ad sales, Allyn stopped the publication in early 1916. Grismer reports that Allyn, "in a characteristic move to attract attention," one night sawed off the end of the dock on which his printing plant was located, loaded it onto a raft, and started pulling it toward Siesta Key. Part way across the bay the load tipped and fell into the water. After some time the machinery was retrieved, most beyond repair.

During World War I, Allyn worked in a Philadelphia shipyard. After returning to Siesta Key he began publishing the Florida Fisherman in 1920. On January 7, 1921, Allyn was arrested for the brutal bludgeoning murder of Harry Higel, respected community leader and three-term mayor of Sarasota. He was jailed in Bradenton. Grismer states that move was to protect from a lynch mob's noose. The evidence was circumstantial. People remembered a history of antagonism between the two men and a footprint found in the sand next to Higel's body appeared to match one of Allyn's shoes.

Four months later the Grand Jury found insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial and Allyn, who consistenly maintained his innocence, was released. He moved to Ruskin, where he died in 1947.

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