Capi-Tall Tales: John Mayo, Capitol Building's Night Watchman

By: Amy Long Email
By: Amy Long Email

Florida's historic capitol building was constructed in 1845. A little more than a century later, a night watchman roamed the hallways and gave tours, telling tales about those who came before him and stories about the way things in the building run. Little did he know, he too was becoming a part of history. Cozy up as Eyewitness news Reporter Amy Long tells us a Capi-tall-tale.

The setting: Tallahassee, Florida 1950's. John Milton Mayo, the Florida capitol building's night watchman, roams the empty halls after the day to day grind lets out. But, he wasn't always alone.

"I never remember all of the details of things we might have talked about while, but I have all of these visual images of being there with him." says Ken Mayo, John Mayo's Great Grandchild, "I wish he were here today to tell us some of those."

Some youngsters look back on a game of checkers with their grandpa, others recall a trip to the local soda fountain, while Ken Mayo's early childhood memories are of quality time with his Great Granddad.

"One of the things that I keep thinking about was I thought it was so cool that I got to sit in the governor's chair because I could go up there and he'd take me into the governor's office."

While Mayo's sense of smell, detailed vision and stories he listened to while meandering the capitol building have dulled through the years, he still remembers the adventure and excitement he felt with his Pappy.

"My granddad chewed tobacco so they actually have spittoons in the capitol. Right there in the rotunda when you came in and it was no problem to have this spittoon- well- I'm sure they don't exist any longer."

Mayo guarded the halls for governors Holland, Caldwell, Warren, McCarty, Johns and Collins.

Time-Union articles dating back to the 50's describe the guardsman's navy blue uniform and pistol, the same one that Mayo carried with him on his daily walk from his home on 6th avenue to the capitol building.

"Now with the way things are, there's just no way you could go in and get that kind of clearance to do those things."

Mayo Retired on January 2, 1961, the same day Secretary of state Robert Gray, the man who got Mayo the job in the 40's cleaned out his desk. "That's a by gone era that you can't live anymore."

And the rest is history. Buildings were knocked down and built back up .. Some of the streets and landscapes from yesteryear are now only pictures ... and the old capitol falls in the shadow of a 22 story building.

"You see things through a whole different lens then you remember it."

Year 2011, Ken Mayo only hopes *his* grand kids hold onto memories that to everyone else will only dissolve into discolored newspaper clippings. "Change is going to happen. and that's good. Change is good. Things move on and improve and develop, but there's something that would be nice if they could experience the same way you did."

Shortly after Mayo retired, his son got a job as the night watchman at the capitol building.
Back in the 40's when Mayo got his job at the capitol, the average car cost $800 dollars and a gallon of gas cost only 18 cents a gallon but the average annual salary was $1,900- Wonder what Mayo would say today.


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