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GASPARILLA MAGAZINE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016 45 author chronicled from the Weather Bureau’s observer on Long Key: “There was a great lurch as the wave toppled the remainder of the eleven cars attached behind the engine. The linked cars went over sideways like toys, the windows of the passenger cars smashing inward under the tremendous force of the wave, the interiors filling almost instantaneously with water. Inside, scores of men, women, and children who had thought themselves safe only moments before now found themselves trapped in water-filled coffins. In the surging darkness, there was no way to tell up, down, or sideways. Life had been reduced to the amount of time one might hold a single breath against the press of suffocating water.” “I loved this book. Standiford is a tremendous storyteller, as good as Sebastian Junger or David McCullough. The rise and fall of the Key West railroad, which was built over 150 miles of water by tycoon Henry Flagler, is a story I knew little about. Great fun, and I learned a tremendous amount as well. One warning: Be prepared to go to work a little bleary-eyed tomorrow, because you won't be able to put this down until the last hurricane has hit...” (Amazon.com) Standiford’s claim that the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 ended a powerful man’s dream has a counterargument.“Flagler's undertaking was a ‘folly’ from the start, as his contemporaries claimed, and his story constitutes a classic ‘tragedy.’ In fact, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) was undone as much, if not more, by a force Standiford never mentions: the internal combustion engine. After the hurricane of 1935, investors and the government considered rebuilding the FEC, but decided instead on a highway.” (Publishers Weekly) The author blames Flagler’s ultimate failures on the mega-hurricane, and the number of deaths related to the storm were staggering, although one famous Key West resident managed to survive. “Indeed, Papa Hemingway was the most famous survivor of the hurricane that hit Key West on Sept. 2, 1935. At that time, the storm, with winds over 200 miles per hour, was the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the United States. The Red Cross estimated 408 people died. Other estimates were as high as 600 – the heavy transient population made it difficult to count. Along with the unparalleled loss of life, most of Flagler's railroad was obliterated in the storm.” (Orlando Weekly) Florida history has taught us that even the greatest failures create a path for the greatest achievements. “The first highway to Key West was completed in 1938 and was built on the trail blazed by Flagler. As you travel the Overseas Highway today, the traffic is routinely lagging, but the views are still breathtaking, with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Sporadic ruins are the only remaining evidence of the "dream journey." (Orlando Weekly) Two black-and-white photographs on page 163 encapsulate Flagler’s success at its apex. The top photograph is of the American Frontier as it closes at last: The first scheduled train traverses the Key West Railway Extension from Miami, arriving in Key West on January 22, 1912. The bottom photograph is of a celebration with an aging Flagler, who vowed to ride his own rails to Key West before he died. He is being helped past a schoolchildren’s choir. Last Train to Paradise can be purchased in most bookstores and on amazon.com. Jonathan Herbert is an award-winning writer who grew up in Englewood. His novels, Banyan Street and Silver King, have won multiple literary awards, including recognition from the Paris BookFestival. You can follow him on Twitter @herbertnovels or on the web at herbertnovels.com. G M


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