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Historical Pageants

Suniland Magazine


About four decades ago an expedition of treasure hunters buffetted on the flooding tides of a tropical hurricane sought refuge in the fresh waters of the Miami River. This seafaring crew was returning from a successful trip to South America, where a rich booty in the form of buried gold had been found. Several miles up the river they selected a camp site and pitched their tents.

Lookouts of the Seminole Indians had kept tab on the arrival of the newcomers. They summoned reenforcements. Just before sundown they attacked the mariners. This first attack was repulsed. The sailors, appreciating the seriousness of their situation picked out a sandy knoll back some distance from the shore and there buried their treasure chests. During the night the Indians re-attacked and slew all except one of the seamen. They left this man for dead. Although badly wondeful, he escaped in the darkness, swam the river and finally reached the trading post where the city of Miami stands today.

This man, a native of Ohio, borrowed enough money to return home. There, after a long illness, he died of pneumonia contracted as a result of exposure. Before he passed away he told his nephew where the treasure gold had been concealed. One year later the nephew came to Miami and ultimately located the camping place of the storm-tossed seamen. He hired help and superintended extensive search for the lost treasure. In the course of time Robert Kilpatrick, owner of the property, appeared and ordered the trespassers away. Henceforward, during his possession of the property, Mr. Kilpatrick has turned over much of the sandy soil in quest of the interred gold. The treasure has never been found. The property gained the name of "Treasure Spot." A score of years ago it was purchased by a wealthy capitalist who developed it into one of the show places of southern Florida.

In this picturesque setting with its romantic and historical background the Housekeepers' Club of Coconut Grove annually stages one of the most interesting historical pageants of sunny Southland. Amidst towering royal palm trees on velvety turfed lawns, amateur actors give outdoor performances and Spectacular scenes illustrative of the early days of Florida and the outstanding events which contributed to its history. It was exactly four years ago that the Housekeepers Club, the dean of all women's clubs in southern Florida, created a committee of Fine Arts with the idea of promoting community interest in pageantry. During the first three years performances included such features as "A Tour of the Orient" and "A Trip Around the World." Millionaires and their wives and some of our foremost Americans participated in these remarkable spectacles. The fourth year, the most pretentious performance of all was given. It took the form of a great pageant of history and progress. It featured the vital facts which led to the discovery and development of Florida. Naturally, for complete success, the audience at such an out-door exposition must be perfectly attuned to the ideas and ideals of pageantry. Pageantry is a distinct form of entertainment suggesting both the drama and the motion pictures. The audience must visualize much that they do not actually see. The imagination of the spectators has to supply the drop curtain, scenic settings and portable stage. Nature adds her glories to the pageantry performance. which is held outdoors.

William Jennings Bryan, a leading citizen of Coconut Grove, was an enthusiastic advocate of pageantry and allied forms of community entertainment. It was largely through his personal service and interest that the Housekeepers' Club performances were so successful. The civic bodies and all the clubs and fraternal orders of this justly famous Floridian town have also lent their aid. In fact, whenever one of the pageants is programmed for a certain afternoon the mayor of Coconut Grove proclaims a local holiday so that the butcher, the baker and the bootmaker as well as many leaders of American society can foregather and enjoy the entertainment. Here indeed is a melting pot of democracy typical of the caliber of common good fellowship which notable Thomas Jefferson revered and fostered.

It was on Florida's birthday - the date of our southernmost state's admission to the Union - that the mammoth historical Spectacle in seven episodes was latterly celebrated. The queen of the pageant was Mrs. William V. Little, formerly a prominent Shakesperean dramatist who has latterly lived a sequstered life in her socalled "Little House in Ye Little Wood" in Coconut Grove. This lady was selected unanimously by the Coconut Grove Town Council and the Woman's Club for the stellar role in the performance.

With the bright sun shedding brilliant radiance over the scene, with thousands of spectators seated under the regal palms and with the gentle trade winds putting temporary motion into the tropical foliage, the pageant opened with the prologue tableau "Queen Isabella's Pledge," illustrative of Columbus' success after long years of waiting in finding a believer who would finance his voyage of discovery. After the thrilling words of the Spanish Queen, who said, "I undertake the enterprise for my own crown of Castile and I will pledge my jewels to raise the necessary funds." were read, William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner, recited Joaquin Miller's poem "Columbus."

