To quote my errant daughter when working back into my good graces: "You know you still love me."
Yes? Maybe? Sometimes?
Jimmy was doing the driving; I was doing my homework. There’s lots of that, now that I’ve become a world traveler and history buff.
Key West was behind us (but you can check out my reasons for loving the Conch Republic here), as was mile marker 0;
Almost forty percent of all U.S. hurricanes hit Florida. Our January visit earlier this year offered nothing but clear skies and balmy temperatures (adios freezing temps in Chicago!). That was not the case in 1935 when the first ever Category Five Hurricane on record hit the United States.
Undoubtedly the most iconic image of that devastating storm that barreled into the Florida Keys on Labor Day is the demolished rescue train filled with more than two-hundred World War I veterans and their families who lost their lives.
That Labor Day hurricane (the Weather Service had not yet established the practice of naming hurricanes in 1935) made landfall near Islamorada in the Upper Keys.
The area looked idyllic the day Jimmy and I stopped for lunch at the Bass Pro Shop near mile-marker 82 in the heart of Islamorada.
Hemingway came under considerable government scrutiny following his very public outrage when he wrote a scathing article entitled, “Who Murdered the Vets?” that was published in New Masses two weeks after the storm. He implied that the workers and families who were unfamiliar with the risks associated with Florida’s hurricane season, unwittingly became victims of a system that appeared totally unconcerned about their welfare.
I've always liked his style - sparse and bold; I envy his free spirit. For years Hemingway was on the FBI watch list following his outspoken response to this disaster; his ties to Cuba didn't help either. Who knew the notorious life-styles of famous authors/war correspondents could be so threatening to national security.
It’s been said Hemingway did some of his best work (including that scathing article) while living in his Key West home from 1931 to 1939 (yes, we did visit!),
Maybe after my first best seller, Jimmy and I can afford a beautiful home in Key West. That would certainly make those Chicago winters bearable. Meanwhile, keep that guest room in Miami available, Lynda. We'll be back!
Conditions were pretty unbearable for the veterans and their families that Labor Day when it came to battling a Category Five hurricane, not to mention the scorching sun and the mosquito infested swampland that constituted much of the area before civilization could reach the Keys.
The government housing provided, according to Hemingway, was little more than “frame shacks”, a death trap for the veterans given the government’s decision to schedule the work during Florida’s hurricane season.
Ironically, many of the railway trestles and bridge structures left standing after the Labor Day hurricane were used in the completion of U.S. Highway 1 when Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway Company went into receivership following the disaster that had incurred a $6 million price tag. The government stepped in, abandoned Flagler’s Folly, and began efforts to extend Highway 1 all the way to Key West. By 1938, they were successful. Most of U.S. 1 was rebuilt in the 1980’s, the former viaducts and bridges now fishing piers and/or part of the Florida Overseas Highway Trail.
Of course, we did manage to make one last stop while on our way out of Dodge/Florida Keys, at Pigeon Key Railroad Museum. You know Jimmy! He loves his trains.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the thousands of workers, government and private, that are part of the Key's history and attraction.
Next visit (sometime outside hurricane season), I plan to stop to see the Memorial in person.