Let’s Have An Air Party

Of all the kinds of parties you can have – toga parties, foam parties, hurricane parties – an air party might seem the silliest. But that’s exactly the sort of celebration many of Florida’s major communities were throwing in the 1930s, when commercial aviation and air tourism were still in their infancy.

Program from Orlando's Second Annual "Air Party," January 1935 - Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Program from Orlando’s Second Annual “Air Party,” January 1935 – Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Officials in both the private and public sectors had recognized by this time that aviation offered Florida a marvelous opportunity. Distance, as one observer put it, just didn’t mean as much anymore when a trip that had once taken days could now be accomplished in a few hours. To encourage Florida’s growth as a destination for air tourism, state and local governments teamed up with private businesses to host air races, air parties, and other events. These efforts had two objectives: to sell Florida as a tourist destination by air to the rest of the country, and to convince Floridians of the worthiness of investing in better aviation infrastructure.

Army planes fly over the timing stand at the Sixth Annual All-American Air Races (1934).

Army planes fly over the timing stand at the Sixth Annual All-American Air Races (1934).

Air cruises, usually sponsored by chambers of commerce, aeronautical clubs, and other civic groups, were some of the most unique events. These were typically open to any “sportsman pilots” or private aviators who wanted to attend. The pilots would fly their planes from airport to airport along a chain of host cities, enjoying receptions, races, and other activities along the way. Here’s an example itinerary from the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise:

Itinerary for the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise (1935) - Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Itinerary for the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise (1935) – Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

The towns along the route would often extend privileges to the visiting pilots at their local country clubs, hotels, and restaurants. In some cities – Orlando we know for sure – the pilots received fuel and oil at wholesale prices as an incentive. The local chambers of commerce often arranged ground transportation as well, and local groups provided opportunities for hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, and other favorite Florida pastimes.

Pilot Harold Neumann with

Pilot Harold Neumann with “Miss Chevrolet” in Miami (1936).

These groups were typically quite intimate, but their activities were highly visible and helped introduce a large number of people to the possibilities of aviation. A little more time, plus some help from World War II, saw Florida criss-crossed with busy commercial air routes and a whole new sector to its thriving tourist industry.

Interested in aviation or a related Florida industry? The State Library & Archives has a wide variety of books, ephemera, photographs, and manuscript collections touching on these subjects. The program and itinerary from this blog post, for example, came from a collection of papers belonging to William C. Lazarus, who once directed the Aviation Division of the State Road Department and helped organize a number of “air parties.” Search our catalogs to find out what we have on your favorite topic in Florida history!

When Dade County Was On the Gulf Coast

It doesn’t take a genius to realize map-making has come a long way since the early 19th century. Today’s Floridians would also likely agree that it shouldn’t take a genius to know where Miami-Dade County ought to be on a map of the Sunshine State. If that’s the case, then how in the world did THIS happen?

An 1838 map of Florida showing Dade County incorrectly on the Gulf Coast, just north of Tampa Bay (Florida Map Collection, State Library).

An 1838 map of Florida showing Dade County incorrectly on the Gulf Coast, just north of Tampa Bay (Florida Map Collection, State Library).

That’s right – in 1838, at least one mapmaker believed Dade County was supposed to be on Florida’s Gulf Coast north of Tampa Bay instead of down in South Florida on the Atlantic Coast where we would expect it to be. All jokes aside, the error in this case was probably only partly to do with the mapmaker’s wits and smarts. Some of the confusion likely resulted from the events leading up to Dade County’s establishment in 1836.

Prior to 1836, all of the land in what is now Miami-Dade County was part of Monroe County, which at that time contained everything south of an irregular line running from Charlotte Harbor on the Gulf coast, down to Lake Okeechobee (then called Lake Macaco) and down the course of the Hillsboro River to the Atlantic. When the territorial legislature met in January 1836, the representatives drew up a bill to create a new county using some of this expansive territory. Legislative records show that no representatives voted against the bill, not even Richard Fitzpatrick, Monroe County’s delegate.

