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This week in history: The first Palm Beach County Oktoberfest

The American German Club of the Palm Beaches held its first Oktoberfest in 1974, on the Lantana Road grounds the club purchased in 1970. The club began in 1967 as the Bavarian-American Club, but changed its name in 1970 to welcome all Germans as members, not just Bavarians. And it’s American German rather than German American — unlike the other clubs in the German American Society of Florida — to express that club members are Americans first and Germans second.

Festival goers gather under the pines at the American German Club in 1983. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Kegs of beer, too numerous to count, stand waiting for the thirsty crowds just outside the festival tent in 1983. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Dancing to the music of Dick Dreher and the Rheinlanders at the 1983 Oktoberfest (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Chef Horst Stielow tends to a sampling of the tons of bratwurst, knockwurst, and other sausages served at the 1983 Oktoberfest. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Posted in Flashback blog and Our history in photos October 15, 2012 at 9:18 am.

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Palm Beach County in the 1940 Census

Hotels and other transient housing

April 9, 1940, was the day designated for counting people in hotels. The official manual instructed enumerators: “You are to complete the enumeration of all tourist or trailer camps, missions, and cheap one-night lodging houses in your district on the evening of April 8th, and of all hotels in your district on April 9th.”

The tourist camp and hotel enumerations in the Census are separate from the street-by-street listings that make up most of the Census images for Palm Beach County (you can find all of the Palm Beach County images online here).

Here’s an example of one of the enumeration pages for Palm Beach hotels, listing the Surfside Hotel, Balmoral Hotel, Southland Inn, Ocean Hotel, and the Brazilian Court:

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Guests at the Ocean Hotel included a singer, a petroleum products salesman, a newspaper correspondent, a broker of hides, and a rubber goods exporter.

Only one guest was counted in the hotels in Delray Beach, a building management executive staying at the Colony Hotel. Others listed on the hotel page include hotel owners, staff and their families.

Two tourist camps were listed in Lantana, Young’s Tourist Camp and Jitterbug Jungle Camp:

Prominent locals

In April 1940 George Morikami lived on Federal Highway near the end of Old Dixie Highway in what is now northern Boca Raton. He was 53 years old and listed his occupation as farm operator.

Click on the image to see the whole page from the 1940 Census at 1940census.archives.gov.

Morikami had come from Japan with a group of farmers who planted acres of pineapples, peppers and tomatoes. Ultimately the Yamato Colony failed, and most of the farmers moved to other parts of the United States or returned to Japan.

George Morikami remained after the colony disbanded, and continued cultivating fruits and vegetables and buying land. He lost much of his land during the Depression, and later the federal government confiscated more of it for the Boca Raton Army Air Field, but Morikami eventually donated 200 acres to Palm Beach County, which opened the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens on that land in 1977, one year after Morikami’s death.

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Posted in Flashback blog April 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm.

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Florida still restricts land ownership by immigrants ineligible for citizenship

The catastrophic earthquake in March has brought focus on Japan and its grieving compatriots here in America, and South Florida. In February, this reporter took his in-laws, visiting from Indiana, to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens near Delray Beach.

The Yamato-kan, the original museum building, which had opened in 1977, now includes an exhibit about the colony. It mentions that a 1926 constitutional amendment, which would give the legislature the right to ban land ownership by aliens ineligible for citizenship, “is still in effect today.”

Well, didn’t a 2008 constitutional amendment take care of that? Whoops. No. Amendment 1 failed, 48 to 52 percent.

Here are excerpts of a piece our Tallahassee colleague, Dara Kam, wrote in advance of the 2008 vote:

The Florida legislature added the “alien land law” to the state constitution in 1926, restricting the ownership of property by immigrants ineligible for citizenship. Florida is the only state with such a constitutional provision.

Federal law then granted naturalized citizenship only to whites and to blacks of African descent.

The legislature never passed any laws under the provision and could not anyway, experts said, because it violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating by race.

Sponsors said taking the 23 words out of the state constitution would be symbolic similar to removing laws allowing slavery.

Proponents feared confused voters would think the question covers illegal aliens or terrorists. Asian-American civil rights organizations were mum on the amendment, and even national experts on the topic of alien land laws were unaware that it was on the ballot, fueling worries that it might not pass — which it didn’t.


Morikami, of course, had its start in the short-lived Yamato Colony, founded at the turn of the 20th century in Boca Raton. Starting in 1974, former colonist and naturalized U.S. citizen George Morikami (pictured above) donated nearly 200 acres to Palm Beach County for the museum that bears his name.

Special thanks to Morikami cultural director Tom Gregerson.

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens near Delray Beach has an exhibit about the short-lived Yamato Colony. It was founded at the turn of the 20th century in Boca Raton. Starting in 1974, former colonist George Morikami donated nearly 200 acres to Palm Beach County for the museum that bears his name. (Courtesy of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens)

Readers: Our April 14 column said Cap Dimick misspelled the Palm Beach road as Chilian Avenue “and it’s still spelled that way.” Post staff researcher Michelle Quigley reminds us the town council voted in 2003 to change it to the proper Chilean.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg April 28, 2011 at 9:03 am.

