Today, only a few survivors of the Great
For the first time, a large portion of the collection is being displayed for public view in an exhibit that will run through
"It seems like people like disasters," Wilkinson said about why people are interested in a hurricane that occurred before most were born. "I guess because it's spectacular, like the Great Chicago fire [of 1871] and the earthquake now in
The exhibit features 85 photographs, a few of them graphic. Wilkinson provided all but five pictures that came from the History Miami museum.
It also includes storyboards that provide a brief history of weather forecasting and details about the weather advisories given during the deadly weekend. There's also a mid-1990s documentary Hurricane '35: The Deadly Deluge, being shown continuously at the exhibit. It includes vintage footage and interviews with Wilkinson and several survivors.
And along one wall is a fascinating map created by the coroner's office that documents several makeshift cremation sites and the scattered locations of the 423 bodies (each named) that were found in the direct aftermath. Some people's remains were never found and others were exposed later, including a few skeletons found in a Ford that was uncovered during a dredging project.
Together, the exhibit provides a comprehensive display of a hurricane that remains the strongest ever to directly hit
It's a horror that
Roberts was just 7, living on
Roberts recalled the roof blowing off their row house and his father dragging him by the straps of his overalls into their family Ford. "Eleven of us got into the car," he said. "That's the only thing that saved us."
The water flooded inside, but they had enough room to breathe. Roberts said, though, that he will never forget the plight of the veterans, who had taken cover in a rock pit dug six to eight feet deep.
"When the water came, they drowned like rats," he said. "You could hear them screaming all night long. I mean just screaming and hollering for help, and we couldn't get out and help them."
Bertelli said he pored over hundreds of Wilkinson's pictures about the hurricane, the Veteran Work camps and the aftermath to come up with a selection that told the complete story.
"There was some concern how graphic to go," Bertelli said. "We were told we have to tell the story, and to do that we had to show some dead bodies because 500 people died."
There likely would have been many more casualties, but since it was a holiday, many people had left the area to celebrate in either
Most who stayed put did not know until
Relief workers arrived after the storm to face the huge job of figuring out how to handle all the dead.
One photograph shows wooden coffins about to be loaded on ships and taken to
Another photograph shows American flags placed upon the caskets as they were being put into the ground. The government paid
But with so many bodies baking in the heat and humidity days after the storm hit, the governor ordered that the bodies be burned to prevent disease. One photograph shows a gun salute honoring the dead, which were placed in wooden boxes stacked on top of each other in four or five layers. After the ceremony, the bodies were cremated at several makeshift sites along the path of destruction.
One photo depicts the building of a monument to memorialize the dead, with a crypt that contains the cremated remains of hundreds. The monument is located near mile marker 82, a short drive from the exhibit.
Some pictures showed hope. As curator
"His family went up to
When Cothran returned, his home was gone. "But he hears some squealing," Bertelli said. "The pig had broken free from the crate and dug a hole. When Alonzo came back, the pig came running at him like a dog."
Some of the ducks were found, too, albeit very thirsty with all the fresh water now contaminated with saltwater.
The exhibit hits home with
Bones' father told him to hold onto a coconut tree as tightly as he could. After the storm passed,
But so many others were not so lucky, including 38 other members of the extended Russell family. Only 15 members of the family survived, Bertelli said.
Wilkinson said he did not spend endless hours and unknown amounts of his own money collecting the photographs for monetary reasons. Most are not originals but copies of pictures he took with his
His house in
Some photographs were copies of
"He was ready to get rid of the collage because the pictures were getting old and he had a nice new Venetian Shores house," Wilkinson said. "So he agreed to let me take them apart, and not worry if I messed them up."
Wilkinson had a darkroom and knew which chemicals to use on the emulsion of the prints. He soaked them in a big flat tray for about two weeks, ending up with about 25 to 30 separate photographs.
"I had to give the photographs back because they came out so good, he wanted them back," Wilkinson said.
It was not until 1996 that Wilkinson got a scanner, which made copying the photographs much easier and less expensive.
Many of them he collected during summer RV trips around the Southeast with his wife. They would stop at museums, universities, libraries and state archives scouring for any history related to the
"History has no ownership," said Wilkinson, who turns 86 on Monday. "I want to die knowing that these pictures hopefully will be saved in perpetuity."
If you go
When: Exhibit runs through
Hours: Thursdays through Sundays,
Cost: General admission is
Info: 305-922-2237 or www.keysdiscovery.com.
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