Readers: In January 1893, federal postal officials opted not to renew their 8-year old contract for Star Route #6451. Thus came to an end, 125 years ago this week, the venture of one of the most colorful characters in South Florida’s pioneer history: the Barefoot Mailman.
The Historical Society of Palm Beach County places the official end of the route at Jan. 22, 1893.
Here’s more on the iconic character from past Post Time columns:
With no railroad or regular ship service, a letter from Jupiter to Miami took six to eight weeks via Key West, Havana and New York. Neither the open ocean nor the hostile interior provided a practical route. You could walk there in far less time. So that’s what people did.
Between 1885 and 1893, rugged pioneers traversed the 136 miles between Palm Beach and Key Biscayne. They traveled 56 miles in small boats and the remaining 80 on foot, walking in the hard sand at the ocean’s edge. The grueling trip took three days each way. A road to Miami spelled the end of the service.
For as long as anyone can remember, articles and books have counted only 11 “mailmen.” Marty Baum, of Jensen Beach, said in 2008 he’s uncovered documents showing there were at least 20. And he said documents show mailmen walked from as far north as Daytona Beach and did so as early as 1851. Baum gives presentations in the character of his great-great-grandfather, Capt. Hannibal D. Pierce, a keeper of Houses of Refuge in Delray Beach and Miami.
Theodore Pratt, in his best-selling 1943 novel “The Barefoot Mailman,” admittedly took lots of literary liberties. The book is loosely based on the most tragic incident in the brief run of the Mailman route: the disappearance of James Edward “Ed” Hamilton, the only mailman to die on duty.
Historians believe Hamilton, on what would be his last run, arrived at the Hillsboro Inlet near Pompano Beach on Oct. 11, 1887, and found his boat gone, apparently stolen.
The presumption is the determined mailman decided to swim the cove through waves whipped up by a storm. Some suspected he drowned; others surmised alligators did him in.
In 1968, Congress rejected a commemorative stamp, fearing it would “encourage youthful nonconformists in California to deliver the mail barefooted.” But the carriers are memorialized in the town seal of Hypoluxo, a historical marker at Boca Raton’s Spanish River Park and a statue of Hamilton near the spot in Broward County where he died.
The most dramatic tribute is a six-panel mural painted by Connecticut artist Steven Dohanos in the late 1930s. It hangs in the main U.S. Post Office on Summit Boulevard in suburban West Palm Beach.
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