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German immigrant may have been Palm Beach County’s first resident

Question: Who was the first resident of what’s now Palm Beach County?

Answer: The leading candidate is a mysterious hermit named Augustus Oswald Lang. We know the German immigrant was here as early as the 1860s, having moved from Fort Pierce, perhaps to avoid being drafted into the Confederate army.

Palm Beach Inlet, also called Lake Worth Inlet, was originally named Lang’s Inlet. He’d dug a narrow trench through the beach ridge in the early 1860s that lowered the lake to sea level.

Lang then got a job as assistant keeper of the Jupiter Lighthouse.

On Aug. 15, 1861, the 30-year old, backed by other Confederate loyalists, ordered his boss, J.F. Papy, to surrender the lighting mechanism to the house, built in 1860 on what was then Confederate soil.

The idea was to stymie Union ships pursuing blockade runners, who already knew the coast.

Papy, loyal to his federal paycheck and his mission to keep boaters safe, said no, but was finally pressured into relinquishing the light mechanism.

Because it was so valuable, Lang and his cohorts didn’t destroy it; they just hid it. On June 28, 1866, the lighthouse was relighted, and except for hurricanes and a brief electrical problem in the late 1980s, it didn’t go dark again until a 1999 renovation.

Lang eventually enlisted in the Confederate army in January 1862 but deserted a year and a half later. In 1866, two settlers from what’s now Miami found him living in what’s today Palm Beach.

Lang moved around 1867 to the North Fork of the St. Lucie River, where he worked with plants and raised hogs and cows.

He later married the 15-year-old daughter of the only other family in the area. But two months before his only child was born, three men showed up, asking him to take them up the river to find their runaway horses. Once they rounded the bend, they shot Lang dead. His body never was found.

One of the killers later was shot. The other two confessed to stuffing his corpse in an alligator crawl. He said the three had planned to use Lang’s cleared property for their cattle.

Update: Our Aug. 12 column on Pearl City prompted West Palm Beach real estate broker Linda Cullen to plan a visit. But she couldn’t find the roads on a map. Boca Raton Historical Society archivist Sue Gillis to the rescue: Sapphire is Northeast 10th Street. Ruby is Northeast 11th Street. Pearl is Northeast 12th Street east of Dixie Highway and west of Federal Highway. Thanks, Sue. Linda reports the streets show both names.

Sources: Palm Beach Post archives and James D. Snyder’s “A Light in the Wilderness.”

Augustus Oswald Lang (Image courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

Jupiter Lighthouse circa 1879. Lang, worked at the lighthouse during the Civil War. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg August 26, 2010 at 8:49 am.

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Butterfly Ballot Doesn’t Crack Area’s Top 10

This is our 500th column since Post Time began Jan. 19, 2000.

Special thanks go to recently retired Managing Editor Bill Rose, who had the idea, and Neighborhood Post editor Tom Peeling, who’s shepherded all 500 columns, along with all the copy editors who caught my mistakes.

But we couldn’t do it without your interest. Keep the questions coming! To honor the moment, we’re running an updated version of a list we compiled in 1999 of the 25 top events. Several state and local historians volunteered to rank them. The list was revised with help from Bill McGoun, retired Post editorial writer and author of Southeast Florida Pioneers.

Here’s 25 through 11:

25. Dairy industry bought out, 1980s-1990s.

24. Scandals send three county commissioners and two West Palm Beach commissioners and alleged accomplices to prison.

23. Proposed U.S. Sugar deal would restore sugar fields to Everglades (2009).

22. Downtown revitalized, 1980s-2000s.

21. 1980s spark increased growth.

20. Interstate 95 missing link completed through region, 1987.

19. Florida Atlantic University founded, 1964.

18. Civil War, 1861-65; Jupiter Lighthouse darkened to help blockade runners.

17. Battles of Okeechobee, Jupiter help push Seminoles into Everglades, 1837-38.

16. Region struggles through integration woes, late 1960s-early ’70s.

15. Refugees from Latin America and Caribbean change region’s demographics, 1960s-90s.

14. Jonathan Dickinson chronicles Indian groups now extinct, 1696.

13. Anthrax attack starts in Boca Raton; local aspects of Sept. 11.

12. IBM, Pratt & Whitney and others bring high-tech industry to Florida, 1950s-’60s.

11. 2000 election and Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot change presidential election.

Palm Beach Post file photo: Visitors examine some of the super engines built by Pratt & Whitney in northern Palm Beach County during an open house in 1978. Pratt and IBM, which was in southern Palm Beach County, brought the high-tech industry to Florida in the 1950s-’60s and provided thousands of jobs.”

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg August 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm.

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