Q: Who was the Barefoot Mailman?
A: One of the region’s most endearing figures is the legendary mail carrier who walked barefoot along the hard sand at the ocean’s edge from Palm Beach to Miami. He’s remembered in markers, town seals, statues, murals, books and films.
In the 1880s, South Florida’s pioneer outposts had no railroad or regular ship service. A letter from Miami to Jupiter took six to eight weeks via Key West, Havana and New York. Neither the open ocean nor the hostile interior provided a practical route. So between 1885 and 1893, 11 rugged pioneers traversed the 136 miles, 56 in small boats and 80 on foot, between Palm Beach and Key Biscayne. The grueling trip took three days each way.
One of the 11, James E. “Ed” Hamilton, never completed his appointed round. On Oct. 9, 1887, on what would be his last run, he found himself at the Hillsboro Inlet, near Pompano Beach. Historians believe he found his boat gone, apparently stolen. The presumption is that the determined mailman decided to swim the cove through waves whipped up by a storm. Some concluded he drowned; others blamed alligators.
A new road to Miami in 1892 spelled the end of the Barefoot Mailman. The bestselling 1943 novel, The Barefoot Mailman, by Theodore Pratt was based on the lives of Hamilton and fellow barefoot mailman Charles W. Pierce.
In 1968, Congress rejected a commemorative stamp, fearing it would “encourage youthful nonconformists in California to deliver the mail barefooted.” But the carriers were 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 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 West Palm Beach.
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