The Elephant Caddie
Taken in 1921 or 1922, this photo was part of a publicity stunt by developer Carl Fisher to promote Miami Beach as a luxury vacation destination. The elephant, “Rosie,” was employed in a variety of schemes, including giving children rides, pulling gondolas along the waterways and serving as a diving board for bathing beauties.
The caddie stunt apparently was inspired by the visit of president-elect Warren Harding to Miami Beach in 1921. Harding, a golf fanatic, would return several times before dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1923.
Elephants were imported by Carl Fisher and other Miami Beach developers for a variety of jobs, including pulling mangrove stumps and lifting cinder blocks. One can imagine that elephants were more useful than heavy machinery on swampy, soft terrain.
Fisher also employed another elephant, Baby Carl, in a similar fashion. Both elephants apparently were quite friendly and compliant. I can’t imagine how they convinced Rosie to serve as a teeing ground for a golfer.
According to one account, Rosie’s last known appearance was in 1938, when she appeared at a Miami Beach Party. Another says that after the devastating 1926 hurricane, Rose was sold to an Atlanta Zoo, which sold her in 1935 to a traveling circus. Interestingly, the novel Water For Elephants, which is set in the 1930s, features an elephant named Rosie.
Miami Beach is built on the barrier islands (some of which are man-made), that separate the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. Miami proper is on the other side of Biscayne Bay from Miami Beach. The land first was developed in the 1880s as a coconut plantation. That project failed, but other crops, such as avocados were tried. In the early 20th century, developers, such as Carl Fisher, saw the possibilities of the islands as a resort destination. Fisher ultimately made the dream possible by financing a wood bridge to the mainland.
Fisher, who was one of the founders of the Indianapolis Speedway and an early automobile entrepreneur, was a promotional genius. By 1915, the island had three hotels, two bath houses, and aquarium and an 18 hole golf course. In the ensuing years, grand hotels such as The Flamingo, The Fleetwood, The Floridian, The Nautilus and the Roney Plaza became staples of the beach scene. Slogans such as “It’s Always June in Miami Beach,” and “Miami Beach, Where Summer Spends The Winter” attracted northern tourists.
Unfortunately, it all came to a crashing halt with the devastating Hurricane of 1926. That hurricane killed upwards of 500 people, and is the second costliest in US history, when adjusted for inflation. It destroyed a large proportion of the tourist facilities in Miami Beach, including the “Million Dollar Pier,” and the Fulford-Miami Speedway. Reconstruction following the hurricane consisted mostly of smaller hotels and houses that now are the historic “Art Deco” district.
That Art Deco district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Today, homes there are among the most expensive in the United States.