The name didn’t provoke much debate either. Seven days before the legislative session convened, two companies of U.S. troops led by Major Francis Dade had fought one of the most violent battles of the Second Seminole War, in which Major Dade and a number of his men were killed. The legislators consequently agreed to name the new county “Dade” as a memorial to the fallen commander.

Historical markers at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park near Bushnell in Sumter County (circa 1950s).

Historical markers at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park near Bushnell in Sumter County (circa 1950s).

Here’s where our mapmaker may have gotten into trouble. Since the new county was supposed to be a memorial to Major Dade, perhaps he thought it was supposed include the site of the late commander’s final battle. There was also a fort in the area that had just been renamed Fort Dade in the major’s memory – perhaps this was a contributing factor. It’s tough to say for sure. Even had this been the mapmaker’s thinking, Dade’s Battlefield is actually located more to the east in present-day Sumter County. More importantly, the act creating Dade County clearly situates it in the southeastern corner of the peninsula.

We may never know the full story behind Dade County’s short-lived Gulf coast career, but it’s one of those humorous little mistakes that help remind us that the historical actors we study were human beings. The history we learn from them wasn’t predetermined – it involved a multitude of individual decisions, actions, and even a few missteps.

This unusual map is one of over 1,700 individual items in the Florida Map Collection housed at the State Library in Tallahassee. Visit library.florida.gov to search the Library Catalog. If you want to limit your search to just maps, choose “Florida Map Collection” from the drop-down menu below the search box.

Use the drop-down menu below the search box on the State Library's catalog to narrow your search.

Use the drop-down menu below the search box on the State Library’s catalog to narrow your search.

 

Welcome to Florida, Mr. President!

Nobody lays out their welcome mat like Florida. The Sunshine State plays host to millions of visitors each year – 94.7 million in 2011 alone, according to official statistics. Every guest is important, but when the President of the United States comes to stay, you can imagine the press coverage goes up a few clicks.

The same holds true for the President-elect, as the 1921 visit of President-elect Warren Gamaliel Harding demonstrates. Harding, a Republican Senator from Ohio, had just defeated Governor James M. Cox, also of Ohio, in a landmark election fought mainly over the World War I policies of President Woodrow Wilson. With the November 1920 election ended and the weather turning colder, Harding decided to take a much-needed vacation in Florida.

Harding arrived in St. Augustine to a hearty welcome from the locals. Security measures were much more relaxed in those days, and the newspapers reported that Harding shook hands with people all the way through the train station before motoring off to the Ponce de Leon Hotel. There, he met with Senator Joseph Sherman Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who planned to take Harding aboard his personal 90-foot houseboat, the Victoria, for a cruise down the Florida coast.

Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen's houseboat, the Victoria, near Rockledge (1921).

Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen’s houseboat, the Victoria, near Rockledge (1921).

The houseboat party included Frelinghuysen, Harding, and a number of close Harding confidants, including Senator Albert Fall of New Mexico, former Ambassador to Mexico Henry Fletcher, George Christian (Harding’s private secretary), and Harding’s campaign manager, Harry M. Daugherty.

For two weeks, Harding divided his time between relaxing and meeting some of his new Floridian constituents. While calling at Daytona, the President-elect attended a patriotic pageant given by the local citizens. He turned down an official reception at Miami, but invited officers from the local Masonic Lodges and the American Legion to meet him in front of his cottage at the Flamingo Hotel. The Miami News reported that Harding shook hands and greeted each person individually before making a brief address.

President-elect Warren G. Harding greets his new constituents in Miami (1921).

President-elect Warren G. Harding greets his new constituents in Miami (1921).

When he wasn’t meeting with the locals, President-elect Harding kept busy with two main amusements: fishing and golfing. The Victoria had been stocked with tackle well before he arrived, and Harding took advantage of the boat’s lazy cruise southward to fish for amber-jack, sail-fish, and even barracuda. When the Victoria was in port, Harding and his cohorts hit whatever golf links were closest.

