Miami History: 7 Unusual Facts You Probably Never Knew

Miami History: 7 Unusual Facts You Probably Never Knew

Here are seven interesting tidbits about Miami that you probably wouldn't know even if you paid attention in history class. Oh, but kudos to you if you did.

1. Miami was a large part of Ku Klux Klan operations

Yes. Miami was a powerful klavern, even when KKK activity started to dwindle in the 1920s.

But before I continue, here's a two-sentence summary of the KKK for our friends who are confused with the terminology. The Ku Klux Klan is an extremist movement in the United States that advocates white supremacy and usually uses violence to act on their agenda. They have their own vocabulary, which consists of words that start with "kl" - thus "klavern" (local organization) or "Kloran" (you can probably figure out what this is).

Getting back on track, the Klan was always active in Miami—and Florida in general. In 1951, there was an incident appropriately coined "The Florida Terror," because floggings and bombings and burning and dynamite.

Oh, and one more ”fun” fact: the Klan is still alive and active in Miami today.

2. Fidel Castro is responsible for Miami's population (and the Nazis helped revitalize mid-20th century Miami)

You heard that right. Fidel Castro, dictator of Cuba, is largely responsible for the present population of Miami. Okay, fine, this one is obvious. But again, for our friends who aren't so versed on American history, here's the lowdown:

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans, wanting to escape the fiery terror that was Fidel Castro's rule, fled to Miami. Most of the exodus occurred in the 1970s when Castro signed a proclamation declaring open access to Mariel Harbor for people who wanted out. The largest boatlift was called the Mariel Boatlift, which carried around 125,000 Cubans. Thus, the people of Miami having Hispanic roots is a result of Fidel Castro's tyranny.

Again, that was an obvious statement. After all, Miami is nicknamed "Little Cuba".

But what about that second one: The Nazis helped revitalize mid-20th century Miami.

Say whaaat?

Fun fact: During World War II, a tanker someplace close to Miami was sunk by a German U-Boat. Because of this incident, South Florida transformed into a military base and Miami was home to an Anti-U-boat Warfare School. You're probably wondering how exactly these pieces of information are connected to the revitalization of Little Cuba. The thing is, soldiers lived in Miami, stayed in Miami, and decided they wanted to stay in Miami for good, which kept business good and the economy humming.

In short, we can say that the Miami we all know and love exists in its current form because of two dictators: Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler.

3. FDR was almost killed in Miami

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Miami on the 15th of February, 1933.

The shooter was an Italian immigrant named Giuseppe Zangara. He suffered from mental delusions and fired five or six rounds with a .32-caliber US Revolver Company. Although FDR wasn't hit, five other people were. Included in the victims was Anton Cermak, then mayor of Chicago, who sustained a mortal bullet wound in the stomach and days later died of peritonitis.

Zangara was then sentenced to death and died on the electric chair 35 days later.

4. Mi-Yay-Mi

In the 1980s, Miami earned this nickname because of cocaine.

"Yayo" or cocaine saw a steady rise in the 70's and 80's in Miami, resulting in the Miami drug war (and spurring the making of the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys). During this time period, Miami boomed, bringing in big money and seeing a rise in economy with the birth of many new businesses and buildings - of course, all because of cocaine. But it wasn't just the economy that rose—gang-related violence, killings and shootings did as well.

5. The Death of Gianni Versace

Anyone who's anyone knows Versace, the international fashion label and one of the biggest names in the fashion industry. Not a lot of people know (unless they're fashion buffs) that Gianni Versace was murdered while he was vacationing in Miami.

On the 15th of July 1997, Versace was shot dead by Andrew Cunanan, a spree killer who later committed suicide.

6. The Great Freeze that made sunny Miami

The years 1894-1895 brought a series of vicious weather freezes with a low of 18°F (−8 °C) to Florida. Crops were destroyed and livelihoods lost, even leading to entire communities being wiped off the map.

Interestingly however, Miami somehow escaped the wrath of the biting cold. You can imagine what happened next. When big names in business caught word that orange blossoms were still in bloom in one part of Florida, they all grabbed hold of the opportunity and went down south. A year later in April 1896, the city of sunny, happy, warm Miami was incorporated.

All thanks to two years of harsh winter.

7. Miami has its own Hollywood-esque sign

Alright, so we're jumping to movies now—because that's a part of history. Apparently, Miami has a huge sign, much like Hollywood's. At least, that's according to three different movies (Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, and Transporter 2). You can go over them if you want and look out for the sign, which is a big, white M-I-A-M-I.

The thing is, it's a fake landmark. Because somehow, there aren't any better ways to let the audience know the movie is set in Miami.

The sign doesn't exist in real life. Yes.

This is a relevant piece of history because of all the crushed hopes and dreams of people who watched these three movies, caught sight of the Miami sign, traveled to Miami, asked around, and were told there was no such thing.

So that's it, everyone. Seven things you may or may not have known about Miami, Florida. If ever you decide to visit sometime and want to impress a few other travelers with your knowledge of Miami's rich background, you can always decide to mention a few of these facts.

Also, if you want to learn more about Miami, here are two great places to start:

Lead image: flickr photo by kud4ipad shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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