The first episode recalled the discovery of America. Turn back the pages of your dog-eared history and you will revive the historical facts-how Columbus, an Italian navigator under the auspices of Spain, sailed from the harbor of Palos on August 3, 1492. on what proved to be the most eventful voyage of history, as it resulted in the finding of the New World. On October 12 he landed at San Salvador, a small island of the West Indies. Columbus claimed that he had demonstrated that the earth was round and that by sailing westward he would reach the coast of India. In these scenes judge W. A . Foster took the part of Christopher Columbus.

In the second episode, the Indian village of Selooe, now the site of St. Augustine, was blessed by the priests and claimed for the King of Spain. Your history will inform you as you turn its pages that Ponce de Leon shipped with Columbus on his second voyage. He undertook the conquest of Puerto Rico and was made governor of that island. As a result of jealousy in Spain de Leon was subsequently demoted from power. He then invested his entire fortune in purchasing and equipping three small ships. His expedition when outfitted started northward in search of islands rich in gold and silver treasure and a river of such virtue that whoever bathed in it would be restored to everlasting youth. The Indians claimed that there was a fountain called Bimini which possessed the same properties. Ponce de Leon landed where St. Augustine now stands on Easter Sunday, 1513, and named the new country Florida. Accompanied by his band of cavaliers, Ponce de Leon in three different expeditions searched for the fountain of youth until in 1520, in a battle with the pre-historic Indians, he received severe wounds which caused his death.

Jolly sea rovers garbed in pirate costume and sailing an ancient craft under a black flag piled up the Miami River representing the third episode of the historical pageant the days of piracy and smuggling along the Floridian keys. The era of Indian massacres and outrages was next presented in pantomime. The Perrine Indian massacre occurred not far from Coconut Grove. Dr. Perrine. an expert of the national Departmerit of Agriculture. was sent by Uncle Sam to establish an experimental station at Cutler, Florida. One day, the Seminoles crated by firewater attacked and killed Dr. Perrine. His wife and children escaped in a rowboat and finally were rescued by a federal revenue culler.

The historic old boat of Captain Fulford, the founder of Fulford, Florida, was used in the fifth episode. Captain Fulford and his crew were employed by Uncle Sam for many years in a campaign to exterminate pirates and freebooters from the coasts of Florida. Later, Captain Fulford used his vessel in bringing newcomers to Florida. The important decision of Henry M. Flagler to extend his railroad down the coast as far at was feasible was the subject of the sixth episode. It was on Christmas Eve, 1895 that the great freeze occurred which brought ruin to the citrus towers of northern and central Florida. Immediately after the freeze, James E. Ingraham. Mr. Flagler's lieutenant, visited southern Florida in the Coconut Grove latitude and found the orange, lemon and lime trees there uninjured and in bloom. He gathered as many blossoms as possible, wrapped them in moist cotton and hurried Augustine. When Mr. Flagler ascertained that the frost had not extended to southern Florida. he determined to extend the railroad to that section of warm sunshine. This southern Florida as a homing grounds of winter visitors from all parts of die world gained its birthright.

Airplanes from Hialeah circled the sky while regulars and state militiamen waged mimic warfare depictive of Florida's part in the World War. The work of the Red Cross, varios wartime organizations were recalled in pageantry. And then the arrival of the tourists and winter visitors speeding up the river in yachts and motorboat. Finally their pleasure craft were moored and midst tropical scenes close to fragrant groves of citrus fruit as the dugouts of the Indians poled by gaily-garbed Seminoles glided by. The festival of pageantry closed with a tea dansant on the river bank in the twinkling daylight. That same evening, the "Queen's Ball" at Housekeepers' Club in Coconut Grove terminated the greated gala occasion in the history of the beautiful town where live such famous Americans as Commodore Munroe, Kirk Munroe, he noted writer of boys' books, Admirals Ross, Boush and Doyle, retired officers of the U.S. Navy, Mrs. Augustus St. Gaudens, widow of the internationally famous sculptor, Professor and Mrs. David Todd, famous astronomers of Amherst College, David Fairchild, chied of the Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction Office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Major R.A. Owen of the British Army, whose wife is the daugher of the late W.J. Bryan, John Bradley, former president of the Pittsburg Steel Company, Dr. Charles DeGarmo of Cornell University, and many others.

Bedford, James K. "Florida's Historical Pageant."
Suniland, Nov. 1925, Vol. 3, No. 2. Pgs. 74-75; 228


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