“The J Files” is our new article series that delves into interesting stories, oddities, and other quirky tidbits of First Coast lore.
If your parents or grandparents grew up in Jacksonville, ask them if they remember Professor Backwards.
Professor Backwards, or James Edmondson, was somewhat of a local celebrity back in the day. Born in Atlanta, GA in 1910, he and his family moved to Jax when he was 12. He would spend much of his life living in the St. Nicholas neighborhood, which in the pre-Consolidation days was considered Jacksonville’s southside.
It was after moving to Jax when he claimed to have developed his special abilities to read, write, speak, and even sing backwards.
According to Edmondson’s own mythos, he went to sleep one night and had a dream in which everyone was speaking and moving in reverse. Upon waking up, he was suddenly able to talk, spell, and sing backwards – and, for some reason, he also spontaneously became ambidextrous.
His days of working as a typesetter for the Times-Union were a more likely source of his talent, but his version of events is definitely more interesting.
He used his abilities to complement his vaudeville comedy act, appearing on local television shows and releasing a comedy album, Laugh With, in 1955. He often appeared donning a graduation cap and gown.
In the ‘60s, Edmondson’s act went national. He appeared on variety shows like The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Merv Griffin Show, telling jokes and showcasing his backward-speaking talent.
At some point in the ‘60s, Edmondson moved from Jacksonville – though he maintained a residence in the city as well as a summer house in Palatka.
Unfortunately, Edmondson’s career – and life – were cut tragically short in 1976. He was attacked at his home in College Park, GA, by assailants looking to rob him. He wrote them a check, but not for the amount they asked for, so one of them shot Edmondson to death.
Regarded by Jaxsons of the time as a good man and a good neighbor, and tragically murdered in his home state, Professor Backwards now lives on as a colorful part of Jacksonville lore.