A Rich Historical Heritage

The "Origins & History of the Palm Beaches" information site is a retrospective look at the history of Palm Beach County, and how its past has influenced the present. This blog is a companion site to "Palm Beach County Issues & Views." Both sites are edited by Robert I. Davidsson, retired manager of the Palm Beach County Library System's Government Research Service (GRS), and author of the book "Indian River: A History of the Ais Indians in Spanish Florida" and related articles about Florida's past.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Wartime POWs, 'Spy' Reports in Palm Beach County

By Bob Davidsson
        World War II came to the home front of Palm Beach County by way of U-boat attacks at sea, a POW internment camp in the Glades, and numerous unverified reports of espionage by enemy spies along its coastline.
        A total of 122 soldiers, sailors and airmen from the Palm Beaches were casualties of war, including 62 killed in action (KIA) and 43 deaths not in battle (DNB), as recorded in the June 1946 "World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing" for Palm Beach County.
        While this casualty list may seem small, keep in mind the total population of Palm Beach County was just 79,989 in 1940, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Small cities from Jupiter to Boca Raton still hugged the coast, while the agricultural range line extended east of Congress Avenue.
        The war began badly in the home waters of the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast.  The German Kriegsmarine unleashed a second wave of U-boats as part of Untermehmen Parkenschlag (Operation Drumbeat) on Jan. 11, 1942. Their destination included the southeast coast of Florida.
        Three "Ace" undersea boats - U-504, U-564 and U-333 - sank eight ships off the Gold and Treasure coasts during the first nine months of war. They were joined by the Italian Regia Marina Calvi-class submarine "Enrico Tazzoli (TZ)" which claimed four allied ships in the Bahamas Channel.
        The U.S. Navy was unprepared for this "Second Pearl Harbor" in our coastal waters from January through August 1942. An "Official Blackout Order" was not issued for the Palm Beach County coastline until April 11, 1942.
        The State of Florida responded by establishing the quasi-military "Florida Defense Force" consisting of civilian volunteers. Civil Air Patrol (CAP) wooden "Watch Towers" were constructed on Boca Raton's beach and elsewhere along the coast to report U-boat sightings, while small single-engine airplanes spotted surfacing submarines by air.
        Morrison Field in West Palm Beach, and new Boca Raton Army Air Corps field west the city, became training centers for thousands of Army airmen and communication technicians. The Lantana Airport opened in December 1941 as an auxiliary field for the Florida Defense Force and CAP anti-submarine flights.
        A secret submarine monitoring "Station J" was established at the Jupiter Inlet military
reservation as early as April 1940 to intercept U-boat transmissions to and from Germany. With the outbreak of World War II, this "Strategic Observation Post" was expanded to track both German and Japanese naval units.
        By the autumn of 1942, the "Second Happy Time" for U-boat captains in southeast Florida coastal waters was over, but fears among the uninformed civilian population grew as the actual threat by enemy submarines dissipated.
        With U-boats lurking just a few miles offshore, rumors of nocturnal visits and spy missions by German Kriegsmarine crews spread throughout the county, and were even reported in newspapers after he war. None were verified and no arrests were made by the FBI for spying.

The Enemy Spies NOT Among Us
        At Boca Raton's Palmetto Park Beach Pavilion, located near the round-about at the end of Palmetto Park Road, visitors will find the bronzed "Sanborn Wall Historic Marker." The marker presents the strongest case for the belief that German espionage teams landed from their U-boats in Palm Beach County.
        The Sanborn Wall memorial states, "On this spot in World War II, spies from German U-boats landed an occupied Dr. William Sanborn's home built on this spot in 1937. "
        "The sailors deployed during World War II, as part of Hitler's Operation Drumbeat, torpedoed tankers and freighters traveling the east coast shipping lane carrying vital supplies to the U.S. and England." The marker summarizes, "The Germans sank a total 397 ships and killed 5,000 people. Twenty-four ships were sunk off the coast of Florida, 16 between Cape Canaveral and Boca Raton."
        Doctor Sanborn was in his home state of Michigan when apparently several unknown persons entered his winter residence, using the clothing, shower, bedding and food supplies found in the residence. Neighbors reported unusual activity at the home. Military police entered the home in June 1942 in search of a signaling device.
       They discovered a telescope and signs of recent activity in the home, but neither spies nor local vagrants were found. Neighbors were questioned "if any shining lights were cast out to sea" at the Sanborn residence.
       The case file remained open, but no arrests were made. Today, "Sanborn Square" in downtown Boca Raton is named for the doctor and is a reminder of this unresolved World War II mystery.
        For several years, local legends were told, and reported by the news media, of German sailors frequenting restaurants and bars in the Town of Palm Beach. Apparently, when not sinking allied shipping, U-boat crews took time off and came ashore to get hot meals and a beer in an enemy city.
        Another popular myth claimed U-boat crews operated out of a secret base in the Jupiter Inlet. A second version of the tale was spread of the Germans actually capturing the inlet. The source of this local legend was probably misinformation about the top secret U-boat monitoring station at the inlet, operated by the U.S. military.
        There were rumors of a German family using the George Washington Hotel in downtown West Palm Beach as a spy base of operations to signal U-boats using lights on the roof. A German butler also supposedly operated a short wave radio from a seaside Palm Beach estate to signal U-boats.
        The unnamed butler allegedly was killed in gun battle with FBI agents, although the federal agency has no reports to support this rumor or any of the other faux espionage incidents in the Palm Beaches.
        In truth, German and Japanese resident aliens living in Palm Beach County during the war years were not spies, but instead targeted by law enforcement under tight restrictions placed on foreign nationals by the federal government.
        The FBI often entered the homes of German and Japanese nationals in search of propaganda books, firearms and U-boat signaling devices. Enemy aliens could not travel outside of Palm Beach County without special FBI permits.
        Permission also was required for foreign nationals to withdraw large amounts of money from their bank accounts. This created business hardships for German and Japanese residents and their employees.
      While law enforcement agencies closely monitored enemy aliens, it should be noted no arrests for espionage were made in Palm Beach County.
        One dark chapter in the county's history is the treatment of the few remaining Japanese Yamato agricultural colony farmers during World War II. The Yamato colony was established 1903 in the northwestern section of what is today the City of Boca Raton.
        For three decades the farming community provided pineapples and other produce to local markets. The Great Depression made their farms unprofitable and many of the Japanese settlers quit farming and either returned to Japan or moved to California.
        Henry T. Kamiya, one of remaining leaders of the Yamato colony, was detained at the beginning of World War II while visiting his daughter in California. He was warehoused against his will at the Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp throughout the war.
        When he returned to Palm Beach County after the war, he discovered his land and that of several other former Yamato colony property owners was taken by the federal government in May 1942 for the construction of the Boca Raton Army Air Field.
        Hideo Kobayasi, another Yamato colony member, was ordered to vacate his land for the airfield. Compensation for his property was deferred and payment received only after the land was vacated. After losing his property, he moved to Broward County.
        Both Kamiya and Kobayishi were eminent domain victims of the "Second War Powers Act of 1942," a law passed by Congress to allow the "emergency condemnation" of land determined to be appropriate for military uses during World War II. The same law also placed the tight controls on activities by resident aliens.
       
POWS in Palm Beach County
        Following the surrender of the German Afrika Corps in Tunisia during May 1943, an influx of 371,683 German prisoners of war were transported to America and placed in internment camps. They were joined by 50,273 Italian and 3,915 Japanese POWs during the war.
        By May 1945, the number of POWs held in the U.S. peaked at 425,891. They were housed in 175 internment camps distributed throughout the country.
        A total of 10,000 prisoners were assigned to Florida. The Belle Glade Camp was located near the Everglades Experimental Station site. It became one of 22 rural work camps in Florida housing German prisoners from March to December 1945.
        German POWs were processed at Florida's Camp Blanding, where guards attempted to separate Nazi loyalists, often elite U-boat crews and Afrika Corps veterans, from the nonpolitical prisoners, most of whom were captured after the Normandy invasion.
        A total of 250 prisoners of war were sent from Camp Blanding to the Belle Glade "branch camp" for the purpose of relieving labor shortages for agricultural harvesting and processing in Palm Beach County. The U.S. War Manpower Commission was the federal agency that determined the need and use of POW contracts to meet labor demands.
        German prisoners at the Belle Glade Camp worked as sugarcane cutters, and in a local bean canning factory. Labor crews also were used to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike along Lake Okeechobee. German officers were exempted from work crews.
        The treatment of POWs was governed and observed by the U.S. military under the Geneva Convention of 1929 guidelines. The international law required prisoners receive the same "food, shelter, medical care and clothing" as garrison troops.
        The U.S. Department of War hoped good treatment of German prisoners in the U.S. would influence Germany to abide by convention rules for American POWs held in their military concentration camps.
        POW work crews at the Belle Glade Camp worked from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They earned 80 cents a day in camp coupons for their labor. The camp commissary included writing supplies, soap, censored newspapers and magazines, soda, tobacco, and occasionally beer.
        Roll call and breakfast began at 5:30 a.m. Lunch was usually served at the worksite. After dinner, the POWs had free time until lights out by 10 p.m.
        "Firm but fair" was the policy of camp guards and garrison troops in Florida. Due to a shortage of guards, camp administrators also relied on German officers and NCOs to maintain camp discipline.
        The Belle Glade Camp made national news headlines when its POWs went on strike on April 4-5, 1945 and refused to report for work assignments. The strike was sparked by a reduction in the camp's ration of cigarettes.
        Camp supervisors responded to the strike by limiting POW food rations to bread and water until they returned to work. The new "no work, no eat" policy was successful and the German prisoners ended their strike after just two days.
        As an aftermath of the strike, 39 "troublemakers" were shipped back to the main POW stockade at Camp Blanding. Cigarette distribution from Morrison Field was restored and life returned to normal at the work camp.
        POWs were detained at the Belle Glade Camp until December 1945, when transport and conditions in a defeated Germany allowed the return its soldiers and sailors. The camp was closed and its flagpole was later donated to the American Legion Post No. 20 in Belle Glade.
(c.) Davidsson. 2017.

