My husband and I recently took a quick, overnight, but nonetheless bucket list trip to Dry Tortugas. We stayed overnight in Key West and took the early morning ferry another 67 miles west of the Southernmost Point to tour and snorkel around the fort at Dry Tortugas National Park. We really enjoyed the tour and especially snorkeling around the abandoned coal docks.
While in the gift shop I picked up an intriguing book, Charlotte’s Story: A Florida Keys Diary 1934-35. It was the autobiography of Charlotte Arpin Niedhauk, a south Floridian, living on a small Key without fresh water, plumbing, or electricity in the 1930s. I bought it on a whim and did not have time to pick it up again until a few weeks later. When I finally got around to reading, it was quite a treat!
Charlotte’s Story was an amazing story of developing South Florida, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. She highlights visits of rum runners and Coast Guard patrols on the same day. She describes sometimes hilarious, sometimes frightening encounters with “alien runners” and “dope” kingpins. speakeasy owners, dignified captains, drunk yacht owners, and a local medicine man with genuine cures. And I thought Ft. Lauderdale was a respectable town!
I was literally sitting on the beach across from Bahia Mar Yacht Basin as I was reading its somewhat shady history. I learned so much unwhitewashed, underground, behind closed doors, and black market style history of the area I grew up in and love so much. Yet its cleanly told from Charlotte’s naive, innocent perspective.
I love this sort of book. It is rare to read a book that is so frank, covers so much you won’t read in history books, but is still so readable without blushing.
Charlotte’s Story will give you a different perspective on mosquitoes, beach combing, endangered sea turtles, hurricanes, and what Florida pioneers endured to make this swamp into paradise.
Charlotte is endearing, and her journey from “city gal” to island survivor is inspiring. Her “girl power” needs no political rhetoric. She is one of those women who didn’t want to, but had to, so she did it with all her might. To avoid losing her new husband to a far away job for six months at a time, she chose an unknown life with him on a deserted island and called it an adventure. I hope I have that kind of mettle if I need it. This is what I hope for my three daughters, too.
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