President-elect Warren G. Harding playing golf at Miami Beach (1921).

President-elect Warren G. Harding playing golf at Miami Beach (1921).

Harding ended his Florida vacation in early February and began preparing for his inauguration and his program for bringing “normalcy,” as he called it, to the United States. Once President, the Ohioan would return to Florida several times. That should come as no surprise, of course. You know what they say about getting Florida sand in your shoes. Once it’s there, you can’t help but come back.

Warren G. Harding reeling in a fish off the Florida coast. The original photo is undated; it could have been from any of Harding's trips to Florida between 1921 and 1923.

Warren G. Harding reeling in a fish off the Florida coast. The original photo is undated; it could have been from any of Harding’s trips to Florida between 1921 and 1923.

Do you remember when someone famous came to your Florida community? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below or by posting on our Facebook page!

A County Governed by an Island

Thomas Paine once argued for American independence from Great Britain by declaring it was absurd for a continent to be governed by an island. Curiously enough, similar arrangements have occurred in Florida, albeit on a smaller scale and lacking the part about absurdity. Monroe County, for example, is headquartered at Key West, but possesses a great deal of territory on the mainland. If you count Amelia Island as a true island, you could say the same for Nassau County. What many folks don’t realize is that Dade County was once governed from an island as well.

A portion of J.H. Colton's 1853 Map of Florida showing Indian Key and vicinity.

A portion of J.H. Colton’s 1853 Map of Florida showing Indian Key and vicinity.

It’s hard to imagine Dade County without Miami at the center of its government, but that is indeed how it began. When the Legislative Council established Dade County with the Governor’s approval on January 28, 1836, it included all of the Florida Keys from Bahia Honda Key to the mainland. It also included a large chunk of the peninsula, with boundaries running from Cable Sable on the Gulf Coast north to Lake Okeechobee and then southeast to the Hillsborough River and the Atlantic Coast. Indian Key, which is located roughly between the Upper and Lower Matecumbe keys, became the inaugural county seat.

Aerial view of Indian Key (circa 1990s).

Aerial view of Indian Key (circa 1990s).

Indian Key might be small, but surely you’ve heard what they say about dynamite in small packages. The island was already inhabited, primarily by people associated with a wrecking business belonging to a man named Jacob Houseman. The Keys were notorious for their shipwrecks, and men like Houseman made a living from salvaging their cargoes. In 1828, Houseman petitioned Congress to make Indian Key an official United States port of entry. His supporting documentation claimed there were 47 people living on the island: 21 white and 26 black.

An image from Herper's New Monthly Magazine (1870-71).

An image from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (1870-71).

A serious calamity befell Indian Key during the Second Seminole War. On August 7, 1840, Seminole Indians attacked the island, killing several of its inhabitants and burning the buildings. With the county seat destroyed and abandoned, local government of Dade County essentially ceased. In 1841, the territorial legislature adjusted the jurisdiction of the Monroe County Superior Court so it could handle most of the cases arising in Dade County. The acting clerk of the Dade County Court wrote the governor apologetically in 1843, explaining that he had deviated from the law a great deal in conducting elections that year. The county seat was vacant, he explained, and hardly anyone was around to vote, let alone supervise a poll or canvass the results. Using his own money, then, the acting clerk procured a book, canvassed the votes, and made out the returns himself.

The legislature voted to legalize the clerk’s actions, but the lawmakers realized that something more had to be done. With Indian Key devoid of people or facilities for carrying on the administration of the county, the local government needed a new location. On March 9, 1844, the legislature voted to move the seat of Dade County to Miami, where it remains today.

Map of Indian Key (1840).

Map of Indian Key (1840).

Indian Key is now reserved as a state park. Visitors can take a boat or kayak out to the island when the waves are calm. Park officials have recreated parts of the original street grid, and interpretive markers explain the unique history of the island.