NOTE: See also "Battle of the Atlantic Comes to the Palm Beaches" archived in Older Posts.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

John Prince's Memorial: A County Park for the People

By Bob Davidsson
        In Palm Beach County's 107-year history, few elected officials serving on the County Commission contributed more to the future welfare of its citizens than Lake Worth pioneer John Prince.
        Palm Beach State College, the Palm Beach County Air Park, the Club Managers of America Therapeutic Recreation complex, a Golf Learning Center, and the 726-acre park and campground dedicated in his honor, are all located on land obtained for the county by Commissioner Prince for the benefit of the public.
        The John Prince Memorial Park, located west and north of Lake Osborne, is visited by thousands of county hikers, boaters, joggers, campers, fishermen and picnickers each year, but few residents know the life story of the political leader who made this future leisure and recreational center a reality.

Early Life and Military Service       
        John Prince was born in the year 1892 in Manhattan and raised in New York City. He moved to Lake Worth as a 19-year-old youth during the winter of 1912, the same year the town was formally incorporated.
        In the summer of 1912, the town completed its first survey, with a master plan designed to accommodate 55 miles of streets and 7,000 housing units plated for future development. There was a need for skilled workers to build roads and housing throughout Palm Beach County.
        Prince began his career as an employee of Greynold and Monroe, Inc., at that time one of the largest road construction companies in South Florida. In addition to contracts with Lake Worth, Greynold-Monroe paved sections of Old Dixie Highway (U.S. One), and developed  Southland Park in West Palm Beach, Greynold Heights in Lantana and Monroe Heights in Riviera Beach.
        The young engineer also was a member of the Florida National Guard. His Florida 2nd Infantry Regiment was federalized in 1916-17 as a reserve unit deployed during the Mexican Revolution border crisis.
        Raids by Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa at Columbus, New Mexico, and Glenn Springs, Texas, resulted in the "Punitive Expedition" by the U.S. Army in northern Mexico, and the need for increased garrisons and military patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border.
        At the peak of the conflict, more than 100,000 reservists were called upon to support regular army units. The 2nd Florida Infantry was mustered out of the campaign in March 1917, but was soon recalled following the declaration of war against Germany and the U.S. entry into World War I.
        The 2nd Florida Infantry was re-federalized and entered the war as the 124th Infantry Regiment. Second Lieutenant John Prince joined his unit on Nov. 13, 1917, and was transported with his regiment 10 months later to the Western Front in France.
        According to his U.S. Army service record, Prince was assigned to 131st Engineers Company of the 124th Infantry. He served overseas from Oct. 17, 1918 to July 15, 1919. Prince was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in July 1918, and received an honorable discharge with his regiment Aug. 2, 1919.
        His military service did not end with World War I. Although nearing age 50, Prince volunteered as a civilian with Company E, 7th Battalion of the "Florida Defense Force" during World War II.
        He flew as a "spotter" with the local Civil Air Patrol squadron, stationed at the new Lantana Airport as Coastal Patrol Base 3. The squadron patrolled coastal waters by air in search of German U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic.
        Prince  was a founding member and first commander of the local Carl Vogel Post 47 of the American Legion. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and became an advocate for veterans. Strong support from veterans would later help Prince in his political career and with future plans to create a county park.

Prince's Career in Local Government
        After his discharge from the U.S. Army, Prince returned to Lake Worth to continue his career as an engineer. According to the 1920 Census, he temporarily lived as a boarder at the Frank Herald residence in Lake Worth.
        He married Mary Elese Rouse, the daughter of early Lake Worth settlers Ira and Irene Rouse, in 1924. Their daughter and only child, Margaret Irene, was born in 1926.
        He worked for several years as an assistant engineer for the Palm Beach County Engineering Department. One of his projects was assisting the Lake Worth Drainage District with its water control program for farmlands west of Lake Osborne.
        Prince became familiar with the freshwater chain-of-lakes ecosystem extending from Lake Clarke south to Lake Ida in Delray Beach. He saw the potential of Lake Osborne as a future water shed and resource for Palm Beach County.
        The engineer was active in the local Democratic Party. Prince became chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party Executive Committee. He used his knowledge of county government, with the support of veterans groups, to win a seat on the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) in 1934.
        There were no Commission term limits at that time, and Prince served on the board for the next 17 years. His district included his home town of Lake Worth and unincorporated areas west of  the city.
        Using the power of his office, Prince began lobbying his fellow commissioners, landowners and Florida Governor Fred Cone (1937-41), a fellow Democratic Party official, for the acquisition of land on the undeveloped western shore of Lake Osborne.
        To his credit, through a combination of persuasion, political arm twisting and land donations the county eventually acquired nearly 1,000 acres for public use, and filed the titles of donated tracts with the Florida Internal Improvement Board, placing the lakefront property under county management.

The John Prince Memorial Park
        The land acquired by Palm Beach County extended from Lantana Road north to Lake Worth Road, and west from Lake Osborne to Congress Avenue. This included the west and northernmost shores of Lake Osborne totaling more than 35,200 feet of lake frontage, and 336 acres of submerged land in the lake itself.
        Prince and his fellow commissioners envisioned this property for a variety of public uses. The Lantana Airport (the future Palm Beach County Air Park) was built on 304 acres of land north of Lantana Road, between the lake and Congress Avenue.
        The tract was donated to Palm Beach County under the condition that the site would "serve the public good." The county airport opened on Aug. 20, 1940, and was used as an auxiliary "reliever field" for the U.S. Army Air Corps base at Morrison Field (Palm Beach International Airport) during World War II.
        The Civil Air Patrol began anti-submarine flights from the Lantana Airport in December 1941, and for 78 years the CAP has continued to fly search and rescue missions from the airfield. Today, the general aviation field is operated by the Palm Beach County Airports Department.
        Another public use of the acquired county land in the 1940s was the establishment of campgrounds for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts along the west shore of Lake Osborne. The Girl Scouts Camp was named in honor of Mary Prince after her untimely death at age 44 in 1949.
        A 48-acre public campground was founded in 1956. The site included "Camp Osborne" which was donated to the county by the Gulf Stream Council of Boy Scouts of America.
        For many years after its founding, Palm Beach Junior College was known as the "Little Orphan College" without a permanent home. Some of its temporary sites were a former Morrison Field surplus airport building and the Lake Park Town Hall.
        In 1956, Palm Beach County donated 114 acres of the land from the Lake Osborne tract acquired by Prince for the college's main campus. The junior college was renamed Palm Beach State College in 2010, with a campus extending from Lake Worth Road south to 6th Avenue South.
        While serving his third year as the chairman of the County Commission in 1951, Commissioner Prince announced his resignation from the board due to poor health. In March 1951, he was struck by a car while crossing Dixie Highway in Lantana.
        Prince died of a stroke in June 1952. He was age 62 at the time of his death, and was buried near his wife in Lake Worth's Pine Crest Cemetery.
        His friends and fellow veterans petitioned the County Commission to establish and name a park in his honor. John Prince Memorial Park was dedicated on Veterans Day, 1952. A park marker is located near its north entrance.
         Today, John Prince Memorial Park, the second oldest county public park established in Florida, continues to meet the recreational needs of the public. It is operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department.
        It seems only fitting that the administrative offices for the county park system are located on land acquired through the dedicated efforts of John Prince.
(c.) Davidsson. 2017.

NOTE: See additional articles below and in Older Posts.  

