John Appleyard, Pensacola's Storyteller, Dies At 97
Pensacola’s preeminent storyteller has passed away at the age of 97.
A Chicago native, and lifelong Cubs fan, John Appleyard wore many hats — World War II veteran; advertising executive, storyteller, and author, to name just a few. His persona extended beyond Pensacola and Northwest Florida.
“John Appleyard was a treasure for this community; John has done more to promote Pensacola’s history and to instill in the local community a love of history than all the rest of us combined,” said Rob Overton, executive director of the UWF Historic Trust. He and Appleyard worked together on a number of projects, including a series of talks on the history of Pensacola.
“Hello, and welcome to our stories about Pensacola – one of North America’s oldest communities,” said Appleyard at the beginning of one of his shows. “You know, Pensacola has a story that goes back more than 450 years.”
“His ability to go out and take this wonderful history we have, and put it into the terms and vernacular of the common man, has been something invaluable for us and this community,” said Overton. “To help us share the story that we have.”
Appleyard’s genesis as the go-to for all things-Pensacola history could be traced back to 1958, when he was named to head Florida’s 400th anniversary celebration. Eventually, he had his own place in Pensacola Village downtown,Appleyard’s Story Telling Cottage, where he would hold court.
“It was a place where people could walk in, you could press a button [and] pick any little topic of Pensacola’s history that you could even imagine; and you have John Appleyard, on video, sitting there telling you about this, Overton said. “When we first opened, the first few years, on Saturday mornings if the weather was nice, John in person would go down to that house and sit on the porch and engage people who were coming by to learn the local history.”
Today, a number of talks by Appleyard can be found in various sites online.
“As we begin the story this morning we’re going to be talking about what we now call the first attempted settlement in North America,” said Appleyard in one of his videos. “The story of Don Tristan de Luna and his expedition of 1559. I have to tell you a little bit of a story about how all that began, at least locally.”
After the war, Appleyard began his advertising career in Pensacola with Justin Weddell & Associates in 1957. Two years later, he and his wife Eleanor opened The Appleyard Agency. He also was at the vanguard, said Overton, of efforts to turn Pensacola into a tourist destination.
“There was a museum out on Pensacola Beach; they reconstructed a Spanish village,” said Overton. “They had an actual museum out there with artifacts. John was the director of that museum. Whenever that museum ceased to exist, John went back to his advertising agency, but he never stopped promoting history.”
Eleanor Appleyard, John’s wife of 75 years, died in July at the age of 95 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
There are two givens with the passing of John Appleyard, according to Rob Overton at the UWF Historic Trust. One is that the videos and audio recordings of his talks will continue his legacy in perpetuity.
“They’re available; you can come down to the cottage, we have them in the archives at Voices of Pensacola and they’re also on YouTube,” said Overton. “There’s a link to them on our website, www.historicpensacola.org.
The other is that his shoes will never be completely filled.
“I don’t want to discount anyone; there’s a lot of great people out there that know the history of this area. I don’t think there’s any one person who can fill John Appleyard’s shoes. I think that we as a community and a historical community need to come together to try to fill those shoes,’ said Overton.