Saturday, December 20, 2014

First U.S. high-speed hydrofoil sails from Port Everglades

By Jane Feehan

The nation’s first oceangoing hydrofoil, the H.S. Denison, sailed out of Port Everglades February 2, 1964 for a sea trial. The vessel, first of its kind designed for high speeds over rough waters, was scheduled for passenger service between Fort Lauderdale and Nassau.

Capt. P.O. Clarke ran the vessel through an impressive test. At 23 knots, the 104.6 foot Denison began to rise from the water. At 30 knots it was free from the seas and at 50 knots it was “flying” on its foils with the hull five feet above the ocean.

Though its sea trial was impressive, the Denison remained an experimental vessel, a disappointment to many. The project, initially developed by the Marine Administration (MARAD) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Aircraft Engine Corporation and General Electric, was coordinated by enthusiastic supporter Charles R. Denison in 1958. The group’s objective was to research possibilities for express cargo shipping and passenger travel at 200 knots. Dension died early in the ship’s design, which diminished impetus for and focus on the project in the years that followed.  

It was reported that 73 companies collectively invested more than $8 million to develop the hydrofoil named posthumously for its most ardent supporter. General Electric built a 14,000 horsepower gas turbine engine for the experimental 94-ton ship. The vessel was completed and launched June 5, 1962 by Grumman Corp. in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Sea trials commenced a few days later and were conducted along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida in ocean waters as high as nine feet.

The U.S. Navy withdrew its support of the project to pursue development of its own hydrofoil, which affected commercial plans for the H.S. Dension. Today, a ferry service from Port Everglades to Bimini operates at about 32 knots for passenger and cargo transport—considerably slower than Charles R. Denison envisioned during the 1950s. Maybe speed is why a solid business model for ferry service in this market seems elusive.

Miami News, Feb. 2, 1964

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Port Everglades history, film researcher, hydrofoils, maritime history

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kalem films Miami: "Paradise of the eastern south, the California that is right at home"

Opening in Jacksonville, 1914*
Robert Vignola, director; Kenean Buel, 
writer, actor, director, studio manager

By Jane Feehan

Miami attracted a series of filmmakers in its early days (see labels for additional posts on the subject), including D.W Griffith in 1919. One of the most prolific in the business was the Kalem Company who filmed daily life in Miami as early as 1913. 

Kalem's L.A. Darling came to Miami in March of that year and his activities made front page news of the local paper.

He produced 14 films in a matter of days capturing shots of tourists at the Royal Palm hotel, millionaire yachtsmen returning from a day of fishing, the Great Commoner William Jennings Bryan—a new resident of Coconut Grove—and pioneer and large land holder Mary Brickell. He also filmed six Seminoles in traditional dress. It was reported that the “film was to advertise to the continent the Paradise of the eastern south, the California that is right at home.”

Darling’s mission was to film an accurate representation of life in the sub-tropics, including its ocean waters, palm trees and coconuts. One film, aimed at the “lady suffragettes,” showed Mary Brickell “bossing the job” or directing a man as he gathered coconuts. Another shows one of Seminoles at “Indian headquarters, Girtman’s Cash grocery,” who, only after much cajoling, moved around for the camera. The Seminoles were convinced Darling didn’t know what he was doing; they assumed the only pictures were still shots.   

Political celebrity William Jennings Bryan, who served as congressman for Nebraska, ran for U.S. president three times and later argued for the state in the Scopes trial, came to Coconut Grove to build a home in 1913. Darling caught him on film with his sleeves rolled up directing construction workers on the site.The filmmaker regretted he hadn’t stopped by three weeks earlier when he could have found Bryan hoeing in his radish patch.
Bryan home in Coconut Grove, 1922. **

Darling also captured shots of a grapefruit packing house, residential neighborhoods and traffic in business areas. His work took a matter of weeks, including the making of negatives to sell to local movie houses. Theater owners needed lots of product to change up programs on a weekly or even daily basis.

Established in New York City in 1907 and operating from 131 West 24th Street, Kalem Company filmed on location throughout the U.S and Ireland. They opened studios in California and Jacksonville and in doing so, became the first company to film year-round. The company made the first Ben-Hur and the first adaptation of 
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Its legacy includes more than 1,200 films including several about Florida: The Seminole’s Vengeance, A Florida Feud: or, Love in the Everglades, In Old Florida, St. Augustine, Florida, the Celery Industry in Florida, and Cypress Logging in Florida.

Kalem was purchased in 1917 by Vitagraph Studios.