Friday, December 23, 2016

True Tale of 'Captain Gus' and the Old Palm Beach Pier

By Bob Davidsson
        Today, two fishing piers extend more than 900 feet out to sea in Palm Beach County, but for 44 years they were joined by the Palm Beaches' oldest and longest oversea platform - the Palm Beach (Rainbo) Pier.
        Lake Worth's "William O. Lockhart Municipal Pier," named in honor of a former pier master, and the Juno Pier, a county-owned facility near Juno Beach Park, attract more than 275,000 fishermen and visitors annually to their 20-foot-high nautical fishing decks.
        The Lake Worth Municipal Pier opened in January 1960. After the structure was decimated by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, it was rebuilt at a cost of $3.4 million. It reopened and was  dedicated under its new name in 2009.
        The Juno Pier opened in 1949. It was originally privately owned and operated. The pier was destroyed by the Thanksgiving storm of 1984. Palm Beach County rebuilt the 990-foot pier at a cost of $2.5 million in 1999. Pier services are leased by the county.
        However, the first pier built in Palm Beach County opened in 1925 as "Rainbo Pier," part of a privately-owned sports fishing and swimming complex located at the east end of Worth Avenue in the Town of Palm Beach. Today, standing near what was once the base of the pier, is the city's Clock Tower.
        The Palm Beach Pier was demolished in 1969. A Florida State Historical Marker, resting on a concrete pedestal, was sponsored and placed near the pier site in 1991 by the Palm Beach Board of Realtors.
        The bronze marker reads, "Erected and opened to the public in 1925, the pier extended 1,095 feet out to sea. For over 40 years, it was a favorite town attraction, featuring a coffees hop, cocktail lounge, tackle shop and fishermen's lockers."
        "A series of successive storms and hurricanes gradually eroded the structure," the historical marker records, "causing it be removed in 1969."
         Missing from the historic marker is the true story of the legendary creator and owner of the Palm Beach Pier and its adjacent bathing center - "Captain Gus" Jordahn.

'Captain Gus' Jordahn: A Man of Vision and Action
        Peter Gustav "Gus" Jordahn, the son of a Danish father and Swedish mother, was born April 10, 1881 in Kolding, Denmark. As a youth, he chose a military career and served as an officer in the Danish army.
        After his discharge from the army, he became a seaman. His life-long love of the sea, together with his military background, earned him the nickname "Captain Gus".
        Captain Gus emigrated from Denmark to the U.S. in 1904. He passed through the Ellis Island immigration station in New York harbor with a life savings of just $72 in his pocket.
        He worked as a lifeguard on Coney Island for several years, where he became a local legend. The lifeguard is credited with rescuing 28 bathers in a single day after they were caught in deadly rip currents, according to archived news reports.
        Captain Gus first visited the Town of Palm Beach in 1911 while on a honeymoon with his new wife, Johanne Rasmussen. They were charmed by the seaside allure of the village and soon made it their home.
        He managed the Breakers bathhouse and swimming facilities for the grand hotel until he could establish his own business.  Captain Gus opened "Gus' Baths" bathing casino and apparel shop near the intersection of  Worth Avenue and South Ocean Blvd. It featured two heated saltwater pools for adults, a diving platform, steam cabinets, and a wading pool for children.
        The Gus' Baths complex eventually included a two-story Mediterranean-style building with 16 apartments on the second floor, three palmetto-covered Seminole-style gazebos, and a boardwalk. A tunnel was dug connecting the pool area to the public beach.
        Work on the "Rainbo Pier," the crowning achievement in the career of Captain Gus, began in 1924. It opened on Labor Day, 1925. Admission to the pier cost a dime per person for fishing or sightseeing. It featured a tackle shop for fishermen, and hosted the Palm Beach Anglers Club.
        The former New York lifeguard was an avid swimmer his entire life. Captain Gus celebrated his 50th birthday in 1932 by swimming across the Lake Worth Lagoon to West Palm Beach, then back to the island of Palm Beach.
        He founded both the "Palm Beach Swimming Club," and "Cowboys-of-the-Sea," a trained volunteer lifeguard unit to patrol the town's beaches in 1924. A favorite stunt performed for visitors was diving off the end of the Rainbo Pier and hitching a ride on the back of a passing sea turtle.
        An advertisement, posted by Captain Gus in local newspapers in 1926, promoted the Rainbo Pier Tackle Shop as offering "everything for the fisherman," and the "very latest styles in beach and bathing attire, including satin, wool, an rubberized caps" sold at Gus' Baths.
        The swimming complex soon attracted both seasonal visitors and  residents from West Palm Beach. Swimmers could pay admission fees on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to use the facilities at Gus' Baths.
        Captain Gus was civic-minded and a strong supporter of his adopted town and country. Gus's Bath served the community by opening its pools to area high school swim teams. It also provided swim classes for Boys and Girls Scouts and sponsored weekly dances.
        Captain Gus was one of first resident police officers sworn in by the Town of Palm Beach. He patrolled the beach, and occasionally cited the unclothed for "nude bathing".  Later in life, he also served terms on both the Palm Beach Town Council and Palm Beach County Commission.
        Near the entrance to Gus's Bath was posted the owner's favorite slogan, which he often repeated to visitors in person: "Welcome to Our Ocean."
        Captain Gus placed a flagpole on his seaside property and was often observed by neighbors raising the American flag early in the morning. Whenever a ship passed close to shore, he would dip the flag as a salute and wait for the vessel to return the honor with a blast of its steam horn.
        As an entrepreneur, Captain Gus drew on his nautical knowledge to design an innovative life preserver patented as the "Sug-ooter," but commonly called the "Palm Beach Roll". In his 1921 U.S. Patent Office application, he described his water wing as " a device to be used  in learning to swim consisting of a long flexible open-ended tube adapted to encircle the body of the wearer..."
        In March 1931, he even tried to patent a "Sea Shell Whistle" consisting of a "sea shell of the species Nerita Peloranta." Essentially, he sought ownership rights and royalties for the use of shells common to Florida and Caribbean to sell as whistles. The venture failed.
        The biggest threat faced during his lifetime was the Category 5 "Hurricane of 1928." The storm battered his new fishing pier and pushed a surge of seawater over the dune and South Ocean Blvd., then down Worth Avenue.
        Captain Gus gathered 38 residents and guests at Gus' Baths and rode out the hurricane in a cellar located behind one of his pools. After surveying the damages to his swimming complex and Rainbo Pier, he may have had second thoughts about the wisdom of operating seaside recreational facilities in Florida.
        His pier was supported by wood pilings driven into the sand, with a deck consisting mainly of wooden planks. It was vulnerable to the waves, winds and whims of the sea.
        The 1928 Hurricane arrived the same year as the stock market crash. Profits plunged as the Great Depression impacted customers. Facing future foreclosure, Captain Gus sold his interest in both Gus' Baths and the Rainbo Pier to the "Bath and Pools Operating Company" for $50,000 in 1931.

Lido Pools and the 'Palm Beach Pier"
        The Bath and Pools Operating Company was jointly owned by local businessmen William D. Gray and Hedley Gillings. They had ambitious plans for both the pier and swimming complex.
        Their first action was a promotional name change. The Rainbo Pier became the "Palm Beach Pier" in 1931. Gus' Baths swimming center assumed a new identity as the "Lido Pools". In addition to the existing pools, they added a solarium, badminton and table tennis courts.
        To increase tourism and profits, the business duo added a new coffee shop, liquor store, cocktail lounge, and restaurant on the pier with a deck for dancing at night. Nature gave the new operators of the Palm Beach Pier a reprieve until the summer of 1948.
        Hurricanes in both 1948 and 1949 generated huge waves which tore off the end of the Palm Beach Pier. Property ownership changed hands several times in the 1950s and 1960s as the pier continued to be battered by both tropical and winter storms.
        Repair costs increased while profits from the pier declined. Hurricanes Cleo and Isbell turned the Palm Beach Pier into dangerous wreck in 1964. The pier became more of a city hazard than tourism attraction.
        Two powerful winter storms in 1969 ended plans for the pier's revitalization. The Town of Palm Beach ordered the demolition of the pier. A company called the "Pier Corporation" presented a plan to build a new pier in 1972, but the Town Council denied their venture, and sent them packing.
        The Lido Pools site consisted of 287 feet of prime oceanfront property between Worth and Hammon avenues. In the late 1960s, a new developer acquired the valuable site, and the Lido Pools became the Winthrop House Condominium.
        Captain Gus did not live to see the sad end of his Rainbo Pier and Gus' Baths of Worth Avenue. He contracted a severe case of pneumonia in February 1938 and died at age 58. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach, where he rests in peace today.
(c.) Davidsson. 2016.

NOTE: Additional articles below and archived Older Posts.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Last Campaign of Major William Lauderdale: 1838

By Bob Davidsson
        The early histories of the Town of Jupiter and the City of Fort Lauderdale are forever linked by a "Military Trail" cleared across the future Palm Beach and Broward counties during the 1838 expedition of Major William Lauderdale and his Tennessee Mounted Infantry.
        The accomplishments of Major Lauderdale and the Tennessee Volunteers are memorialized by two historical markers placed near Jupiter. A statue of the military officer, sculpted and bronzed by a West Palm Beach artist, also was unveiled in 1988 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pine Island, and a military outpost called "Fort Lauderdale," in Broward County.
        The "Tennessee Volunteers and  Militia Camp" memorial was placed in 1991 along Winding Lake Drive in Jupiter. The historical marker reads, "During the Second Seminole War, after the Battle of Loxahatchee, Jan. 24, 1838, Tennessee Volunteers and Militia camped at this site. They camped one mile east of  U.S. Army regulars established at Fort Jupiter."
        The "Military Trail Historic Marker" is located near Perry Avenue and West Indiantown Road in Jupiter. It was dedicated as a Florida Heritage Site in 2008, and is sponsored by both the Jupiter Town Council and the Florida Department of State.
        The memorial includes the following passage: "Because Major Lauderdale blazed a trail covering 63 miles through overgrown terrain in only four days, the route was designated as 'Lauderdale's Trail.' It was used for military operations through the end of the Third Seminole War in 1858, and became known as 'Military Trail'. Today, it remains a major highway in Palm Beach County."
        The equestrian statue of Major Lauderdale stands near the entrance to the Forest Ridge community, located off Pine Island Road in the Town of Davie. It was commissioned by Forest Ridge developer Charles Palmer. After the statue was unveiled, he said, "A statue of a historical figure kind of adds a sense of history, timelessness."

