Or “Postcards Sent Along the Way, of a Journey of the Heart.”
Grove Pioneer “Commodore” Ralph Munroe, most often behind the camera, here slakes his thirst with the cool, clean spring-fed waters of the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” A widely-accomplished man of many talents much beloved of his community, he is still widely celebrated as the builder of his family home on the Bay in Cocoanut Grove, “the Barnacle,” now the heart of a popular public park, and the oldest-surviving home in the County remaining in its original location.
Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
— Matsuo Basho
ABOUT a year or so ago, I suddenly realized that had to find the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” of Miami’s historic legend, if it still existed, or might be recognizable. The realization itself was unusual. It was different than “an idea,” like “Hey, let’s go catch this-or-that movie,” or even “let’s go and see Barcelona.” Any reasons for such a venture weren’t exactly known to me, yet in any case seemed beside the point, in light of the clarity and force with which the knowledge had suddenly and quietly come. As sure as I am, it had come from some “other place,” higher or deeper, and that was all I needed know.
Explaining such experiences can suggest (misleadingly) “a big deal,” and it was not. It was simple, yet extraordinary. In retrospect, the feeling was as if the plan had been waiting for me “outside of time,” full and complete. Once the moment had arrived when the next breath, or step, would offer the “click” leading me at last into readiness, the awareness dawned upon me with no more effort than either the breath, or the step. It was time.
Growing up in Miami, it seemed as if I had always heard tales told of, and read about the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” As described by Howard Kleinberg in his wonderful picture book of the area’s history, Miami: The Way We Were :
Situated about two miles south of the Miami River, along the shore of the bay, is one of perhaps Miami’s most mysterious and romantic historic sites– the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Located on what now is private property just south of Wainwright Park and immediately north of Vizcaya– In the 3000 block of Brickell– the Punch Bowl was a fresh water spring close to the shore.
Historians, while agreeing that not enough research has been done on the Punch Bowl, also say that its water has quenched the thirsts of Indians, explorers, pirates and pioneers through the centuries.
Kleinberg mentions a 1923 article in the Miami Herald featuring the punch bowl, reporting that early Grove pioneer “Commodore Ralph Munroe said the Punch Bowl was a watering hole as long as his memory reaches.” It also mentioned that “[i]n the memory of Mrs. Mary Brickell. the present owner of the site, the punch-bowl has always been in existence, antedating their possession of the land.”
Although a beautiful photograph, and certainly evocative, it and others like it didn’t really help, at all. Where in all of this mess, exactly, might the spring be? Maybe if one knew that, he or she could make out the “steps” described.
The “plantation” referred to had been built by a Charles Baron in 1830 with slave labor, both he and the Africans extremely early (non-native) arrivals to the the area. It remained productive for over 30 years, its crops mainly a variety of citrus, and cotton, until its abandonment at the onset of the Civil War. Within only a few years the dense subtropical Florida jungle/ forest (or “hammock,” based upon the Miccossukee word for “dry land”) had reclaimed the land, and the remnants of the home had become “all but indistinguishable” in the overgrowth. As early as 1877, observation is made that the site was popular not only for the delicious waters of the spring, but also the limes and other fruit produced by the venerable citrus trees still holding their own in the primeval forest.
The punch bowl had long since become the stuff of legend when this children’s book was published in 1893:
(The above image, and many others used in this posting, have been “borrowed” with sincere gratitude from the splendid Everglades Digital Library, an online resource demonstrating the clear benefit resulting when different institutions– “libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and others”—pool together and make available their individual holdings in service of a common cause. To all involved, I offer my thanks. Check out their site: http://cwis.fcla.edu/edl/index.php?P=Home )
AS we continue reading from the bottom of the last page on the right, above, we find described the following encounter with the punch bowl:
…of the other. After rowing about seven miles, we landed on the shore of the main-land, at а place called the Punch-Bowl, not far south of [the] Miami River. This was the place from which we were accustomed to procure water for the schooner’s casks and water-tank. It required four boat-loads of casks to fill the tank, and after it was filled, the casks were usually replenished. A full supply of water used to last from three to four weeks, as, excepting for the purpose of drinking, in which the men were not restricted, a very small amount of fresh water was allowed.
The Punch-Bowl is worthy of description. On the straight and wooded shore of the mainland is a little bluff which has been described as the remains of an ancient line of Кeуs which were once an ancient line of Reef. In the face of this bluff, which is separated from the water by a beach not exceeding two yards in width, is an excavation like a little cave, and in this excavation is a deep hole, called the Punch Bowl. It is filled with pure water that filters through the ground from the Everglades, which lie a few miles to the westward. It in an exhaustless spring, so close to the ocean that a high tide washes into its basin.
We ran the bows of the boats close to the Punch-Bowl, and, taking the bungs out of the casks, stationed two men with buckets at the spring. Each man dipped his bucket and passed it along a file of men reaching to his boat. In this way, the buckets constantly going to and fro, in the course of an hour the casks were filled. We started off immediately with our deeply-laden boats, and put up sail to aid our progress, as the casks so obstructed the thwarts that the men could not pull all the oars.
Now, the simple task awaiting was to pin down this Miami legend to a map, and, wherever it might be found, to go there. Simple, hunting down a legend, especially in Miami? Right? Hah! You try it, sometime!