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.

9 comments:

Dave said...

What a great tail, I mean tale!!

ch102523206759 said...

Stumbled on this via Linkedin. Great Blog. Really enjoyed reading it. Honestly. Hope you are doing well.

Paul Goeld said...

Loved it, Rich. Loved it. Keep 'em comin'...

Robin said...

As a former Tigertte, NM Pioneer 66..and researcher, I enjoyed your blog 'Tiger Tales' I have posted it on Facebook..to over a thousand other Pioneers...I am sure they will enjoy it as much as I did..Thank you.
Robin McGary Gerzina NM66

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was NE, not NW.

Garry Romanik said...

29630NMJH alum here. NMHS Best Alive '65! NMJH was quite an architectual achievement wasn't it? Built in a circle w/a 2-story auditorium in the middle and classrooms on two floors radiating out from the center. Mr.Rizzo and Mr. Nelson, PE? Mrs. Buckner, English? Mrs. Comstock and her polargist including her white hair streak in an otherwise head of blond hair? Remember?

Garry Romanik said...

NMJH alum here. NMHS Best Alive '65! NMJH was quite an architectual achievement wasn't it? Built in a circle w/a 2-story auditorium in the middle and classrooms on two floors radiating out from the center. Mr.Rizzo and Mr. Nelson, PE? Mrs. Buckner, English? Mrs. Comstock and her poltergeist including her white hair streak in an otherwise head of blond hair? Remember?

Andrea Ramos said...

Great information! Researching information to celebrate the City's 90th Anniversary. Former NM JR. High Tiger :)

Andrea

Unknown said...

I remember Mrs. Buckner!