Florida’s Barefoot Mailmen

The next time your computer takes a few extra seconds to send an email message, just be thankful you didn’t have to hand-deliver it yourself. Be especially grateful you didn’t have to deliver it by walking sixty miles barefoot in the blazing Florida sun.

That challenging scenario was a reality for the first men to carry mail between what is now Palm Beach and Miami. The United States Postal Service established a route between these two points in the 1880s, but the “route” was only on paper. It certainly didn’t follow a railroad, road, or even a trail. None of these existed at the time. The only reliable trail from Hypoluxo near Lake Worth to Miami and Biscayne Bay lay along the Atlantic coast.

One of six panels in a mural commemorating the barefoot mailmen of South Florida. The mural hangs in the West Palm Beach post office on Olive Avenue (photo circa 1950).

One of six panels in a mural commemorating the barefoot mailmen of South Florida. The mural hangs in the West Palm Beach post office on Olive Avenue (photo circa 1950).

Hence the barefoot mailman. The Postal Service hired mail carriers to walk the mail down from Hypoluxo to Miami, using the firmer sand along the beach as a highway. Shoes were more hindrance than help, so the barefoot mailmen simply didn’t use them. The entire expedition took about a week, the carrier leaving Monday morning and returning Saturday evening. He was typically issued a tin pail, a cup, hard biscuits, coffee, a hatchet, and some matches, all of which he carried along with the mail in a sack slung over one shoulder.

Excerpt of an 1883 map showing official postal routes through Florida. No route connected Miami with the Lake Worth region at this time. Instead, mail for Miami had to come from Galveston, New Orleans, Tampa, or Cedar Key via Key West. The "barefoot" route along the Atlantic coast shortened the time required to deliver mail to Miami.

Excerpt of an 1883 map showing official postal routes through Florida. No route connected Miami with the Lake Worth region at this time. Instead, mail for Miami had to come from Galveston, New Orleans, Tampa, or Cedar Key via Key West. The “barefoot” route along the Atlantic coast shortened the time required to deliver mail to Miami.

The trip required crossing several rivers and inlets. Carriers stashed boats near all of the crossings so they could get across safely without damaging the mail. Sometimes other travelers would accompany a carrier so they too could use the boats.

One of these crossings was the scene of a most unfortunate tragedy. James “Ed” Hamilton, a young mail carrier, was headed for Miami in October 1887 when he discovered that the boat he normally used to cross the Hillsboro Inlet was tied up on the opposite side. He secured his mailbag in a tree, removed his clothing, and apparently attempted to swim the inlet and retrieve the boat. What happened next is uncertain, but young Hamilton met his end, possibly carried out to sea by a current or attacked by an alligator. He was never seen again. His memory is honored by a memorial plaque at Pompano and a six-panel mural by artist Stevan Dohanos entitled “Legend of James Edward Hamilton, Mail Carrier,” which hangs in the West Palm Beach post office.

Another panel from the Olive Avenue post office mural in West Palm Beach, this one depicting James Edward

Another panel from the Olive Avenue post office mural in West Palm Beach, this one depicting James Edward “Ed” Hamilton rowing his boat carefully past a few alligators (photo circa 1950).

In late 1892, contractors completed the first county-maintained road between Lantana and Lemon City along the coast. The U.S. Postal Service ended the “barefoot” route the next year. Interest in the tradition of the barefoot mailman lives on, however. Theodore Pratt, an author of Florida fiction who lived in the Lake Worth area, penned a successful novel called The Barefoot Mailman in 1943. Columbia Pictures made the story into a movie in 1951, starring Robert Cummings, Terry Moore, Jerome Courtland, and John Russell.

Actress Terry Moore during the filming of Columbia Pictures' film adaptation of Thedore Pratt's The Barefoot Mailman (1951).

Actress Terry Moore during the filming of Columbia Pictures’ film adaptation of Thedore Pratt’s The Barefoot Mailman (1951).

Search the Florida Photographic Collection for more images relating to the early days of Miami, Palm Beach, and other cities along Florida’s Atlantic coast. And don’t forget to share your favorites on Facebook or Pinterest!

