Interviewee: Garfield Arthur Wood
Interviewer: Polly Redford
R: I am here with Garfield Arthur Wood, "Gar" Wood, the famous
sportsman and holder of many world speed records. We are at
his home in Miami Beach. [It is] October 20, 1966. [His
home] is actually [on] Fisher Island. The interview begins
in the machine shop and continues later in the living room
of his home.
G: This is it right here.
R: This big diesel.
G: Lots of times in the currents.
R: We lose ours in Coconut Grove, but we just go do what we
G: Yes, but we do not have to do it. We just come up and turn
this on, and away we go.
R: What do you do? How many men do you have working here?
G: Just my son and I is all.
R: Just your son and you?
R: And you do all this heavy [work]?
G: Oh, sure. Here is where we made up the wheels for the belts
that run on the electric timer.
R: I see. Does your son live here too?
G: He lives over there in up there on Biscayne.
R: Bay Harbor Island?
G: No. It is up Biscayne Bay and turned into that private
institution. It used to be . Who owned that before?
Who were the people that had that? They had the one down
south, too, years ago.
R: You have me there.
G: Well, they are old-timers. They had their homes down along
the shore. They lived there a long time. They were the
first ones down here. Flagler brought them down, you know.
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R: Oh, yes. So he lives up there?
R: So you do all this stuff for your racing boats and
R: This is great. This is a tremendous installation.
G: Yes. It is a mess now, but . .
R: Well, that shows you are working. If it were neat, you
would not be doing anything.
G: We clean it up once in a while.
R: It is really quite something.
G: Yes, it is.
R: What are these plastic chips that you have been working
G: Those are chips off of this soft material.
R: It looks like some sort of plastic.
G: See these little boats here? We had these started. We had
R: Oh, they are models.
G: They are models.
R: How did they go?
G: They run twenty-five to thirty miles an hour.
R: A little thing like that?
G: Yes. We have a bunch of them. It is all bare now. My son
is a queer fellow. He starts out on something, and he goes
just so far and then he forgets it. There are a lot of
those belt things he and I were working on.
R: Oh, yes, and then there is a pair of those coils that you
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G: Yes, we had those coils for that. That is what we used to
use in the big cars. I have run these things on big cars,
R: Well, John there told me that you have a patent on this.
G: Yes, I got a patent on the control of it. See, we increase
the electricity in just like you do like steam on a steam
R: What was this building before?
G: We had some engines in here. See that combination there?
All these years, we kept it just for the power.
R: Oh, it was just for the power plant.
G: We did not have any power over here, you know.
R: No, I know.
G: That is an old oil can.
R: Do you have your own fire department and bowling alley?
R: What is this pool?
G: That was when Vanderbilt brought fish down there and put
them in saltwater there.
R: Oh, I see. Which Vanderbilt built this?
G: W[illiam] K.
R: W. K. Great day! This looks like a fine old one. Pete
Chase was telling me about that boat race that Carl Fisher
organized down from here to Key West. He said you were in
R: I guess you did not miss any of them.
G: No. Look at the films in here.
R: What are these films of?
R: All 16mm, I see.
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G: All 16mm, and sound.
R: Now, wait a minute. Is that 16mm or 35mm?
G: I have a lot of small films in here. I tried to pen this
place up so you could get everything in here, all my
pictures and things like that. I had them over in the
house, one of the guest houses, a while ago. You will see
that, too, because that is quite a place. [interruption]
. New York. I was racing there against the train.
R: A race against the train up along the shore there.
G: We went up the ocean and beat the train by about twenty-five
or thirty minutes.
R: For heaven's sake. And here are some of the Miss Americas,
too. Is this the Indianapolis Speedway?
G: No, that is down here at ST. PAUL'S fairgrounds. That is
Eddie Rickenbacker [American World War I ace pilot] in this
one. That is me behind him in the little Ford car.
R: Rickenbacker in the lead.
G: Yes. [laughter] When he went on the and he tipped
R: Oh, dear.
