Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tiger Tail

Our last post (did you notice the use of the royal plural?) was
entitled 'Tiger's Tale' and since this one is 'Tiger Tail', you can tell it's completely different. Actually, it's still on the theme of North Miami and now I'm going to annoy you with history and geography. Sorry. There's a point made later.

Ah, North Miami. Although formally established under this name in 1926, Europeans have been living in the Arch Creek area since 1858. That's a long time in 'Miami years'. To the rest of the country, that's like the sixteenth century.

Dade County's first major road to the outside world was the 'Military Trail' and it ran right through the eastern part of North Miami. It can be traced from what is now Biscayne Boulevard right through Arch Creek Park where the Natural Bridge was and down NE 16th. Avenue to rejoin with Biscayne Boulevard. In south Florida, the Military Trail ran through Fort Pierce and Fort Lauderdale to Fort Dallas (later renamed 'Miami'). The purpose of the road was to move troops during the Seminole Wars.

There were three so-called 'Seminole Wars' but they actually involved many different tribes in addition to the Seminoles. During the Second Seminole War which ended in 1842 one of the lead strategists was Thlocko Tustenuggee who wore a Florida panther tail on his waist and went by the respected name Tiger Tail. Tiger Tail lived around Tallahassee and is not known to have ever been to the Miami area. But his legend made it there along with some namesakes.

There was a warrior in the Third Seminole War (which ended in 1858) who was also known as Tiger Tail. He is referred to as Old Tiger Tail or Big Tiger Tail and he had a younger relative called Young Tiger Tail or Little Tiger Tail.

The younger man may have been his son or nephew. More likely a nephew, actually, since the matrilineal Indian culture had sons follow their mother's clan not their father's. Consequently, men in Old Tiger Tail's clan would be the sons of his sisters - his nephews.

Now before I tie this huge mess together, I have to bring in the geography part. South Florida exists as we know it because of a thin ridge of limestone that runs down the southeast coast. The Military Trail followed this narrow limestone ridge and was used later to be developed into Dixie Highway which was later expanded and developed into US 1 - Biscayne Boulevard.

This limestone ridge forms the eastern edge of a huge, wide river that runs from Lake Okeechobee south to the ocean. That river is the Everglades. Most of what is Dade County now used to be a part of the Everglades and in the rainy season it was underwater. Underwater as in 'swamp'. This map from 1888 shows the Everglades almost to the coast.

From downtown Miami north to the Broward County line, there were only a few breaks in that thin limestone ridge: The Miami River, Little River, Snake Creek (then Snake River), Arch Creek and the Oleta River. If not for the modern day extensive range of canals and man-made lakes, Dade County would still be mostly swamp today.

During the rainy season, Old Tiger Tail, Little Tiger Tail and the other Seminoles, Miccosukees, Tequestas and other tribes lived on the islands in this swamp and moved around the landscape in their canoes. They camped on these 'islands' and the camps were identified when the mapmakers hit south Florida. One of those island camps was located on what we would now call North Miami.

On this map from 1890, three Indian towns are clearly identified. Tigers Tail Town named for Old Tiger Tail, Aleck Town (yes, 'Aleck') named for another warrior named Old Alec, and Little Tigers Town named for Little Tiger Tail. Tigers Tail Town and Aleck Town were around where Arch Creek Park is now and Little Tigers Town appeared in the area between downtown North Miami and William Jennings Bryan Elementary School.

By 1917, four major canals had been cut to allow the land to dry out and be habitable. The Biscayne Canal drained most of what is North Miami now.

And what's the point of all this then? You can't ever know yourself and the land where you live without discovering what was there before. That's the point!

Now, go out and study something. ;->

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tiger's Tale

For those of you who have read more than one entry of this thing I laughingly refer to as my 'blog', you
know it sometimes takes such sudden and unexpected turns that some people get a little queasy. If that's the case, you'd better put on your seat belt for this one.

The reason for the sudden bounces is that sometimes I feel a bit like Billy Pilgrim. I'm sure you know who Billy Pilgrim is and if not, see if you can find a library still operating and check out Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
The actual title is Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Now that's a title!

Billy becomes 'unstuck in time' and jumps around to different events in his life, much as I'm doing in this 'blog'. Vonnegut being a better writer, his work doesn't produce that queasy, upset stomach feeling. So, in this post, the logical thing for me to do is to talk about my first junior high, North Miami Junior High School.
The natural place to start such a discussion is with Herman Roman Gustav Proske who was born in Vienna on Sept. 21, 1898 and died in Miami in July 3, 1972. In 1911, exactly one hundred years ago, when Proske was thirteen years old, he ran away and joined the circus. How great is that!

He went on to become what many consider the greatest big cat trainer that ever lived. He wrote two autobiographical books about training lions and tigers and even today Proske is still considered the authority on one arcane aspect of big cat handling that had never really occurred to me.

Among serious students of big cat interaction, the question of who would win during a battle between a lion and a tiger is a matter of much discussion and debate. No debate from Proske, however, he stood entirely behind the tiger and referred to his eye-witness accounts of actual battles. The tiger always won, and such respect is shown, at least in part, by his choice of the nickname 'Tiger' Proske. The main reason people say 'lions and tigers' instead of 'tigers and lions' is because of the Wizard of Oz, not because lions are better.