Have You Seen the King?

It was a hot Friday afternoon in August, 1956. Elvis Presley had come to town, and Miami’s Olympia Theater was buzzing with chatter from an expectant teenage crowd. The Miami News reported that the first Elvis fan had arrived shortly after midnight for the 3:30pm opening show, followed by thousands of young people, some bringing their breakfast and lunch along for the wait.

The adults weren’t quite so enthusiastic. The News remarked that “Every delinquent kid in town – plus many who aren’t delinquents but are fascinated by a duck-tailed hair-do playing guitar and squirming his hips” would be on hand to catch one of Elvis’ seven stage shows that weekend. Indeed, many a parent criticized what they saw as the crudeness of “Elvis the Pelvis,” but they were powerless to stop their sons and daughters from falling in love with his unique sound and unforgettable stage presence. As one young Miamian was dragged away from the stage after a near-riot following Elvis’ departure, she reportedly begged the policeman, “Just one more look at him, just one!”

Enthusiastic fans at one of seven August 1956 Elvis shows at the Olympia Theater in Miami. Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright).

Enthusiastic fans at one of seven August 1956 Elvis shows at the Olympia Theater in Miami (Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright).

The following photos were taken by photographer Don Wright during Elvis Presley’s August 1956 appearances in Miami, and are currently on loan to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is now expanding its research on Presley’s life and career. In these images, Wright managed to capture several fans’ faces, and some of the fans were holding cameras. Florida Memory and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are teaming up to see if any of our users can help identify the fans in these photos, or help us locate more photos or videos of Elvis performing in Florida.

Screaming for Elvis at one of his seven August 1956 shows at the Olympia Theater in Miami. Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright).

Screaming for Elvis at one of his seven August 1956 shows at the Olympia Theater in Miami (Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright).

A close-up of the previous image from the front row at the Olympia Theater. Do you know this person? Let us know! (1956)

A close-up of the previous image from the front row at the Olympia Theater. Do you know this person? Let us know! (1956)

Wouldn't it be "swell" to have the movie caught on that camera? Olympia Theater (1956).

Wouldn’t it be “swell” to have the movie caught on that camera? Olympia Theater (Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright – 1956).

 

A crowd of eager fans at the Olympia Theater in Miami, screaming for Elvis (1956).

A crowd of eager fans at the Olympia Theater in Miami, screaming for Elvis (Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright – 1956).

If you or someone you know has photographs from one of the King’s performances in Florida, we’d love to know about it.  Use our Contact Us form to get in touch with us.

Animated Map Series: Key Biscayne

Florida Maps: Then & Now is an animated map series from the State Library and Archives of Florida. The project uses Google Earth to create animated videos with historic and modern maps, photographs, and primary source documents from our collections.

This episode features historic maps of Key Biscayne.

Transcript

Welcome to Florida Maps: Then & Now, an animated map series from the State Archives of Florida. This episode highlights historic maps of Key Biscayne.

Key Biscayne is a long barrier island that sits just offshore of metropolitan Miami. This map, from the confirmed Spanish Land Grant of Mary Ann Davis, shows Key Biscayne long before dredging altered its shoreline, and causeways linked it to the mainland.

From the earliest days of Spanish exploration, the island, whose southern tip is known as Cape Florida, served to warn mariners about the impending danger of shallow water and treacherous reefs. In the early 19th century, shortly before Florida became a territory of the United States, escaped slaves and free blacks, known as Black Seminoles, fled to Key Biscayne. For them, the island served as a point of departure. They sought freedom in the Bahamas and elsewhere in the British Caribbean—removed from the institution of slavery, which was rapidly extending its reach into the Florida peninsula.

The United States built the first lighthouse on Key Biscayne in 1825. On July 23, 1836, during the Second Seminole War, Seminole warriors attacked and burned the lighthouse. It was rebuilt 10 years later. The lighthouse was attacked again during the Civil War, this time by Confederates hoping to prevent Union forces from using the light to guide blockading ships patrolling the coast.