*State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, - opening in Jacksonville 1914

** State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, bryan home by Fishbaugh, W. A.(William A.), 1873-1950

See more on William Jennings Bryan at Jane's Bits:

Miami Metropolis, March 12, 1913
Miami Metropolis, March 13, 1913
Mast, Gerald. A Short History of the Movies. New York: Pegasus, 1971
Florida Memories

Tags: early filmmakers in Florida, Florida movie studios, Kalem Company,Jane Feehan film researcher, Miami history

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Al Capone and "Capone Island" Deerfield Beach: facts and folklore

Capone in 1930 (FBI) see below*

Al Capone folklore in Florida is nearly as ubiquitous as that of George Washington visiting towns in the northeast. For our first president, many of the stories were, indeed, the facts behind the battles fought during America’s War of Independence.

Not so with gangster Capone. Yes, he did live and die on Miami’s Palm Island. He did drive up the South Florida coast for recreation and to seek business opportunities during the boom times of the 1920s. But he did not buy what became known as “Capone Island” in the Intracoastal Waterway off Deerfield Beach.

During 1928 or 1929, the gangster and a few friends stopped at a speakeasy just south of Boca Raton, where Capone viewed a peninsula jutting out into the water off the north bank of the Hillsboro Canal west of the Intracoastal Waterway. The secluded, vacant property probably looked like an ideal place to conduct some bootlegging biz during Prohibition. Capone made an offer for the southeast portion of the peninsula.

A Saint Petersburg, FL, newspaper reported in 1930 that Judge Vincent C. Giblin, “chief of Al Capone’s legal staff in Miami,” was going to buy the property where Capone was to build a residence for $250,000 and a pool for $125,000. This was, no doubt, hyperbole. The Chicago gangster had paid only $40,000 for his Palm Island digs in 1928. The reporter editorialized that Capone’s “presence in Miami is destructive; his presence in Broward County, close to the Boca Raton Club in Palm Beach County will be destructive to the club and both counties.”

The state was willing to make a deal but the transaction never materialized for two reasons: Boca Raton residents did not want Capone in the neighborhood and the state wanted a road to be built on the property. The road was the deal breaker; Capone walked away. Anyway, he would not have had much time to enjoy it.  In 1932, at 33 years old, he was convicted of tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz for seven years.

Today the 53-acre property is Deerfield Island, operating as a Broward County park since 1981 after it was leased from the state for 99 years. Waterway dredging during the 1960s created a canal, which turned the peninsula into an island (Capone's vision?) The park serves as a popular Boy Scout camp, wildlife refuge and recreational area for boaters and hikers.

See more on Capone on this blog.
Evening Independent, Saint Petersburg, FL. July 19, 1930
The Day, New London, CT, Jan. 25, 1985

"Al Capone in 1930" by Wide World Photos, Chicago Bureau (Federal Bureau of Investigation) - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Tags: Al Capone, Capone in Florida, Deerfield Island, Broward County history

Monday, September 1, 2014

Rex Ingram on Miami film studio: We got no cooperation on Passion Vine

Miami Daily Metropolis, March 22, 1923

By Jane Feehan

“Next movie will tax all Miami facilities for scenes and props,” the Aug, 22, 1922 Miami Daily Metropolis headline claimed.

The picture, Passion Vine, set in the South Pacific and directed by Rex Ingram (1892-1950), would include a live shark attack, a palm-tree-lined beach, and jungle waterfalls for the climatic final scene. Props would also include musical instruments, an assortment of odd articles and a collection of “natives.” The natives were provided by Seminole Willie Willie. The Indians, said Miami Studios, Inc. principle John Brunton, held a highly developed dramatic instinct, weeping realistically and enacting mob scenes with a singular expertise.

The story rang enthusiastic for the budding movie industry in Hialeah, a Miami suburb. Dublin-born Ingram was considered “one of the world’s best, if not the best, directors in the world.” To have him make a picture with wife and popular leading lady Alice Terry (1899-1987) at the Hialeah studio was a promising sign of things to come.

A news story nearly four months later did not wax as enthusiastic. On Dec. 1, Ingram, as he was to leave with his crew to film the valley scene in Cuba instead of Puerto Rico, complained that he should have visited Miami first himself, instead of sending a representative.  

Ingram told the reporter that the picture cost $125,000 over budget and that they should have wrapped it up three weeks earlier. Rains dogged the production. “I didn’t know I was coming to Miami in the middle of the hurricane season.”  He also groused about the lack of studio equipment, poor laboratory work and incompetent assistants.  

