Sally Dye of Boynton Beach wrote that she recently read Jonathon King’s novel The Styx. She wanted to know how much of it was based on fact.
We visited the topic last year, but let’s do so again, for Dye, and because the myth can’t be refuted too many times.
It’s been passed down by oral tradition and is accepted as gospel by many. But the evidence all but dismisses it.
The shantytown sprang up on Palm Beach’s County Road, north of the Royal Poinciana Hotel, in the 1890s for the more than 2,000 black workers at nearby hotels.
The story is that Henry Flagler was eager to oust the residents so he could develop the land. He had it condemned on health grounds, then hired a circus to set up across the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, gave black residents free passes, and while they enjoyed the show, burned their homes down. Another version places the incident on Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 5, 1906.
Inez Peppers Lovett, who was born in 1895, said in 1994, a year before her death, that she recalled packing up and leaving the Styx but remembers no fire.
T.T. Reese Jr., of the pioneer family, wrote in 1994 “to lay these questions to rest.”
First, Reese said, Flagler didn’t own the property. The Bradley brothers — Col. E.R. Bradley owned the famed Beach Club casino — bought the 30 acres around 1910 and by February 1912 had cut it into 230 residential lots.
In 1912, Reese said, Bradley ordered his father to move the residents out. He said his father gave them at least two weeks, and he remembers seeing them walk across the bridge, hauling their belongings. After everyone left, Reese said, his father cleared the land, pulled up the trash and burned it. Newspaper clippings from the time back Reese’s version of events. He died in 1997.
Here’s King, a friend and former writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
“My journalistic take is that the property considered The Styx was disbanded over time. Some of the inhabitants moved when told by the landowners to move, others held on until there were no options. Was there a fire on a single night that flushed the place out all at once? Probably not.”
Blacks who worked on Henry Flagler’s resort projects lived in a settlement near North County Road and Sunset Avenue, Palm Beach. The shantytown was known as the Styx. Up to 1,000 lived there at one time, some making a living by pedaling wicker wheelchair conveyances for Flagler’s hotel guests. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Tags: African Americans, fire, legends, Palm Beach
Readers: Here’s more on the Skunk Ape:
In 1972, one was sighted in the Meadowbrook area of West Palm Beach.
A month later, a Pahokee man said he and several large dogs fled from “a hairy eight-foot monster.”
In 1974, seven suburban West Palm Beach youngsters reported a sighting.
“I may be a little kid,” Laurie Holmes, 9, said, “but I know what I saw.”
One mom said the kids had vivid imaginations.
In June 1974, a Lake Worth man said the thing lifted one of his hogs, weighing 110 pounds, and tore it into three pieces. Buddy Sterrett said several neighbors saw it too.
“It has a smell that would make the hair on the back of your head stand up,” Sterrett said. “And it makes a weird sound, like a monkey chattering.”
In September 1974, a guard at a Wellington construction site said he shot and wounded a creature.
Authorities found no footprints or blood trail. He said the thing had come out of the woods and ignored his order to stop.
“It smelled like it had taken a bath in rotten eggs,” Cary Kanter said. “It made my eyes water.”
Weeks later, a family west of Greenacres said they found strange footprints around their home.
Then there was the 1976 sighting at a watermelon patch near Fort Myers.
And in 1977, two workers reported seeing a 7-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide, hairy apelike creature drinking water at a lake on a golf course near Delray Beach.
They called Palm Beach County Animal Regulation.
“You’d think that a creature that big would have left some kind of tracks or something,” department chief John Street said.
When a reporter demanded records, he snapped, “There are no records on this. That’s how stupid it is. But that’s my own opinion.”
Palm Beach Post file photo: An artist’s rendering of the Skunk Ape.
Readers: In honor of April Fools’ Day, we bring you: the Skunk Ape!
Florida’s answer to Bigfoot is a 7- to 12-foot, 300- to 700-pound human-ape thing that really stinks.
It supposedly hides in muddy, abandoned alligator caves, thus the smell.
For more than two centuries, people have sworn they saw it dash across the Everglades or retreat from a rural road.
In Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, barking dogs, petrified security guards and bug-eyed kids bear testament.
There are photographs, grainy and distant, but attested to by their bearers.
More than 75 sightings were reported in Florida in the past two decades.
The scare had started when an amateur archaeologist claimed he’d seen the thing in southwest Florida’s Big Cypress Swamp.
But it was concentrated locally in the 1970s, when South Florida then had more open space and about half the people it does now.
A local dispatcher said he was advising lawmen that locals were so jumpy the cops should identify themselves when they approached homes.
“I know it exists,” Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy Marvin Lewis said in 1980.
He said he and fellow deputy Ernie Milner made some 50 forays to the wild.
They said they shot something in 1974 west of Lantana that grunted and fled back to the dark. Another time, they found mysterious hair on a barbed-wire fence.
Lewis put in 27 years and retired in 1997. He hasn’t changed his mind.
He said recently that any along the coast were long ago driven west by encroaching civilization.
“I couldn’t point to a photo and say, ‘That’s what I saw,’” he said. “But cops act on investigation and evidence. And the evidence says something was there.”
Palm Beach Post file photo: This 1980 photo shows Marvin Lewis (left) and Ernie Milner, both former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies, with memorabilia about the Skunk Ape. More than 75 sightings have been reported in Florida in the past two decades.