Title: New book offers a pictorial look at the Palm Beach's past
Author: Megan V. Winslow
Publisher: Palm Beach Daily News
For three years, Debi Murray's boyfriend had been urging her to write a book about Palm Beach.
The only available chronicle of local history was nearly $60 and it weighed close to three pounds. Tourists told Classic Bookshop owner Jeff Jacobus they couldn't fit it in their suitcase.
But island visitors can easily stuff nearly a century's worth of Palm Beach into their handbag come Jan. 12, when Murray and colleague Richard A. Marconi's pictorial book, Palm Beach, appears on local bookshelves and online.
"We can hardly wait until the books get here," Murray said last week.
Murray, of Jupiter, and Marconi, of Delray Beach, are both staff members at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, and through the use of that non-profit's extensive photographic collection, their 128-page, $21.99 paperback reveals the island's evolution from overgrown jungle to pampered playground.
Murray and Marconi started the project in July and over the course of about a month and a half, they reduced nearly 1,000 historic Palm Beach photographs to about 200 and wrote accompanying chapter introductions and captions to string the pictures together in a flowing narrative.
In addition to the requisite black and white portraits Henry Flagler, Elisha Newton Dimick, Maurice Fatio there are 19th century photographs of island pioneers and their ramshackle homes, shots of women playing tennis in cumbersome leg-o-mutton sleeves, and World War II-era pictures of soldiers marching down Worth Avenue.
One section of book relates how two fires sparked the transformation of The Breakers from Georgian Revival in 1896, to colonial in 1904 to Italianate Renaissance in 1926.
New Hampshire resident Winifred Anthony Stearns, 81, was tickled to hear that a photograph of her mother, a prominent Palm Beach pioneer, appears in the book and on the cover of a separately sold historic postcard collection. The photo, circa 1900, shows an 8-year-old Winifred Clarke about to embark on a canoe trip with her uncle, John Clarke, her cousins and some friends in a lagoon near where the intersection of Barton Avenue and Cocoanut Row is today.
Winifred Clarke had a pet alligator that lived in that lagoon, her daughter said.
"My mother would come up and bang on the bank and the alligator would come up to be fed," Stearns said.
Like the other entries in Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series, the book's cover features a sepia-toned photograph nostalgically freezing a long-forgotten era. The scene on the Palm Beach cover is "downtown" at about the turn of the 20th century: the ample-waisted, ample-mustached Warren Frazee stares down the camera, his bare feet nearly touching the tail of a young alligator.
Murray calls the photograph in which Frazee appears dressed in a puckering suit jacket and what could very well be his underwear "odd" but historically significant.
That was back when Frazee (aka Alligator Joe) provided one of the island's early tourist attractions, charging 25 cents to view his collection of reptiles.
Writing about Palm Beach, "most people would have put something grandiose (on the book's cover), but we wanted to use something that took it back to its roots," Murray said.
Town Historian Jim Ponce agrees the photograph was an apt choice because Alligator Joe's show was a "must-see, must-do" event for early visitors.
"That was people's first opportunity to get a taste of the jungle of the south," he said.
As of last week, Ponce had not yet viewed the book, but he said he will likely buy a copy because he has always enjoyed learning about the island through old pictures.
"If a picture is equal to 10,000 words, a book of pictures is worth a million," he said.