G: Then I quit racing. [laughter]
R: That is probably why you are here today. If you had kept
on, you would have been a hamburger somewhere.
G: There is another one. See, we were right close there.
R: Now, there is nothing particularly formal about this. You
say whatever you please, and as long as you please or as
short as you please. I will tell you what I am trying to
do, and maybe that will make it a little clearer. I am
trying to talk with people like you and Pete Chase and
Father Barry who really remember what it was like in the old
days. There has been so much publicity now and there have
been so many funny things written, especially about Carl
Fisher [millionaire who was largely responsible for the
development of Miami Beach].
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G: Let me tell you the story of Carl Fisher. He and I were
very close friends.
R: Well, I know you were. Pete Chase told me a lot about it,
and that is why he said to come on over. Maybe, if you
would not mind, let us start [with this question]: How was
it that you first came over to the Beach?
G: I came over here in 1916 the first time. That street that
goes up there, Biscayne Boulevard, only ran to 36th Street.
A fellow from Detroit had built a place up there where he
had a pool and he had a front and he had a
Incidentally, I have a picture of it. He got in a row with
his wife and quit. I came down and found that, and I bought
it. I paid $90,000 for it, and that is where I lived at
36th Street. That was the end of the road of Miami.
R: That was North 36th Street and the Bay, then?
G: Yes. That is where the bootleggers used to bring the
whiskey in. [laughter]
R: Well, they needed fast boats for that, I will bet.
G: We have caught [several]. I moved down here, me and the
wife--let me tell you a little about this thing--and we were
over there one night when we heard a shot. I had a shotgun,
and my neighbors there said, "There are bootleggers coming
in here, and you will want to have something to defend
yourself." So I got that. All of a sudden I heard a shot.
My brother-in-law and I sneaked out there, and [when I
heard] a second shot I did not dare go out. All the fellow
was trying to do--he was a federal agent--was call attention
to the fact that he needed some help. Here I was shooting
over his head. [laughter] Well, they finally took the
fellow and locked him up. But these colored boys had
dropped a lot of whiskey in the water before they got them,
R: In bottles or kegs?
G: All bottles. There was a lot of stuff. Well, the next
morning we came out, and this great big colored boy was with
the neighbors over there, and he said: "My goodness! Look
at all that whiskey down there in the water." So we went
and dug it up and took it to my garage. I never drank
anything, but I had friends coming up there all winter.
[laughter] I racked this up, and away they would go.
COMMODORE SHOTZ was a great boy. He was head of one of the
steamship companies in Detroit. He used to come down every
year and so forth.
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I had had Packard cars, and on the road down from
Jacksonville they did not have anything but sand. It was
almost impossible to drive a car down there.
R: Were you driving down here in 1916?
G: Oh, I used to drive. I had a Packard car, and I used to
drive down. Oh, yes, sure. We came down, but I usually
shifted down. When we had to I would drive it up this road.
Anyway, when we came down from Jacksonville--at times we
would ride down [on the train]--we got about halfway down
and the colored man who ran the locomotive would stop the
train, and everybody would get out and sit on the bank and
wait for him to go get his lunch. Then they would go on
their way down. That is the way the Florida East Coast
[Railway] ran then. I do not know if you know why this
[Henry] Flagler built this thing anyway. Do you know?
R: Well, I do not know that I know. Do you mean why did he
build the railroad?
G: Yes. There were no laws in Florida or anyplace else, I do
not think, at that time where you could get a divorce from
R: Oh, the famous Flagler Law.
G: That is right. That is exactly right. He built that whole
thing clear to Key West so he could get a divorce from his
R: And then he built the hotels to make the railroad pay?
G: That is right. He built all the hotels so he could maintain
it. The tourists go down to the Keys and so forth. That is
where we used to go fishing lots of times.
R: Yes. Well, it is still pretty good down there.
