This semester, the FGCU Library will display an exhibition about the life of a prominent man in Fort Myers during the 20th century — James Newton.
“He was a very influential person within Fort Myers and had these internationally influential friends,” said Lauren McCraney, the FGCU Library Archives, Special Collections and Digital Initiatives Assistant.
Newton was an entrepreneur and author, and the friend of five notable characters of the time. He wrote a memoir, titled “Uncommon Friends,” where he talked about his relationship with inventor Thomas Edison, automobile industrialist Henry Ford, tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone, Nobel Prize winning surgeon Dr. Alexis Carrel and aviator Charles Lindbergh.
“He just happened to be in an interesting place — geographically and time-wise — to befriend this major notable figures in the 20th century,” said Kaleena Rivera, the senior library technical assistant of the FGCU LASCDI. “Hence, being the name ‘Uncommon Friends’ that he ended up coining.”
The exhibition is a collection of correspondence, photographs, artifacts, newspaper articles and manuscript excerpts that overall tell Newton’s life story and illustrate how his relationships with these five influential characters impacted him and how he impacted them in return.
The Uncommon Friends Foundation, which was established in Newton’s name in 1993, is dedicated to preserving Newton’s testimonies. As part of that effort, the UFF has endowed a chair of ethics for the Lutgert College of Business.
“(Newton) died in 1999 having a pretty long standing relationship with the university,” said Melissa VandeBurgt, the head of the FGCU LASCDI. “A lot of what James wanted his legacy to be about was about ethical practices in business and in life.”
Additionally, in 2012, the FGCU LASCDI partnered with the UFF to digitalize the Foundation’s Newton collection. This is now online.
McCraney said the exhibition was laid out in a way that will allow visitors to acquire enough context to appreciate the artifacts and documents.
Some of the items that will be displayed include a baseball signed by Anne Lindbergh, the promotional poster of when Newton’s book was turned into a documentary narrated by Walter Conkrite and Newton’s developing plans of Edison Park. Additionally, several photographs and letters will also be available.
For instance, a written note from Edison to Ford about his discontent for smoking will be showcased as well as a photo from Newton’s scrapbook of a Firestone plane landing in Fort Myers in 1929.
“At the time, it was the largest plane in Fort Myers to ever land,” McCraney said.
Newton also volunteered for World War II and was stationed in Hawaii. This is why his uniform, medals and badges will be displayed. Since Newton was also involved with the Moral Re-Armament movement, which was an international moral and spiritual movement, a flyer of the MRA will also be displayed.
The exhibition will officially open Friday, Feb. 26 to the general public, after an inaugural reception on Thursday, Feb. 25. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays until April 22.
“He was a long-standing member of the community,” McCraney said. “He had a home in Estero beach. (The exhibition) is very rich in national and local history.”