Major Lauderdale's Life Journey to Florida
        William Lauderdale was a descendent of the ancient Maitland-Lauderdale family, related by marriage to both Scottish King Robert I (the Bruce), and Sir William Wallace, whom together liberated Scotland from English occupation in the early 14th century.
        His grandfather, James Maitland Lauderdale Sr., was the younger son of the Scottish Earl of Lauderdale (i.e. Lauder's Valley). As a younger son, he received neither a title nor land inheritance and immigrated to England's American colonies in 1714 to improve his opportunities in life.
        William's father, James Lauderdale Jr., served in George Washington's Continental Army during the American Revolution. Like many army veterans, he received land grants in lieu of cash payments for their service during the war. His land grant was in the frontier territory of Tennessee.
        William was born c.1782 in Virginia, and moved with his parents to the new land grant in Sumner County. He was the third son of James and Sarah Lauderdale. He married twice, raised five children, and lived most of his adult life at his Goose Creek plantation west of Hartsville, TN.
        As fate would have it, a neighbor was none other than the future military hero and U.S. President Andrew Jackson. The two planters became friends, and more than once he responded to calls for "volunteers" to serve in Jackson's military campaigns.
        General Jackson commissioned Lauderdale as a first lieutenant in 1812. In the campaign of 1812-13, Lauderdale's militia regiment served under Jackson in the "Red Sticks War" against the Creek Indians. He received a field promotion to captain from Jackson, and earned a reputation as a "no quarter" Indian fighter.
        During his 1814-15 southern expedition against the British in the final year of "War of 1812", Jackson assigned Lauderdale as "Chief Quartermaster of  the Tennessee Volunteer Infantry." William's older brother, Colonel James Lauderdale, later died at the Battle of New Orleans.
        When the war ended, Lauderdale mustered out of the militia and operated a successful plantation for two decades. While recovering from a chronic respiratory illness in the Smokey Mountains, he once again responded to a "call to service" from his old military mentor, Andrew Jackson, in 1837.
        After two years of inconclusive fighting between the United States and the Seminole tribe in Florida, Major General Thomas Jesup, commander of the U.S. Army of the South, sought the advice of former President Jackson as to the best way to win the Indian war.
        The old war hero replied by letter, "I know of but one man that I think can raise a battalion, and who can and will beat the whole Indian force in Florida."
        Given the rank of  U.S. Army major, Lauderdale raised five companies of "Tennessee Volunteers" for the Florida campaign. General Jesup enlisted a battalion of 500 "Tennessee Mounted Infantry," under the command of Major Lauderdale, for the advance to Jupiter Inlet in the winter of 1838.
        In the ensuing Battle of the Loxahatchee, fought Jan. 24, 1838, the U.S. Army of the South drove the band of Seminoles under medicine chief Sam Jones (Abaika) from their refuge west of the Jupiter Inlet. Major Lauderdale's Tennessee Volunteers formed the left flank of Jesup's battle line during the attack.
        The Tennessee Volunteers camped one mile east of the U.S. Army regulars as they built a new outpost called Fort Jupiter. Major Lauderdale was ordered to blaze a military road connecting the new Jupiter Inlet stockade with Fort Dallas, an encampment on the Miami River.

A Military Trail to 'Fort Lauderdale'
        The "Military Trail" memorial reads; "After the second Battle of Loxahatchee, Major General Thomas S. Jesup directed Major William Lauderdale, commander of the Tennessee Battalion of Volunteers, to cut a trail south from Fort Jupiter to Fort Dallas (Miami). Lauderdale's mission was to capture Seminoles who escaped the Loxahatchee battle."
        As the Army completed Fort Jupiter at Pennock Point, scouts discovered an Indian trail leading south from the field of battle. Major Lauderdale received his orders on March 2, and led 233 Tennessee Volunteers and a unit of "construction pioneers," consisting of the U.S. Army Third Artillery Regiment, Company D, under the command of Lt. Robert Anderson.
        The "Military Trail" memorial continues, "The U.S. Third Artillery Regiment moved south, following the Seminoles. To avoid swamps and lagoons, they kept to the higher coastal palm ridge that extended from Fort Jupiter to the New River, where Lauderdale built a fort (Fort Lauderdale), and moved on to Fort Dallas."
        The 63-mile supply trail wisely followed a natural ridge of high ground, averaging five miles in width, extending from the Indian River south to Dade County. Army typographer Frederick Searles is credited with first naming the road "Lauderdale's Trail". After 20 years of use by the U.S. Army during the Second and Third Seminole Wars, it was commonly called the "Military Trail".
        Major Lauderdale arrived at the shore of "The New River" on March 5, and built a military post at a site that today is Southwest 9th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. The outpost was a two-tiered, 30-foot log stockade, built among a cluster of oak trees, at the forks of the New River.
        Impressed by the rapid four-day completion of the military road and encampment on the New River, General Jesup issued his Special Order No. 74, naming the stockade "Fort Lauderdale" in honor of its commander.
        After the Battle of Loxahatchee, medicine chief Sam Jones led his followers to the long-established Seminole village on Pine Island, located in southwestern Broward County. Army scouts located the village. On March 22, Major Lauderdale ordered the 600 soldiers under his command to attack the village.
        Between 50 and 100 Seminole warriors traded shots with the Army, as women and children fled the village. Once they safely disappeared into the Everglades, the elusive Sam Jones and his warriors escaped the pursing soldiers and joined them in the swamps.
        There has been much debate as to whether Major Lauderdale was present at the Battle of Pine Island. By the end of March 1838, he was suffering from the final stage of a pulmonary disease which restricted his breathing.
        After an eventful 100-day tour of duty in South Florida, Lauderdale requested medical leave and left Florida in failing health, just 13 days after the skirmish at Pine Island.

Death Followed by Bronzed Immortality
        Major Lauderdale's Tennessee Volunteers enlisted for a six-month campaign. After fighting two battles in less than two months, they were eager to return to their families in Tennessee. The battalion was sent to Tampa Bay, where they boarded a ship bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
        Major Lauderdale joined his volunteer regiment for their final salute. He died May 10, 1838, on the very day set aside for the honorable discharge of the Tennessee Mounted Infantry battalion. The event became a funeral for their commanding officer.
        One of his soldiers later wrote his death was the result of "over-fatigue from long marches." The official cause of death was a pulmonary disorder. He was age 56 at his time of death.
        At his funeral, one witness reported, "In the presence of a riderless horse, the band played, colors were presented, and a barrage of artillery and muskets fired a salute."
        However, there is more to the story. The Battle of Pine Island was fought on a 2.5-mile ridge of limestone and sand which today is the highest natural site in Broward County. It was there, 150 years after Major Lauderdale's final battle, that an unusual statue honoring the fallen warrior was unveiled in the Town of Davie.
        The nine-foot tall equestrian statue portrays a weary soldier at ease, astride an equally war-worn horse with its head sagging almost to the ground. By the foot of the horse a native bobwhite quail is cast in bronze - a symbol of peace, not war.
        The 2,000-pound statue was sculpted and bronzed by West Palm Beach artist Luis Montoya of the Montoya Art Studio. The statue rests on a pedestal that raises it 16 feet above the ground. He used 1,600 pound of clay, cast into a plaster mold, and covered by two tons of bronze.
        At the time of its unveiling, the artist reflected, "I created a person coming out of the woods, tired and greeting somebody. That's the kind of image they wanted, to create a peaceful type of situation."
        There were no paintings or photographs taken of Major Lauderdale during his lifetime. The artist used his great-grandson as the model for the sculpture. In this way, the legacy of Major Lauderdale and his family continues to this day.
(c.) Davidsson. 2016.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Digging Up Palm Beach County's Haunted History

By Bob Davidsson
        When it comes to the supernatural, Palm Beach County has it all - Everglades ghost towns by the score, haunted mansions, cemetery tales from beyond the crypt, even a preternatural road on the island of Palm Beach.
        From Jupiter to Boca Raton, and west to Belle Glade, folktales, superstitions and unexplained experiences are unearthed from the timelines of history. Readers are invited to join this journey through the catacombs of crypto science to learn the history of the county's dark side. Continue at your own risk:

