Fred and Max: Pillars of ‘Old Rockdale’
Mike Brown

There are two unrelated items in this week’s “100 Years

Ago” section (below) that become more interesting when you know “the rest of the story,” as someone used to say.

The April 9, 1914, Reporter noted that Fred Palmer had acquired a half interest in Rockdale Bottling Company and Enrico Ferrari announced plans to construct a 2,970-squarefoot building downtown.

COURAGE—Reporter Publisher John Esten Cooke added a unique final sentence to the bottling company story, referring to Palmer, “though physically affected, (he) retains a bright grasp upon life.” That might seem strange unless you possess this knowledge.

Fred Palmer did not have any legs.

Earlier in his life, a wagon had run over Palmer’s legs which had to be amputated.

This era was barely out of the 19th Century, let alone the 20th. High-tech artificial limbs were far in the future. You basically did the best you could and lived with it. And did he ever. Rockdale residents remember him scooting around town in and out of a wheel chair, even climbing stairs.

Art by Jenessa Freitag, a junior at Rockdale High School. Art by Jenessa Freitag, a junior at Rockdale High School. “He could go up and down stairs like anyone,” longtime resident Genie Newton recalled. “And he was very civic minded, always involved in everything.”

In addition to being half-owner of the bottling works, Palmer also had a Sinclair dealership and was involved in the legendary “crazy water crystals” mineral water venture in Thorndale.

I’ve seen photos of old Rockdale town baseball teams, well before there were any high school teams, showing a manager who obviously had no legs.

It really stretches credulity to think that manager could have been anyone but Fred Palmer.

He lived a brave and productive life. Palmer was the uncle of Josie Palmer, longtime personal secretary to H. H. Coffield.

SWEET SHOP—Enrico Ferrari isn’t the end of the second story, although he’s an interesting story in himself.

An emigrant from Italy, Enrico was a craftsman who worked on the Texas State Capitol, constructed between 1882 and 1888 as an Italian Renaissance structure.

Enrico’s Rockdale building was envisioned as a “confectionery store and picture show with a roof garden.”

But it’s what the building became later when Enrico’s son Maurice (Max) Ferrari took it over that made it a Rockdale legend.

Maxie’s Sweet Shop was a hangout for generations of Rockdale teens from the 1920s through the early 1950s.

Max Ferrari, a World War I veteran, astoundingly played a part in two of the town’s iconic moments.

Max and fellow American Legion member Homer Turner discovered the Scarbrough & Hicks fire on the night of Sept. 3, 1935. Two volunteer firefighters died in the blaze.

It was Max and night watchman C. H. Landis who ran the town’s siren, twice, in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, to let residents know the D-Day invasion had begun.

Quite a historic week.

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