G: [There was] that time we had a race from Miami to Key West
and went to down the Casa Marina Hotel. Pete Chase was
there, and he did such a wonderful job. My goodness! He
took care of us fellows fine. When I got back and got a
hold of Carl, and I said: "There is a man down there in Key
West. You get him, because he is a swell guy. We need a
fellow just like that for public relations." The next day
he had him.
R: Yes. He told me the story about that. Why did you happen
to come down to Miami in the first place?
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G: Well, I wanted to get away from that cold weather. I had
plenty of money.
R: Why did you come to Miami rather than, say, to Palm Beach or
some other place?
G: Well, it had been advertised. Palm Beach was too much of a
society thing, and I thought, "Well, I had better go to
Miami, because that is where you go across the water and go
over to a beach." See, they had a little trail over there.
Up on posts they had some board tracks across, and you could
drive your car two miles an hour and go over there and go
swimming at the beach. That was the beginning of the thing.
That was before we had anything else.
R: Yes, they had just the bridge across the way. Did you know
Carl Fisher before he came here?
G: Oh, yes. I was a starter about ten times, and I was down at
the Indianapolis race track when Carl was running it. Carl
and another gentleman . .
G: Yes, Jim Allison. I used to go down there, and he and I
were pals. When they were bootlegging after the war, we got
a lot of these foreign engines, and the bootleggers were the
ones to buy them. Carl said: "Well, we might just as well
help them out. They have no business putting a control on
liquor anyway." [laughter] We did not drink anything, but
we got to where we were helping out the boys with all these
boats with blankets in between so they could not shoot
bullets through them.
R: Yes. The old Matthews people used to make a pretty fast
boat at one point, did they?
R: So you knew Carl Fisher before he even came down here.
G: Oh, yes, I knew Carl a long time ago. I knew all about him.
I knew him when he was married. He married and went down
the Mississippi River. They got down about half way, and he
wanted to stop. He went uptown and got drunk, leaving his
wife with the pilots. He got drunk and came down the street
with this Levy. There was an old pig, and they were
throwing it back and forth. [laughter] That is the way
they did. That was just for their fun.
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R: You took Levy along on his honeymoon?
G: Yes, sure, because he was his friend. Well, marriage did
not seem very much to him, but then he got married anyway.
She is an awfully nice person. She is still here.
R: Yes. I am meaning to go talk with her. Was she really
fifteen, as she claimed to be?
G: Well, I do not know how old she was. I thought she was
older than that. She was old enough to know what it is all
about, anyway. They came down here. Then Carl finally sold
his interest in the [Prest-O-Lite Corporation]. There was
an old German fellow who had a patent on this prestone gas.
R: Yes. The Prest-O-Lite thing.
G: Yes. Well, they made the Prest-O-Lite Company. He bought
the other fellow out for $50,000, and he owned it all.
Well, then they set up that Prest-O-Lite Company. He did
not want it anymore, so he sold it for $7 million. Then he
had $7 million. Now, what is he going to do with it?
R: How old was he when he got the $7 million?
G: Well, he was about thirty-eight, I guess. I have forgotten.
Let me see. At that time, 1916--I was born in 1880--I was
thirty-six years old, was I not?
R: I guess so. Fisher was . .
G: He was about the same age. That is right. Anyway, he
bought a place over here, and then he kept looking, or
gazing, across the old bay, and he said, "I have to build a
city." [laughter] So from there on he did a good job.
R: He did.
G: He sure did.
R: What was he like? [Tell me] as a man who really knew him
and was his friend.
G: He was one of those fellows that did a lot of crazy things.
He would go up in balloons for advertising. He sold cars
down there, you know, and he would take a balloon and
advertise the whole thing. It did not have anything in it.
He would take his car up without anything in it, fly it
around over the country: "This is the car you are going to
get for" so much money.
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R: Everybody speaks of him as having a magnetic personality.
What was it about him? That is one of the things I have
been [trying to find out].