Every Lighthouse Deserves a 'Tall Tale'
        The Jupiter Lighthouse was built on an ancient Jeaga Indian shell mound along the north shore of the Jupiter Inlet. Lt. Robert E. Lee is credited as one of the site's original military surveyors, while his future opponent at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lt. George Gordon Meade, was the architect.
        Since its completion in 1860, visitors to the lighthouse have reported "cold spots" and heard "strange noises" while climbing the 100-foot internal stairway. Occasionally, spooked visitors have felt hands touching their shoulders, only to turn and discover no one is behind them.
       There is a gallery of spectral suspects to question in an attempt to solve this invisible mystery. The Jeaga tribe's main village of Hobe was once located directly across the inlet from the Jupiter Light. Archaeologists also have discovered Indian artifacts at the lighthouse site.
        During the Civil War, the lighthouse was inactive and its keepers hid the valuable Fresnel lens to prevent its use by the Confederacy. This did not prevent rebel smugglers and blockade runners from using the site in a deadly three-year game of hide-and-seek with Union gunboats on patrol.
        A short distance north of the lighthouse, in the Jupiter Narrows, Spanish conquistadors fought a desperate four-month battle against the native Jeaga and Santaluces tribes at Fort Santa Lucia during the winter of 1565-66. After sustaining nearly 80 percent casualties, the Spanish garrison mutinied, captured a supply ship entering Jupiter Inlet, and sailed away.
        Santa Lucia became a ghost town that has never been rediscovered, although many amateur history detectives and archaeological teams have tried and failed.
        In the 1760's, Lord Temple and his brother, Sir George Grenville, a future English prime minister and opponent of American independence, attempted to establish a plantation on the north shore of Grenville (Jupiter) Inlet. The enterprise failed when Grenville died in 1770. Several years ago, British pottery was excavated near the lighthouse.
        During the 19th century, the family of Eusebio Maria Gomez, a Spanish colonial official in St. Augustine, acquired the Grenville's "Jupiter Land Grant," which included the north shore of Jupiter Inlet and most of Jupiter Island. His heirs and family agents made several unsuccessful attempts to establish a plantation on the land grant. A few never left the island alive.
       The U.S. Army established and garrisoned an outpost called Fort Jupiter west of the lighthouse site in an effort to control marauding Indians during the Second and Third Seminole Wars. Two battles were fought along the Loxahatchee River in the year 1838.
       Today, visitors who dare to climb the lighthouse alone may risk an encounter with one of these unsettled spirits from Jupiter Inlet's rich and varied past.

Glades Ghost Towns R.I.P. Under the Muck
        The hopes, dreams and legacy of thousands of pioneer farmers rest within the foundations of numerous Glades ghost towns hidden today under green fields of sugarcane in western Palm Beach County.
        You won't find most of the towns listed on modern maps, but if you turn the pages of time back to the years 1900-30, these small farming communities will come to life. The first was Kraemer Island (established in 1893), followed by the villages of Bryant (1902), Ritta (1909), Gardena, Fruitcrest (1912), Okeelanta and Gladecrest (1913), Chosen and Geerworth (1921) and Bean City (1923).
        Fertile Everglades muck, and misleading promises by developers, attracted would-be farmers from northern states, immigrants from Europe, and African-American farm workers from across the south. The town of Geerworth was promoted in England by H.G. Geer and C.C. Chillingsworth as a promised land of plenty for hard-luck, out-of-work British farmers.
        The reality was far different. The new arrivals faced the debilitating heat and humidity of the Glades, insect pests, droughts, seasonal flooding and a series of  tropical storms climaxed by the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928. Most of these fledgling communities ceased to exist after a wall of water from Lake Okeechobee, nearly 10 feet high, flooded their homes and fields.
        Between 2,500 and 3,000 residents of these small farming communities were killed by the storm, and about 35,000 were left homeless in Palm Beach County. The bodies of many of the dead were burned in the fields to prevent disease. Others were carried to mass graves near Port Mayaca, where about 1,600 were interred.
        As the flood waters receded, the dead were lined in row along the Belle Glade-Chosen road. They were divided by race. The black storm victims were hauled to the county's "Paupers Cemetery," founded in 1913 at the intersection of 25th Street and Tamarind Avenue in West Palm Beach. The bodies of 674 African Americans, and those listed as "race unknown," were rapidly buried in mass graves.
        Many white hurricane victims were transported to Woodlawn Cemetery, located near downtown West Palm Beach, for their final interment. While the bodies lay at rest, some say their spirits still wander through both cemeteries on the night of Sept. 17, the anniversary date of the 1928 hurricane.

Haunts of the Rich and Famous in Palm Beach
        Whitehall, the palatial mansion on the shore of the Lake Worth Lagoon in Palm Beach, was built by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler as wedding gift for his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham. Some say old Henry was so fond of the landmark home, and his young wife, that he continued to walk the halls of the mansion even after his death.
        It was May 10, 1913 when the Palm Beach magnate slipped and fell down a flight of marble stairs at Whitehall. He died of his injuries at age 83. For several years, the trains of Flagler's FEC railroad stopped for 10 minutes as a tribute on his burial date of May 23.
        Today, Whitehall is a museum visited by thousands of guests each year. While the ghost of Henry Flagler is credited as the source of ephemeral foot steps heard on the stairs, he may not be alone.
        Flagler's second wife, Alice, was diagnosed as medically insane by her husband's physicians. She had an unsettling habit of consulting a Ouija board and forecasting the deaths of others. Flagler pushed a special bill through the Florida Legislature making "insanity" legal grounds for divorce. Alice was institutionalized and died in 1930.
        Mary Lily, wife number three, also met an untimely and mysterious death in 1917. As an heiress to both the Flagler and Bingham fortunes, Mary Lily was the wealthiest woman in America. An autopsy, conducted at the request of her two brothers, revealed her body contained "enormous amounts" of  morphine, as well as traces of the heavy metals arsenic and mercury.
        Murder conspiracy theories filled the newspapers for weeks, but there would be no justice for Mary Lily in this world. Perhaps she is seeking it in the afterlife.
        Stalking the undead has become a tourism industry in the Town of Palm Beach and several other communities in the county. A "Ghosts of Palm Beach" walking tour targets the historic buildings and alcoves along Worth Avenue.
        Famed architect Addison Mizner is best known for his stylish Mediterranean Revival homes and buildings in Boca Raton and Palm Beach. Some of his unique designs were incorporated in the Everglades Club on Worth Avenue, where Mizner once lived. The architect died at his Palm Beach residence in 1933.
        While there are no human cemeteries in Palm Beach, there is a gravesite in the Via Mizner arcade for his beloved spider monkey, "Little Johnnie Brown". The monkey's tombstone reads, "Johnnie Brown: The Human Monkey. Died April 30, 1927."
        According to the local urban legend, Mizner, with Johnnie on his shoulder, can be seen late at night admiring his architecture and browsing the shops in the exclusive shopping district. One favorite haunt is his "Memorial Fountain," which he designed as a tribute to Henry Flagler and other early pioneers.
        No supernatural tour of the island of Palm Beach is complete without a visit to the "Witch's Wall," located where North Lake Trail merges with Country Club Road. For generations of local high school students, visiting the haunted site by car, with a group of friends in tow, was considered a rite of passage, as well as a fun Saturday night thrill.
        The "Witch's Wall" is actually a ridge of Anastasia limestone carved to create a steep valley that allows a road to pass through to the center of the island. Limestone is porous and contains many cracks and fissures. Many years ago bars were placed across one of  the larger holes on the south wall.
        It became the perfect scenario for a ghost story. There are many plots and versions, but the basic story line is a wicked witch lives in a house at the top of the limestone hill. The witch captures passing travelers (mainly children) and places them in a dungeon below the house.
        Cars passing the Witch's Wall at night hear the voices of children coming from the dungeon, and strange light passing through the bars. It is believed the source of the noises and reflected light was actually a nearby water utilities pump station.
        Teenagers find the paranormal legend more exciting than reality, and a proven method of enticing coed dates to hold their boyfriends a little tighter.

