Dateline: Real-Life Adventure in the Miami River, 1896 "Paul’s Safari Into the Miami’s History"

Or,  A Moonlight Swim in the Miami River

THE following passage is borrowed from my favorite source on Miami’s history du jour, Herbert J. Lowing’s The World’s Miami:


IF the stories told of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay of  the early days can be believed, it must indeed have been an enticing, exotic spot.


 Tropical shrubbery, stately royal palms, beautiful waters flowing languidly between banks invisible behind overhanging trees and bushes, fish leaping from the waters, birds in the air and for six months of the year as near absolute perfection in climate as one spot can possibly have—all these, and more, for as one  floated along that gentle stream and out onto the shimmering surface of the Bay, then indeed one could “rave“ and still be truthful. Biscayne Bay is beyond doubt the most beautiful sheet of water in the Americas and its marvelous colors and matchless beauty defy description.

1Miami, Fla. River Scene, postmarked 1906.

     The beauty of Miami‘s Bay, the fragrance of the flowers, the health-restoring powers of the climate, would alone have attracted and held an ever increasing family of enthusiasts but it would have grown in a slow and gradual way and would still be just the little village, delightfully appealing, that it was in the late ’90s.

3On the banks of the Miami River, in the locale of today’s downtown Miami. 1890’s.

The  Miami of those days is well illustrated by the following.

   “On a bright moonlight night, in the spring of 1896, a number of pioneers plunged into the Miami River, at the foot of Avenue D [today’s Miami Avenue] and were enjoying swimming from shore to shore.  In the midst of this refreshing exercise the terrifying cry of “Alligator” broke the stillness of the night and precipitated the swimmers into a scramble for safety to the banks of both sides of the stream. 

One of the bathers, a former resident of Fort Pierce, who had studied the habits of the alligator in its haunts on the shores of the Indian River felt the closing jaws of a monster alligator upon his shoulder. Without emitting a sound he injected the tips of his fingers into the eyes of the brute and was instantly released.  After having his wounds cauterized, he secured a row-boat and rifle and set out on an alligator hunt vowing to kill the brute that attacked him.  He persisted in the hunt for several nights until he finally located and slew the monster.” *

(*The writer quotes the account from Historical Sketches and Sidelights of Miami, Florida, by Isidor Cohen.)

6The River had always been the natural habitat for the American Alligator, which is (in all fairness) generally quite shy and non-aggressive as a species.This one must have been
hungry but chose its quarry poorly, becoming the hunted rather than hunter.

It happened here, folks!

Thank you.

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