The Northern and middle sections of the island witnessed significant development in the 20th century. The development of homes sites, channels for luxury boats, and a golf course, combined with natural erosion and efforts to deepen the Port of Miami, give the island its present shape. Today, the Southern third of Key Biscayne is part of the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.

For more information and other animated maps: Florida Maps: Then & Now

The Beatles are Coming!

Fifty years ago this week the Beatles arrived in Florida for the first time in order to begin rehearsing for their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

The Beatles in Key West, 1964

The Beatles in Key West, 1964

Their performance was broadcast live from the Deauville Hotel’s Napoleon Ballroom in Miami Beach on February 16. About 3500 people saw it live, and approximately 70 million watched on television. The Beatles were the opening act, and dancer and singer Mitzi Gaynor was the headliner. Beatle mania was in full swing.

Postcard view of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach

Postcard view of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach

After the show the Beatles enjoyed some much needed rest and relaxation in the balmy climes of South Florida. On February 18, they flew from Miami to London. As a band, the Beatles only visited the Sunshine State one more time, in the fall of 1964.

Gangster in the Neighborhood

Al “Scarface” Capone was born on January 17, 1899. Both before and after he served hard time for tax evasion, the Chicago gangster resided in an estate on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay.

J. Fritz Gordon, Al Capone, and Julio Morales in Havana, Cuba, 1930

J. Fritz Gordon, Al Capone, and Julio Morales in Havana, Cuba, 1930

Capone first took up residence in Miami Beach in 1928, when he purchased an estate on Palm Island for $20,000. Ostensibly acquired as a winter health retreat, the gangster invested between $40,000 and $70,000 into the home. Palm Island residents, and the city of Miami Beach in general, opposed the presence of the mobster in their midst and wrote numerous letters to the governor of Florida pleading for Capone’s ouster from the state.

Aerial view of the Capone compound on Palm Island, 1930

Aerial view of the Capone compound on Palm Island, 1930

The letter below is one such citizen complaint regarding Capone living on Palm Island (click on thumbnails for a larger image). The letter was sent to Governor Doyle Carlton by Clarence M. Busch in March 1929. Busch lived immediately across the street from Capone and, like other property owners on Palm Island, wanted the gangster booted from the neighborhood.

buschtocarlton1_275

buschtocarlton2_275

Governor Carlton shared Busch’s dislike for Capone. Beginning in March 1930, Carlton, who ran for office on an anti-gambling platform, undertook an effort to ban the gangster from the state. Capone and his legal team avoided banishment from Florida, but the mobster faced near constant harassment from Miami Beach police. He was arrested several times on various charges and the local city council even pursued special resolutions aimed at limiting his tenure in the area.

Palm Island residents expressed a sigh of relief in 1931 when Capone was indicted on federal tax evasion charges. The gangster served several years behind bars on Alcatraz Island before returning to Florida in 1939. He lived the remainder of his days on Palm Island, and died in 1947.

To learn more about Al Capone and his legal troubles in Dade County, see William G. Crawford Jr., “Judge Vincent Giblin: The Life and Times of a South Florida Attorney and Judge,” Tequesta 70 (2010): 59-119.

Graf Zeppelin

May 6, 2012, was the 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster. The Hindenburg’s sister ships Graf Zeppelin (LZ-127) and USS Los Angeles (originally LZ-129) were also built by the German Zeppelin company. On October 23, 1933, Miami welcomed the Graf Zeppelin. The Graf Zeppelin also shared several German crew members with the Hindenburg, one of whom died in the Hindenburg disaster.

Arrival of Graf Zeppelin: Miami (October 23, 1933)

Arrival of Graf Zeppelin: Miami (October 23, 1933)

Mayor E.G. Sewell welcomes the crew of Graf Zeppelin (October 23, 1933)

Mayor E.G. Sewell welcomes the crew of Graf Zeppelin (October 23, 1933)

Airship Los Angeles over Miami (1925)

Airship Los Angeles over Miami (1925)