Ghosts That Haunt Public Places
        Some specters are not shy about making their eerie presence known in public buildings found throughout  Palm Beach County. Libraries, theaters, even five-star hotels, are frequented by spirits from the afterlife.
        The modern, high-tech Warren Library, located on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, is not a setting where the living would expect to encounter the undead. Apparently, spirits don't always follow library codes of conduct written by the living.
        According to the academic legend, the ghost that frequents the Warren Library is a janitor who mysteriously disappeared after working at the college for many years. Students and staff have heard someone (or something) rummaging in a locked janitor's closet late at night. Perhaps a ghostly cleaning crew is still making its rounds.
        The staff of the Palm Beach County Library System's Main Library on Summit Boulevard share their information center with an avid reader from the beyond the grave. An elderly women dressed in conservative clothing, perhaps from an earlier age, has been observed by several librarians shortly before 9 p.m., the library's closing time.
        While librarians are making a final circuit before closing, the elderly woman is observed as they pass by, always standing in the nonfiction section reading a book. However, when a librarian turns to tell her the library is closing, there is no one there.
        The nonfiction collection is located in the oldest section of  the Main Library. It was built in 1968, and has survived numerous hurricanes, bomb scares, fire alarms and evacuations. The library has policies and procedures for every emergency - except ghosts.
        In the winter of 2012, the author of this article had a close encounter with the Main Library's spectral patron. While working a night shift as library supervisor after closing time, he walked past the collection of "New Books" which were all neatly placed in their stacks. Unexpectedly, a book popped out of the shelf directly behind him and fell to the ground with a loud pop.
        The book was nonfiction, the ghost's favorite genre.
        The Lake Worth Playhouse on Lake Avenue has entertained the public since 1975 with its community theater productions. In one of its prior lives, it was called the Capri Theatre and billed X-rated adult movies. In the 1920s, silent films were featured in the Oakley (LC) Theatre.
        The theater was built in 1924 and operated by brothers Lucian and Clarence Oakley. The 1928 hurricane badly damaged the original theater, but the determined brothers invested all their savings rebuilding the Oakley Theatre with an Art Deco design.
        The 1928 hurricane disaster was followed by the economic devastation of the Great Depression. The Oakley Theatre lost customers, and Lucian became depressed trying to keep his theater out of bankruptcy. He committed suicide. Exactly one year later his brother, Clarence, died of a heart attack.
        Today, the two brothers share a paranormal interest in Lake Worth Playhouse productions. Lucian's spectral image allegedly is seen in mirrors, and the departed theater owners are occasionally heard walking the catwalk above the stage. Objects also have been observed moving on their own accord.
       In recent years, the playhouse has become a popular venue for entertaining "haunted house" productions on Halloween.
       The historic Gulfstream Hotel is located three blocks east of the Lake Worth Playhouse. It was built in 1923 at the height of the "Roaring '20s." Fifty years later, in January 1983, the hotel was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
       The ghostly presence encountered by both guests and staff in the past is believed to be the mischievous spirit of a 6-year-old girl who roams the hotel playing tricks on the living. According to the legend, the Gulfstream Hotel became haunted after a child fell down an elevator shaft in the 1930s.
        The child spirit is fond of playing games with new arrivals in the hotel. Some of her favorite tricks are tapping people on their shoulders, pulling on the dresses of women, and switching televisions on and off. She also continues to have a deadly fascination with elevators.
        In recent years, the Gulfstream Hotel fell on hard times, changed ownership and was vacated. The preliminary plans for renovation and expansion of the historic site were approved in 2016. The spirit of a little girl residing in the hotel was not consulted about its future plans.
        The ghost of a boy supposedly buried on the campus of Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach also is restless spirit. The phantom scholar is heard rattling rafters in the auditorium. He seems to be particularly active creating noise during drama club rehearsals.
        The Boynton Beach Holiday Inn motel near Congress Avenue may have been built on an ancient Indian burial ground. In the world of the supernatural, this is never a good idea. Guests at the motel report shadowy apparations of human figures roaming the halls at night.
       The upscale Boca Raton Resort and Club opened Feb. 6, 1926 as the Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn. It was originally designed by Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner.
        For more than 90 years, the ghost of  a long-deceased chambermaid named Esmerelda has been making her rounds on the third floor and Cloister Hall. Esmerelda was one of the first service employees hired by the hotel in 1926. Visitors have reported hearing her walking the hallways, and discovered items rearranged upon returning to their rooms.
        Apparently, the spectral maid is continuing to tidy up the resort's rooms for guests. Either out of dedication to their earthly responsibilities, or ignorance of their current ephemeral state of existence, some ghosts don't know when it is time to retire to the grave.

Local Cemeteries Are Lively Places at Night
        Judging from the growing popularity of cemetery tours in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and elsewhere in the Palm Beaches, there are many tales to be told of restless spirits in our county graveyards.
        The Riddle House was once located at 327 Acacia St. in West Palm Beach. It was built in 1905 using leftover wood from Henry Flagler's hotel projects on Palm Beach.
        The building was originally used as a funeral parlor serving the adjacent Woodlawn Cemetery. For 15 years, it was known as the "Gatekeeper's Cottage" for the graveyard. Due to its brightly-colored exterior, the cottage also was commonly called a Victorian "Painted Lady".
        Cemetery workers used the Gatekeeper's Cottage as a meeting place. One large gravedigger, called "Buck," was killed during an argument, but continued to report to work after his death. He was observed walking through the cemetery, and often seen sitting on the porch of the Gatekeeper's House taking his breaks from work.
        Karl Riddle, a former city manager responsible for the upkeep of Woodlawn Cemetery, lived in and later acquired the house in 1920s. His home earned a supernatural reputation when Joseph, an associate of Mr. Riddle, hanged himself in the attic. It is said he was trying to escape pending financial difficulties.
        In 1995, the Riddle House was donated to the "Yesteryear Village" historic park, located near the South Florida Fairgrounds. As they moved and repaired the historic home, workmen experienced missing tools and strange sightings while completing the project.
        The Riddle House was featured in a 2008 episode of  "Ghost Adventures" on the Travel Channel. Today, the home is a favorite haunt of visitors during "Yesteryear Village " ghost tours.
        Our Lady of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach opened in 1974 as the only Catholic cemetery owned and operated by Diocese of Palm Beach. As its name implies, by day it is a restful setting of mausoleums and gravesites, and features a fountain topped by a statue of Our Lady.
        The cemetery is promoted as "a peaceful atmosphere that reflects our respect of loved ones who rest here in peace." However, on some nights, visitors claim the atmosphere is much different.
        There have been reports of a strange fog covering the cemetery, and shadowy figures standing in the mist that move and vanish at will. Others have seen orbs of light in the cemetery at night.
         The true history of one cemetery is even stranger than the most fanciful ghost story. Such is the saga of the Boca Raton Cemetery and Mausoleum.
         Before 1916, deceased family members from the rural community of "Boca Ratone" were buried at their homes, nearby churches, or on the barrier island near the Boca Raton Inlet. The inlet burials could be the source of orbs of light appearing near this narrow outlet to the ocean.
        Fishermen and nocturnal visitors occasionally feel "warm spots" near the inlet on cold winter nights. A young woman buried near the inlet in the distant past also makes spectral appearances by the sea, according to the local legend.
         The first community cemetery was a one-acre section at the site of the future Boca Raton Resort and Club. Prior to the construction of the new hotel in the 1920s, the cemetery was closed, the bodies disinterred, and then transported to a new 10-acre gravesite north of Glades Road.
        During World War II, western Boca Raton was selected as the site of an Army Air Corp airfield. The cemetery had to move a second time. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers selected the highest point in Boca Raton for its third cemetery, Sunset Hill. Some bodies were exhumed for a second relocation in 1942 and buried in their third plot. The new 15-acre graveyard became the Boca Raton Municipal Cemetery and Mausoleum.
        It is not surprising that at least two spirits are active at night in the Boca Raton Cemetery. Automobiles passing the cemetery before dawn have called in reports to the Boca Raton Police Department of a "screaming man" in the graveyard. He is never found by police units on patrol.
        The main mausoleum in the cemetery is the haunt of a little girl with a wandering spirit. Visitors claim to have seen a child at prayer by the mausoleum. Others have heard a young girl playing games among the monuments.
        Yes, Palm Beach County is a paradise where the living enjoy the days, and restless spirits join in the fun after sunset.
(c.) Davidsson.  2016.

NOTE: See related October 2015 article, "Muck Monster Legend Becomes Part of Our History," archived in Older Posts.    

Friday, August 19, 2016

Final Voyage and Sinking of 'SS Inchulva' off Delray

By Bob Davidsson
        For more than a century, one of the most popular diving sites along coastal Palm Beach County is the so-called "Delray Wreck," the final undersea resting place of the storm-tossed freighter "SS Inchulva," which sank during a hurricane on Sept.11, 1903.
        The Delray Wreck is located less than 150 yards offshore of the southern end of Delray's public beach, in just 25 feet of water. Divers can view the ship's boilers, and occasionally a debris field scattered over a 70-foot area whenever the waves and tides choose to uncover the ship's burial shroud of sand.
        A "Delray Wreck Historical Marker" was posted along highway A1A on May 22, 1990. The "Friends of the Delray Wreck" collected $1,500 to pay for the permanent tribute. Today, the official  memorial is co-sponsored by the Palm Beach County Historic Preservation Board and the Florida Department of State.
        While the historic marker gives a brief summary of the Delray Wreck, there is much more to learn from the saga of the "SS Inchulva" - the ship's origin, final voyage and the impact of the "Florida Hurricane of 1903" on the history of the fledgling coastal communities of  what later became Palm Beach County.

