Virginia King’s version of our city told onstage in Tim Gilmore’s play
Local author Tim Gilmore, Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) English professor, historian, and creator of jaxpsychogeo.com, knows a lot about bizarre, local lore and our city’s most idiosyncratic characters. Virginia King is certainly one of those—she spent decades feverishly documenting 1960-80s Jacksonville by word and photo, ultimately writing some 8,000 pages by hand in an effort to “capture the city,” as Gilmore puts it. Gilmore wrote a book about King in 2015, titled The Mad Atlas of Virginia King, that has now been adapted into a play by the same name. The stage performance will be the fourth dramatic collaboration between Gilmore and FSCJ DramaWorks director Ken McCulough and will be McCulough’s final FSCJ production before retirement. Four performances will take place between March 31 and April 3 at the Wilson Center on FSCJ’s South Campus.
The FSCJ play coincides with the release of a new edition of Gilmore’s 2015 Mad Atlas. King’s story captured Gilmore’s attention while exploring the archives at the Jacksonville Historical Society back in 2014. As someone who has devoted their career to Jacksonville’s history, it is no surprise that Gilmore says he was immediately “smitten” with King.
“Who would write something like this? Who would so dedicate herself to such a quixotic project?” asks Gilmore. “And why this strange method? Most of the writing is in lists. Much of it is inaccurate.” Gilmore suspects that King had undiagnosed Asperger syndrome. She suffered from epileptic seizures and was taken out of school to follow along with her father, a realtor named Rufus King. The King family moved around Riverside nearly annually, living in 20 different residences. “[Virginia King] became fascinated with the architecture, but also with the city’s wealthy old families, and when white flight hit the urban core, she took to documenting as many old structures as possible before they were demolished,” says Gilmore. “She walked across Riverside, downtown, LaVilla, Springfield, and across the urban core.”
Gilmore says that King also took hundreds of photographs with her Kodak Brownie camera, which he describes as “not good; they’re mostly crooked and blurry, as though she couldn’t stop long enough to snap the photo, but they say something about who she was and show a Jacksonville that no longer exists.” Many of the buildings in King’s photos were demolished decades ago. King’s “mad” photos will be on display, along with portraits of her by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Rocco Morabito, in an exhibit accompanying the play at the Wilson Center.