Hurricanes, Mercado, memorabilia help celebrate Miami’s 125th anniversary
By Ivonne Malaver
Miami, Jul 28 (EFE).- Artifacts from the Tequesta Indian culture, old signs warning that anyone caught looting risks getting shot, costume jewelry of Walter Mercado and Celia Cruz and assorted Santeria paraphernalia. All that and much more are among the “Miami things” on display at an exhibit celebrating the 125th anniversary of the iconic South Florida city.
Anthropologist Jorge Zamanillo, the director of HistoryMiami, told EFE on a tour of the “It’s a Miami Thing” exhibition that what is on display is as varied as the seaside city itself, which was founded on July 28, 1896.
A legend promoting the exhibition – which will be open to the public until January 2022 – says that hurricanes and tropical storms are part of the lives of everyone living in Miami.
Zamanillo pointed to an offshore buoy that ended up in the Brickell neighborhood as a result of a hurricane’s storm surge.
“Irma, Sept. 10, 2017,” someone had written on the buoy to mark it as one of the pieces of debris from that storm. There is also a wooden panel with which a shopowner boarded up his store to prevent destruction and warning that “If you loot, we shoot,” a legacy of the deadly 1992 Hurricane Andrew.
Zamanillo said that the metal sign in the shape of a cow from the famous Farm Store business that’s in the exhibit was rescued from the back yard of a family that wound up with it after it was blown there by Andrew’s powerful winds.
The unparalleled Everglades nature preserve, a shallow swampy zone full of crocodiles, is also Miami. On this occasion, it is represented by one of the “airboats” that are used to ply the waters covering a large part of South Florida’s “river of grass.”
Walter Mercado (1932-2019) and his fortunes and astrological forecasts are also featured in the exhibition with one of his famous capes and broaches from a collection that was started in the same museum by the Puerto Rican astrologer two years ago, just three months before his death.
The HistoryMiami director said that Mercado, who lived simultaneously in Miami, New York and Puerto Rico, because of his television programs came to be better known than the Super Bowl, the professional US football final, because his predictions were seen daily on TV in many countries.
Along with the astrologer’s shining cape is a glittering dress worn by Cuban singer Celia Cruz at the Summit of the Americas held in Miami in 1994.
There is also a large exhibit of artifacts made from stone and bones by the indigenous Tequesta culture around 800 A.D., including tools and several objects that are not fashioned from materials found in South Florida and thus providing evidence of trade with other peoples, Zamanillo said.
The Caribbean influence is also present with Santeria items, viewed in this exhibition from the “religious art” angle, including crowns, necklaces, mallets and other items from the altars used in the rituals of the religion that arrived in the region with African slaves.
Zamanillo said that the exhibit also shows the different ways that items are gathered for the museum, not only for the current exhibition.
“There’s a lot of material that people don’t believe is important to collect, but you have to get hold of it,” said the head of the museum with its 81 years of history.
He said that many people have items in their possession and believe that they’re things that should be thrown away, that aren’t important, “but for us it’s the only way of telling history.”
A couple of companies that were very much a part of Miami, Zamanillo said, were Eastern and PAN AM airlines, and the exhibit contains mannikins outfitted with the elegant uniforms of the flight attendants from years gone by and the wider and more comfortable plane seats of the past, things that are part of the museum’s collection reflecting Miami’s “long association” with aviation.
Large department stores such as Burdines have also disappeared, but the museum holds an enormous sign that once was located at the largest store of that chain in downtown Miami.
“It’s a Miami Thing” includes a selection of the more than 30,000 items and millions of archived objects in the museum’s possession, including pieces of treasure recovered from the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which sank in 1622 but was relocated 35 years ago on the seabed off the Florida Keys.
“Our mission is to safeguard stories of Miami and one of the ways we do that is by collecting items that reflect the culture of the city,” Zamanillo said.