The Palm Beaches in 1903
        In the summer of 1903, Dade County extended from Cape Florida north to the mouth of the St. Lucie River. The Palm Beaches were not granted a county charter by the Florida Legislature until the year 1909.
        The only incorporated cities in the Palm Beaches were West Palm Beach and Juno. Juno served as the county seat of Dade County in the 1890s as the result of a referendum passed by a majority of  voters who wanted a more geographically accessible government center. However, once Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad linked the scattered communities by rail, the county seat was moved back to Miami.
        South of Palm Beach were the unincorporated rural settlements and postal centers of  Figulus, Jewell (Lake Worth), Hypoluxo, Lantana, Boynton, Delray, Wyman and "Bocaratone". In 1903 the two landmark buildings on Delray Beach were the Chapman House, which served as a hotel, and the "Orange Grove House of Refuge No. 3."
        Delray's House of Refuge, dedicated in April 1876, was one of five built and staffed by the U.S. Treasury Department's Life Saving Service between Cape Canaveral and Cape Florida. The mission of the Houses of Refuge was to "rescue and provide sustenance" to survivors of the many shipwrecks along thinly populated eastern coast of Florida.
        The 1879 "Annual Report of the Life Saving Service" stated the House of Refuge "contemplates no other life saving operations than affording succor to shipwrecked persons who may be cast ashore, and who, in absence of means of relief, would be liable to perish from hunger and thirst in that desolate region."
        The House of Refuge keepers and members of their families were required to "go along the beach, in both directions, in search of castaways immediately after a storm."
        The two-story building consisted of four rooms in its lower level with an upper floor dormitory. It received the tropical moniker of "Orange Grove House of Refuge" from a small grove of sour oranges adjacent to the station. The House of Refuge also served as the site of the "Zion" community post office on Delray Beach between 1888-92.
        The U.S. Life Saving Service operated the House of Refuge for 19 years. It ceased operation in 1896. The station had a variety of public and private uses until the building burned to the ground on March 2, 1927.
        The Chapman House, also known as the Chapman Inn and Delray's "Grand Hotel," was a three-story Bahamian-style building completed in 1902. It served as both a guest house and home for Frank and Lucy Chapman, the owners and innkeepers.
        After the closing of the House of Refuge, the Chapman Inn was often used as a shelter for local residents during hurricanes. It also provided refuge to waterlogged survivors of shipwrecks, including the crew of the "SS Inchulva" during the hurricane of 1903.
        Ironically, the Chapman House - Delray's first "Grand Hotel" - also was damaged by fire in 1927, the same year as the Orange Grove House of Refuge.

The Florida Hurricane of 1903
        Between 1900 and 1929, Florida was hit or impacted by 23 hurricanes. The Palm Beaches experienced tropical storm winds in 1888, 1894, 1903, 1904 and 1906. The cluster of storms tested both the determination of pioneers and the pace of coastal development at the turn of the 20th century.
        The Florida Hurricane of 1903 was not the strongest storm to hit the Palm Beaches. The maximum winds hitting West Palm Beach were estimated at 84 miles per hour. However, there were no hurricane building codes and the sustained winds on the north side of eye wall caused widespread destruction from Jupiter Inlet south to Boca Raton.
        The 1903 hurricane formed over the central Bahamas on Sept. 9 and moved northwest toward the southeast coast of Florida. Residents of Dade County were given about a 24-hour notice of the storm's approach by government officials in Miami, but its exact landfall was unknown in these early days of hurricane forecasting.
        The eye of the storm hit the coast north of Fort Lauderdale the afternoon of Sept. 11 with maximum winds of 90 miles per hour. It continued on a northwest path across the peninsula, entering the Gulf of Mexico south of Tampa. Three days later, it hit Florida a second time at Panama City as a category one storm.
        The hurricane cut power lines and newswire services south of Tampa for more than two days. This caused a news blackout and the outside world was unaware of the devastation in South Florida until the Associated Press forwarded a report from Jacksonville on Sept. 15.
        The news report stated, "At Palm Beach, damage was serious. Grunber's Opera House was partly unroofed, as were eight other business blocks, which were also damaged in other ways. All the boats on the Lake Worth waterfront, excepting three, were wrecked and sank. The Royal Poinciana Hotel was slightly damaged."
        An eight-foot storm surge was reported at the Jupiter Inlet. The schooner "Martha Jones" was blown ashore nine miles south of the inlet. Three cottages were blown into the Lake Worth Lagoon at Munyon Island, and the island's hotel was damaged.
        Rough seas forced a Standard Oil barge onto a shallow reef offshore of Boynton Beach. The crew of 11 had to swim to shore as the barge began to break up in the surf.
        The "Lake Worth News" building was severely damaged, as was the home of "The Tropical Sun" newspaper. The interruption of  local news services added to the confusion after the storm.
        Local tourism in the Palm Beaches was impacted by damages sustained at the Seminole Hotel, Palm Hotel and Schmidt's Commercial Hotel. Three of four churches in downtown West Palm Beach also were destroyed and had to be rebuilt.
        Half of the orange crop along Florida's west coast, and about one-forth of the southeast coast harvest, was ruined by the hurricane. The storm-related damages are estimated at $500,000 in 1903 gold-backed dollars.
        The 1903 Florida Hurricane killed a total of 16 persons. Nine of the deaths were crewmen of the "SS Inchulva" which sank off Delray Beach at 5 p.m. Sept. 11 at the peak of the storm.

The Last Voyage of the 'SS Inchulva'
        In 1892, a 386-foot-long, steam-powered freighter was built at the West Hartlepool, England, Harbor and Docks shipyard by the W. Gray & Co. Ltd. The ship was christened and launched as the single-stack steamer "Alberta," powered by one screw-driven triple expansion engine.
        She was listed by the Lloyds Register of Shipping as a steel vessel of 4,823 tons gross. The ship was designed with a 48-foot-wide beam and thus capable of carrying a variety of cargos. By British standards, it was a state of the art merchant vessel, with many of its sister ships sailing long after World War I.
        The "Alberta" was purchased by the Hamilton, Fraser & Company of Liverpool in 1898, and assigned to a fleet of ships operated by its American subsidiary, the Inch Shipping Company, based in Galveston, Texas.
        The "Alberta" was renamed the "SS Inchulva" to promote the Inch Shipping Company. It became the sixth of the fleet's "Inch" ships. Its sister cargo ships were the "Inchura," "Inchmona," "Inchmarlo," "Inchmaree" and "Inchdune."
       The "SS Inchulva" set sail from England in July 1903, bound for Galveston to receive a shipment of agricultural products. In what became its final voyage, the ship left Galveston Sept. 6 with a cargo of wheat, lumber and cotton. Its destination was Newport News, Virginia.
        It is not known if the ship was aware of a hurricane forming in the Bahamas. The "Inchulva" sailed directly into the path of the tropical storm. Capt. G.W. Davis and his crew of 27 were soon fighting for their lives against the wind and huge waves, with nearly zero visibility along he coast.
        In the "Inchulva's" ship log, Captain Davis wrote, "At 2 a.m. (Sept. 11) I was 15 miles off Fowey Rocks (southeast of Miami near Key Biscayne) by bearings, and gale increasing. By noon the hurricane was fearful."
        The Sept. 15 newswire report stated, "The ship's steering gear broke and she floated at will, striking the beach at great force and breaking into three pieces. The captain, mates and 14 of the crew were saved. Nine were drowned, among them the engineer. A small boat with five men was battered to pieces by waves and its occupants drowned."
        The text of the "Delray Wreck" historic marker adds, "The storm struck at 5 p.m., tossing the ship and causing the cargo to shift. Steering became impossible, so Captain Davis put out both anchors, but to no avail. The anchors parted, and the "Inchulva" grounded and was torn apart (by the waves)."
        The Orange Grove House of Refuge rescue station closed six years prior to the shipwreck, so the surviving "Inchulva" crew were escorted to the Chapman House, where several local residents were taking shelter from the hurricane. They were reported to have received hot food, dry clothing and "every kindness and attention at the hands of Mrs. Chapman."
        While "Inchulva" officers and sailors recovered at the hotel, the Inch Shipping Company forwarded the wages earned by the surviving crew members of the ill-starred voyage. After a week of recuperation, they were sent to New York by the company.
        The nine dead sailors were tersely identified in a Lloyd's report and British newspapers as seamen Smith (the engineer), Magill, Weatherill, Taylor, Gaeting, P. Whitley, Shaw, Whitney and cabin steward Allen. They were buried by local residents on the Delray Beach dune.
        Captain Davis, his chief officer, second officer and a seaman on watch during the hurricane were brought before a hastily called naval court of inquiry held Sept. 19 at the British Vice Consulate building in Jacksonville. The court exonerated the captain and crew of all blame for the destruction of the "SS Inchulva". It was deemed an act of nature's fury.
        Today, the Delray Wreck is home to schools of tropical fish, and visited by hundreds of divers who swim from the beach to view the final resting place of the "SS Inchulva".
(c.)  Davidsson. 2016.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

The Short Life and Sudden End of God's 'Chosen' City

By Bob Davidsson
        The community of "Chosen" was established in 1921 as an early agricultural center on the southeast shore of Lake Okeechobee. It was created as a religious haven for a small sect of true believers known as the Church of the Brethren.
        Chosen was located about one mile west of Belle Glade and east of Torry Island, near the source of the original 1913 Hillsboro Canal. It also was the site of an ancient midden and burial mound complex of Mayami Indians, dating back in time 2000 years.
        The Church of the Brethren, also known as the "Dunkards," are a reformed branch of Anabaptist Protestants founded in eastern Germany in the year 1708. The common name of "Dunkards" comes from their religious requirement of total immersion in water three times during baptism.
        The sect refused to take oaths of obedience to their German rulers, the established state church, or to serve in their armies. This resulted in persecution and emigration of many church members to America during the 18th century.
        By the early 20th century, several Brethren congregations were established in South Florida, including in the town of Chosen.

