Imagine shaking hands with President Harry S Truman in Everglades National Park.
You could have done it on December 6, 1947, when President Truman came to Everglades City, Florida, to dedicate the park – or on March 2, 2013, during the third annual Vintage Day, a reenactment of Everglades history and culture.
This year’s Vintage Day theme, “The Fight to Preserve Paradise,” focused on the controversies and political battles during the first half of the 20th Century that culminated in the creation of Everglades National Park.
Visitors received a commemorative stamp book that they filled with stamps distributed by the various reenactors. Rangers led guided walks in the Royal Palm area. Speakers described the early Everglades and life at Flamingo when it was a remote fishing village. The Everglades Association provided ice cream treats.
As in past years, the reenactors brought Everglades history to life. President Truman (portrayed by Charlie Wilson, a volunteer from upstate New York) greeted visitors at the Royal Palm Visitor Center. With him was Rep. Ruth Bryan Owen (portrayed by park ranger Kimberly Oppen), Florida’s first female Congressperson, who sponsored legislation designating the Everglades as a national park.
They directed the visitors’ attention to a photo of the dedication, with President Truman speaking and Rep. Owen standing to his left on the platform; and another photo of President Truman driving a big, shiny black 1947 Cadillac convertible into Everglades City as a throng of wellwishers lined the street near the city hall.
Also on the dedication platform was a reluctant Ernest F. Coe (portrayed on Vintage Day by ranger Kevin Bowles Mohr). Coe spent two decades urging government officials to create the national park, then was frustrated because its boundaries included only about a quarter of the land he felt it should encompasss. He almost skipped the dedication, but agreed at the last minute to attend. The park’s main visitor center is named for him.
Other Vintage Day participants included May Mann Jennings (portrayed by ranger Julie Abreu), president of the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs and wife of Florida Governor William Sherman Jennings. She led the decade-long effort to establish Royal Palm State Park. Created in 1916, the state park later became the nucleus of the national park. Ms. Jennings and several other FFWC members were on hand to greet Vintage Day visitors.
Frances Young (portrayed by Christiana Admiral, a ranger at nearby Biscayne National Park) was the wife of Frank Young, a “ligger” who collected Liguus tree snails. Over fifty-nine Liguus color varieties have been seen in and around the Everglades. Some are now extinct.
In a Vintage Day monologue both humorous and horrifying, Ms. Young described her one and only snail hunt, based on an article she wrote for the park newspaper in 1953. She told how a ligger finding a rare snail variety would take it and then burn the tree on which it rested to keep other liggers from collecting that variety.
After working as a park ranger, Ms. Young became Dade County’s first female naturalist. In that capacity, she trained Roger L. Hammer, who served as senior interpretive naturalist for Miami-Dade County’s Parks Department. Today he’s a renowned expert on Everglades wildflowers.
Guy Bradley (portrayed by ranger Greg Reed) was America’s first environmental martyr. He was fatally shot by Walter Smith, a hunter who killed herons for their decorative breeding plumes. Bradley was a plume hunter and guide in the Flamingo area until Florida enacted a ban on plume hunting in 1900. Then he became the birds’ protector. In 1902 the Florida Audubon Society hired him as a bird warden and deputy sheriff to issue citations and arrest violators of the ban.
Bradley eerily recounted his death in 1905 and its aftermath. “I told Smith he was under arrest. That’s the last thing I remember. He said I fired first. His two sons were there; they backed up his story, but everyone knew that wasn’t true. I was the best shot in Flamingo, and my gun showed no signs of having been fired.” After spending five months in jail in Key West, Smith was tried, claimed self-defense, and was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Note: Click on the “Subscribe” button above to receive an email each time the Miami Travel Examiner publishes a new article.