“We got no cooperation at Hialeah,” said Ingram. “Workers did not take to pictures seriously.” Some were told to stay late to finish painting the set one night and instead left at 5 to see a picture show; he and his crew had to find brushes and complete the work themselves.

Ingram did not leave without thanking Brunton, whose hands, the director said, were tied because of the lack of capital. He heaped praise on those who provided their beach-side houses and pools for some of the scenes and thanked Captain Thompson for rounding up a few sharks for the drama.

The movie, based on John Russell’s novel, Passion Vine, is also known as Where the Pavement Ends. The film is lost. The picture, with its “cast of 1000s” opened in Miami at the Fairfax in March, 1923. Before making the Passion Vine, Director Ingram considered Black Orchids, and Trifling Women to be his best works.

Ingram opened a studio in France in 1923 where, perhaps, he found more cooperation, dryer weather and better equipment. He left the movie industry a year or two later after a failed picture he made in Morocco and returned to Los Angeles where he sculpted and wrote.  Hialeah dropped out of the picture making scene not long afterward.

For more on the Hialeah studio, see my other blog at:

Palm Beach Post, April 10, 1922
Miami Daily Metropolis, Aug. 22, 1922
Miami Daily Metropolis, Dec. 1, 1922
Miami Daily Metrolpolis March 22, 1923

 Tags: Miami history, Hialeah history, Miami film industry, film researcher, Jane Feehan 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Frontier hotel Peacock Inn and the Mother of Coconut Grove

Peacock Inn circa 1900

By Jane Feehan

Joining the pantheon of South Florida pioneers that includes Julia Tuttle, Henry Flagler and Frank Stranahan are Charles and Isabella Peacock of England. The two were encouraged to come to the area by Charles’ brother Jack, keeper of the House of Refuge near what is now Miami Beach.

The Peacocks, who operated a meat business, left England in 1875 to come to the wilds of Florida with their three boys, Charles, Alfred and Harry. They made their way via New York and Key West to Fort Dallas at the mouth of the Miami River, an outpost that pre-dated the “Magic City.”

“We conducted a trading post and exchanged merchandise and commodities with the Indians who brought in gopher skins, plumes, corn and pumpkins,” recalled Harry Peacock in 1917 (Metropolis, July 27, 1917). “Besides trading, we also manufactured starch from komtie [coontie] selling that in Key West.”
After seven years the family built an inn at Jack’s Bight (named for Jack Peacock) in Coconut Grove. Built with “beach combed wood” the hotel opened in 1882 or 1883. The only hotel on the mainland between Key West and Lake Worth then, the Bayview House, as they named it, quickly attracted visitors. At times they were unable to accommodate all who wanted to stay. Rates were $1.50 a day, $7-9 a week or $30-$35 a month.

The inn housed a post office and courthouse and served as focal point of the growing community. According to the Miami News (Jan. 8, 1964), its visitors included President Grover Cleveland, actor Joseph Jefferson, playwright Henry Guy Carlton, author Kirk Munroe and Arthur Haigh of distillery fame who eventually bought Cat Cay. During the 1890s, railroad magnate Henry Flagler stayed there; by that time it was known as the Peacock Inn. There were five houses in the area when the Peacocks opened their hotel. Observing Isabella’s connection with the growing settlement, hotel guest Flagler nicknamed her the “Mother of Coconut Grove.” She served as “doctor, judge, minister and friend to the community.”

Life in the settlement seemed to suit pioneer Isabella. She mastered the art of cooking frontier style, serving stewed venison, boiled Seminole squash, corn pone, turtle fry, roast wild hog and turkey. She helped found the Church of the Union Chapel where Henry Ward Beecher’s nephew once preached and where she held the first Sunday school class in South Florida.
Peacock Park

Aging and infirm, Charles Peacock sold the hotel in 1902 to G.F. Schneider of Philadelphia who converted it into a school.  Charles Peacock died in 1905; Isabella in 1917. The Peacock Inn was torn down in 1926, its site purchased by the City of Miami in 1934. Established as the Coconut Grove Bayfront Park, the site was renamed in honor of the Peacocks in 1973.  Isabella and Charles picked a beautiful location for their inn; it’s one of the toughest spots in town to get a parking place today.

Metropolis, July 31, 1902
Metropolis, July 27, 1917
Miami News, March 6, 1958

Palm Beach Post, Jan. 8, 1964

Tags: Peacock Inn, Miami history, Isabella Peacock, Charles Peacock

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fighting polio with a ban on visitors from Fort Lauderdale, DDT spray and ...