The Chosen Indian Mound
        A village midden and burial mound near Chosen, today known as the "Belle Glade Indian Mound" complex, was the easternmost town of the Mayami Indians of Lake Okeechobee. The shore of the big lake was inhabited by the tribe for nearly 5,000 years.
       Villages along Lake Okeechobee are classified locally as part of the unique "Belle Glade Culture." The mound site near Chosen was firmly rooted between 200 and 600 A.D., and continued as an active inhabited village site until the Spanish Colonial Period in the 17th century.
        The Mayami were a part of the regional Calusa Mound Building culture with close trade and inland navigation connections to the larger Gulf Coast tribe. Mayami villages extended from the mouth of the Kissimmee River, on the northern shore of Lake Okeechobee, south to Belle Glade. Their largest mound complex was located near Fort Center in Glades County.
        Wooden artifacts and pottery recovered from the Chosen Mound are similar in design to those found at both Fort Center and Calusa Indian middens at Key Marco on Florida's west coast. The Mayami shared the resources of Lake Okeechobee, called "Lake Mayami" by the Spanish during the 16th century, with the Santaluces Indians, their neighbors along the inland sea's eastern shoreline.
        The Chosen midden served as an elevated village site which kept the inhabitants dry during periodic flooding of the lake. The smaller adjacent ceremonial mound also served as a burial site for the village.
        The Chosen site was excavated by a team sent from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. The project was funded as part of the Emergency Relief Program during the Great Depression by the Civil Works Administration.
        The Smithsonian's G.M. Sterling was director of the archaeological project. He was assisted by a large expedition of formerly unemployed laborers sent to unearth and explore the mound during its 1933-34 excavation.
         At the time of excavation, the Chosen site was divided by a creek known as the Democrat River, named for a Glades expedition sponsored by the New Orleans Times-Democrat newspaper in the 1880s. The small river was probably used as a canoe route to Lake Okeechobee. It was later destroyed by agricultural drainage projects.
        The Smithsonian team examined the circular burial mound and its dome-shaped summit. In addition to native crafts, the archaeologists found Spanish trade beads and metal fragments from St. Augustine and coastal shipwrecks.
        In 1977, a house was built at the mound site. Prior to its construction, state archaeologists were able to make further excavations. Today, artifacts from the mound are cataloged and archived by the Smithsonian Institute. Other items are located in the Florida State Museum, and the Lawrence Will Museum in Belle Glade.

J.R. Leatherman's 'Chosen' Village: 1921-28
        John Robert "J.R." Leatherman was born in the Cabin Run section of Mineral, West Virginia, one month before the end of the Civil War on March 13, 1865. His parents, Dan A. and Margaret Leatherman, were of German ancestry and baptized members of  the Brethren of the Church.
        On Jan. 2, 1881, he married Mary Sowers, and together they raised two children, Lena and Vida. J.R. Leatherman was a skilled architect and builder. He moved his family to Fairfax County, Virginia, where he built a two-story brick house with a veranda for his family near the town of Vienna. His grandfather and namesake, John, was from Virginia.
        Fairfax County had a Brethren of the Church congregation of 197 members. Leatherman served as an assistant minister to Elder I.M. Nelt, and helped erect a new church and Sunday school at Dranesville, Virginia, for the 216 children in the congregation.
        Shortly before the turn of the 20th century, he moved his family from Virginia to a new home in West Palm Beach. He continued his career as a builder, and used Henry Flagler's new East Coast Railroad to commute weekly from his home to three construction projects under contract in the town of Delray.
        His best known building is the historic Sundy House, built in 1902 and still used today as a bed-and-breakfast restaurant. Leatherman also built the First Methodist Church on Atlantic Avenue in Delray. The sanctuary was destroyed by the 1928 hurricane, but its original rectory is still standing.
        In 1903, he built and briefly resided in a house later sold to merchants William J. and Grace Cathcart in 1910. Today, it is known as the historic Cathcart House.
        In the 1910 Census, recorders listed his primary residence as Delray instead of West Palm Beach. In addition to his architectural projects, Leatherman also raised fruit on a small farm outside of Delray.
        Leatherman was a man of vision. For 10 years he envisioned and worked tirelessly to create a religious community supported by agriculture for his fellow Brethren of the Church along the shore of Lake Okeechobee.
        According to U.S. Census documents, by 1920 the J.R. Leatherman family resided at Okeelanta in unincorporated Palm Beach County. He was joined by the family of his older brother, Isaac. He used his church connections to recruit Brethren from the Indian River Church in Wabasso and elsewhere.
        The official Ministerial Lists of the annual "Brethren Family Almanac" confirm Leatherman was a church elder serving Wabasso (1899, 1902 editions), Delray (1907 edition), as well as the Vienna, Va., congregation.
        In order to obtain a U.S. Post Office, the new community needed a name. Leatherman turned to the Bible for an inspiration. It came from the book of Deuteronomy 16: 1-2, which set guidelines for God's "chosen" place of worship. The rural community was postmarked as "Chosen" for the next seven years of its existence.
        One enduring legend about the name states, "He (Leatherman) saw the rich soil and temperate climate and declared it to be God's 'Chosen' place."
        The Chosen church was dedicated by the Brethren on May 4, 1922. Leatherman served as its first "Elder" or minister. At its peak, the church served 10 Brethren patriarchs and their families. The community also attracted merchants, fishermen and black farm laborers.
        Isaac West, member of the Brethren, was a merchant and became the community's postmaster when the village  received its U.S. Post Office address in 1922. Brethren Sister Bertha Albin of Kansas moved to Chosen and became the community's school teacher and secretary for six years.
        The village of Chosen may have been inspired by God, but was not without its share of scandals. Community founder J.R. Leatherman was removed by the Brethren as the Elder and overseer of the church in April 1925.
        He was relieved of duties as Chosen's spiritual leader for "unbecoming moral behavior." According to the accusations, Leatherman was not only a Dunkard, but also a "drunkard," who overindulged in alcohol.
        During its final three years, services for the Chosen congregation were led by a traveling circuit minister or elder from the Town of Sebring's Brethren Church, established in 1916.

The Hurricane of 1928
        For those who believe events on earth are directed by a supreme divinity in Heaven, then the final judgment of the community of Chosen was decreed Sept. 17, 1928 in the form of a category five hurricane.
        The "Hurricane of 1928," also known as the "San Felipe Segundo" tropical storm in Puerto Rico, was the third of its kind in the summer season. It was born the first week of September, but intensified rapidly as it crossed the Windward Islands on Sept. 12, killing 1,200 residents of Guadalupe.
        When it reached Puerto Rico the next day, it shredded the island with peak winds of 160 miles per hour. The massive storm killed 312, and left 500,000 islanders homeless.
        On Sept.17, the hurricane hit West Palm Beach with 145 mph winds and a 10-foot storm surge along the coast. More than 1,700 coastal houses were destroyed as the storm twisted toward Lake Okeechobee.
        The storm surge on the big lake formed an 18-foot wall of water, smashing weak mud dike walls, and submerging the lake communities. Witnesses say the lake was in the eye of the hurricane for nearly 30 minutes before the winds changed directions and intensified.
       According to the latest 2003 estimates, more than 2,500 residents and farm workers living in the lake communites drowned in the flooding. About 35,000 people became homeless. Recovery was slow and bodies were discovered for weeks in the muddy farm fields, then burned or buried in mass graves near the lake or in West Palm Beach.
        In the community of Chosen, members of the Brethren Church sought refuge in the three largest houses, and also in a packing warehouse located at the edge of town. One house was lifted off its foundations and floated into the farmland.
        Pat Burke's house was used as a shelter for 19 frightened residents. Only two survived when the storm surge from Lake Okeechobee capsized the home. The 20 residents seeking refuge in Isaac West's store survived by crowding into a bathroom in the middle of the building.
        The only land in Chosen which did not flood was the ancient Mayami Indian mound which rose about 10 feet above the surrounding countryside. Thirty-one fortunate residents and black farm workers survived the hurricane by holding onto thick weeds growing on the lee side of the midden. At the peak of the storm, flood waters crested two feet below the top of the mound.
        Most of the homes in Chosen were swept away by the lake flooding. After the storm, bodies were stacked along the Belle Glade-Chosen Road. The town's death toll is unknown. Estimates range from less than 100 to 1,000. Many were black farm laborers.
        The community of Chosen never recovered from the Hurricane of 1928. Even though the school and church were destroyed, secretary Bertha Albin tried to rally the surviving Brethren to remain in Chosen. Most chose to leave.
        Chosen's sister city, Belle Glade, become home for some of the survivors. It was known as "Hillsboro" when the community organized in 1919. It incorporated as the City of Belle Glade on April 9, 1928, five months before the hurricane.
        J.R. Leatherman's brother, Isaac, died in the hurricane. He remained in Chosen for a few years, remarried after of loss of his wife, and returned to West Palm Beach in 1932. He attended meetings of the Church of the Brethren congregation in Miami after the destruction of Chosen.
        Leatherman died Oct. 6, 1953 in West Palm Beach. The founder of the community of Chosen, his first wife, and one of his daughters are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. An historical marker in a sugarcane field near SR 715 and the Hillsboro Canal was erected as a sentinel of the community's past.
        Today, there are about 100,000 Church of the Brethren members in the United States and Puerto Rico, with mission partners on five continents.
(c.) Davidsson. 2016.

NOTE: Additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.