Proske arrived in New York on June 23, 1933 and was detained for not bothering to get a visa. He put on shows and built zoos around the country and finally ended up in Miami, Florida where he built the North Miami Zoo. At his 'tiger farm', he showed off his
many tigers including the famous Nubian the Tiger along with his 200 pound chimps Congo the Great and Gargantua. The chimps were probably more dangerous than the tigers. Tigers just kill you, they don't rip your face off and eat it like chimps do.

Here's Proske below with his pals.
His North Miami Zoo was located on NE 131st Street between 7th and 8th Avenues just a half block from West Dixie Highway. This block is the location today of the newly built North Miami Senior High School. I wonder if today's students who attend that school know what lies beneath their feet? Remember, Diaspar was not always thus.

When North Miami's population exploded following World War II it became clear that a new high school was required. Land was donated by Edward L. Constance from the High Pines Addition to Iron Manor. That site extended from NE 135th Street to 137th Street and from NE 7th Avenue to 9th Avenue. The Edward L. Constance Junior-Senior High School opened in the fall of 1951 being renamed North Miami High School four years later.

In the image below from today (which becomes much clearer when you double click on it), the original North Miami High School site is that horizontal four blocks on the top half of the photo with all those big buildings on it. The new High School is the vertical four blocks in the lower portion of the photo. The zoo was located in the lowest two blocks where the new High School buildings are now.
Beginning as a Junior-Senior High School mostly with students from nearby William Jennings Bryan which was running grades 1-8 at the time, the new school became overcrowded immediately. So more land was required and Tiger Proske's zoo was targeted. After a spectacular uproar (get the tiger reference?) nearly causing a civil war in North Miami, the tiger farm was purchased and North Miami Junior High School was built there in 1955. Also built on the former zoo property was the North Miami Armory and Municipal Pool.

Now, here's what the area looked like in March 1952 during the High School's first year of classes. Construction is still underway at the High School and Proske's zoo is still in full operation, you can see the zoo in that square with dark growth near the bottom of the photo. You can see it better if you double click on the photo. That's West Dixie Highway cutting diagonally across the image.
After North Miami Junior High School was completed, they paid homage to their predecessors on that land by calling themselves the Tigers. Their yearbook was named Tiger's Tale. See? Everything's a circle.

But speaking of
circles, I did some of this research the other day and a lot of this work is very obscure and frankly difficult. Thank goodness for the Internet. But the very night I discovered that the name of the zoo owner was Roman Proske, I was mindlessly watching this idiotic movie called Vampires Suck which is a parody of the Twilight series. And who do you suppose is the star? Jenn Proske. What are the chances? Is the Proske name really everywhere and I just never noticed? But twice in the same day? Geez, it gave me a little chill.

Next time, I'll drop the other shoe and tell you about Tiger Tail.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Grim Reaper Hovers

I might have mentioned that I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol when I went to Carol City Junior High. Of course I mentioned it, I don't just make this stuff up. For students, it's a way to learn about aviation especially if you intend to go into the US Air Force since it is the official Air Force Auxiliary.

None of the people in this photograph is me because, strangely enough, I have no photos of me in uniform. You might think, "Surely there will be some offhand snapshot." But, nooooo.

Actually, it's for the best because this is what I looked like in eighth grade so the fewer photographs, the better. Geez, look at that hair! What's the matter with me?

Naturally, after all this experience and training, I joined the US Navy instead. Of course, the Navy has an excellent flight program, but they thought things would be better for everyone if I served on a Destroyer which is as far from any aircraft as humanly possible.

The Civil Air Patrol really was a great opportunity for exposure to things I had no contact with before. I learned how to march, and what a 'load factor' is (i.e.,
the ratio of the lift of an aircraft to its weight). You gotta know this stuff or you may not be able to march to your aircraft and get it off the ground.

But I also got to fly in small civilian aircraft like Cessnas and Piper Cubs and the legendary DC-3 (pictured above), which many consider the most perfect aircraft ever built.

This airplane was designed in 1932 and is still in daily retail operation around the world. You got any 1932 automobiles being used as taxis? Many pilots still believe the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3. This respect shows in the other commonly used phrase that the DC-3 is '
a collection of parts flying in loose formation'. And I got to fly in one.

So, because I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, I got to play a small part in the closest thing to nuclear war the world has ever seen - The Cuban Missile Crisis. And it was a crisis. For those who didn't live through it (or who can't remember it), it was particularly nasty for those of us who lived in south Florida. After all, that's about 20 seconds flying time for a missile from Cuba.

Kennedy and Khrushchev (in this photo above, Kennedy is asking Nikita to 'pull his finger') got into a royal pushing and shoving contest because of some missiles that Khrushchev has snuck into Cuba.

For a while there, it was really tense, many people thought there would be nuclear war at any moment. The US rushed boatloads of missiles to Miami and set up acres of launch sites. There was a really big Nike Hercules facility just a couple of miles from where I lived at the time and they didn't even bother to try to hide it.

But, no, they didn't ask the Civil Air Patrol cadets to man the missiles. We were put to work at the Opa Locka Airport putting together civil defense food and emergency packages in case that war happened. I'm not sure what good it would have done us if Miami had been nuked and all our sand had been turned into a kind of root-beer-colored glass. Well, it kept us busy.

Nowadays, I doubt that people realize how close October 1962 came to all of us going pbbtttth. A lot of Congress wanted to go ahead with the big one and called Kennedy 'reluctant'. He was probably just concerned that we hadn't finished those food packages and was buying us some more time.

I'm good with that.