By Jane Feehan

With world news abuzz about polio cases appearing recently in Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it might be interesting to revisit the polio epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s in Fort Lauderdale. Below are bits and pieces that appeared in newspapers of those decades.

In 1946, North Carolina banned visitors from Fort Lauderdale for a few weeks out of fear hundreds of children visiting summer camps from the city would bring the polio virus with them. It had been a normal year for polio cases in North Carolina with about 19 cases reported. The ban had an economic impact on rail travel.

·   In 1946, sanitation workers sprayed DDT in alleys and garbage cans behind restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. Garbage trucks were followed by trucks with the deadly spray. Workers complained of sores and other skin problems after they were exposed daily to DDT.  The Fort Lauderdale Caterers Association announced plans to underwrite spraying of the entire city.  

·   Polio cases with fatalities declined in 1949 in Fort Lauderdale, and rose in 1952 with a total of 77 cases.

·  But the city, as Florida, was hit hard in 1953 and 1954. About 57,000 and 36,000 cases were reported respectively nation-wide, making those years among the worst of polio epidemics in the U.S. since it first appeared in 1894 in this country.

·  An outbreak occurred in northwest Fort Lauderdale in 1954 with 65 cases. About 2,000 mothers and children lined up at the public health building to receive gamma globulin immunizations. More than 200 were turned away when they ran out of supplies. Fort Lauderdale reported a total of 95 cases that year. The Salk vaccine was made available later in 1954 and was successful in qwelling the epidemic in Florida and across of the nation.

·   A D-Day vet, Robert Q. “Whitey" Garrigus, Jr., who survived the Normandy invasion in 1944 as part of the 507th parachute regiment and subsequently spent one year in a German prison camp, fell victim to bulbar polio in Fort Lauderdale. The former Miami High football star died July 5, 1954 at Variety Children’s hospital after being stricken by the disease at his home at 1500 NW 11 Place.

·  After Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was developed and used successfully at schools during the 1954 epidemic, cases dropped dramatically in Fort Lauderdale and across the nation.

·  The last U.S. case occurring naturally, i.e., not via the vaccine, was in 1979. A case was reported in Fort Lauderdale in 1996 that may have resulted from the vaccine.   

·  Rotary Club International has embraced the mission of wiping out polio around the globe. According to its website, the last case of wild poliovirus in the Americas occurred in 1991, and by 1994, the Western Hemisphere became polio-free.

Miami News, June 16, 1946
Miami News, Jan. 11, 1949
Miami News, Oct. 13, 1952
St. Petersburg Times, July 2, 1954
Miami News, July 6, 1954
Miami News, July 18, 1954
Palm Beach Post, May 14, 1955
Ocala Star Banner May 15, 1955
Palm Beach Post, May 9, 1970
Fort Lauderdale Daily News, July 3, 1996

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bookies, wiretappers and organized crime in Fort Lauderdale 1922

By Jane Feehan

Boom times beckoned many to Fort Lauderdale in the 1920s, including organized criminal types.

In 1922, a well-dressed group of men rented the Oliver home downtown with more than sand and surf in their plans.The visitors, who drove fancy cars, displayed expensive golf bags and threw big tips around, didn’t extend social invitations to locals to their rented quarters, raising suspicions. But would-be gamblers had little need for invitations. They beat a path to the rented Oliver home, hoping to leave with winnings from off-track betting. The well-heeled gang promised sure wins; they had wiretapped telephones at horse tracks.   

Their elaborate scheme didn’t really include wiretapping; it was a ruse that eventually sent the unsuspecting to New Orleans by train with a gang member to pick up big winnings at their “headquarters.” The gang member would disappear en-route, leaving the gambler with nothing but a train ride.  Victims, engaged in illegal gambling, didn’t bother reporting their misfortune to the police.

Nevertheless, word got around about bookies and wiretapping and a government raid on February 19, 1922, netted 13.  Bail was posted and the men (all had given fictitious names), were set free. That was the end of the first organized crime foray into Fort Lauderdale.

Miami News, Mar. 3, 1922
The following month, Gov. Carey Hardee appointed Paul C. Bryan as Broward’s new sheriff.  Bryan delivered a warning to criminals: those who came to Broward County would come to grief. “No wiretappers shall operate here.”

Hello Miami.

(Use search box to find more
"Florida history" on this blog)

1. Weidling, Philip J. , Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press (1966).
2. Fort Lauderdale Herald, Feb. 20, Feb. 22, 1922
3. Miami News, March 3, 1922.

Tags: Florida in the 1920s, Fort Lauderdale in the 1920s,  organized crime in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale history, Sheriff Paul Ryan, film research