G: I will be darned if I know. He was a very fine gentleman, I
will tell you that. When he started building over here, of
course, he wanted to keep the Jews out, you know; he did not
want it ruined. If they were going to sell to anybody and
they came down here . Of course, they did not have much
money, but they would come down and try to buy a lot to make
some money off it. So what he would do was take the lots
and separate them and sell them to them, and then he would
have some right next door. When they started trying to sell
theirs, he would drop the price on this about half, and the
fellow went broke and went back to New York--broke.
R: Yes, but there were a lot of Jews here. There was Hertz and
G: Oh, they were good people. There was nothing wrong with
them at that time. But these New Yorkers that came down,
they were the ones that [he did this to]. He did not like
R: Well, he wanted to keep the thing pretty much under his own
control. What was it like? What was the kind of crowd of
people? It interests me. I was talking to Pete Chase about
this, and he was talking about Palm Beach people and Miami
Beach people. He said there was a different kind of a
G: Yes. They were very aloof from anything in Palm Beach.
They were the wealthy people.
R: Some of you people were not exactly poor, now.
G: Oh, no.
R: Why do you call them wealthy when you had [Frank] Seiberling
[founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber] and yourself and . .
G: Well, they were the lead people. That is all. They kept by
themselves, just like these people over here up on Biscayne
Boulevard. They are all wealthy people over there, and they
have a little zone all by themselves.
I have to tell you the story about how I made my money.
R: All right. I would love it.
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G: I was selling cars up in St. Paul. I sold one to an old
gentleman by the name of . It does not make any
difference, anyway. I sold it to him. He came from
Nebraska. He sat there and saw I had a static machine in my
car. He said, "Can you make a statics machine that will not
go out of business in the summertime?" I said, "I think I
can." So I set to work, and I made a WINDHURST type.
Incidentally, can you cut this off for a minute while I get
R: Sure. This is the original ad for the Wood induction
R: "The only practical machine ever made for demonstrating the
true merit of the lightning rod." This folder will interest
you. "Manufactured by G. A. Wood & Co. in St. Paul,
Minnesota." Have you been in St. Paul recently?
G: Not for a long time.
R: We were there this summer.
G: There is the inside of it. See the WINDHURST type. When
you spin them around they make a very static spark. Between
the two points here the current will run across. When they
demonstrated it, why, they took a little house here and,
when they are not looking, squirt a little gasoline in it,
see. [laughter] Then they crank this up, and it you put
the lightning rods on here, this cloud will not come over.
It will stay way over here. But if you take them off this
will swing around and drop down and shoot a shot of
electricity in there and set fire to the house.
R: The whole house goes up in flames. Well, that must have
really done something to those firemen up there. [laughter]
G: That was what we had. [laughter] Well, the whole story is
on there. Anyway, I was making those darn things.
R: You were making these in St. Paul.
G: Yes. I went down to this wholesale house to get some gears
to make those cylinders turn. I walked in, and when I came
out here there was a Pierce Arrow car right out in front,
and a fellow was cranking it up by hand. Think of this.
R: Yes, to have a car, and then to crank it up.
G: Well, I said, "Ed, if I make something, if I can find
something to tilt that body, can you and I put it on some
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night?" He said: "You bet your life. I am going to quit my
job if you do not. I have been waiting a year to get this
darn thing." Next door to my shop was an old that
had a lot of junk. I found out there a round cylinder five
inches in diameter made of cast iron. I asked, "How much?"
I only had $200 at the time. They said, "Fifty cents."
Well, then I had a cylinder for fifty cents. I fixed it up
in the machine shop.
Then I wanted to get something that would not have any
valves or anything, and on the Pierce Arrow car they had
some little gears that pumped the oil from the crankcase up
into a copper tank on the side of the car. When you started
the engine, then it would run down to the bearings. So I
wondered how much pressure to pump. Of course, as Edison
said: "Do not believe anything. Just try it yourself." So
I got one of these LOWBEE pumps and got a steam gauge to 100
pounds. I put a bicycle handle on it and turned it, and it
went to 150 pounds. I got a bigger gauge, 250 pounds, and
cranked a little faster, and I had 250 pounds for a little
gear pump. Well, there is the mechanism that, all over the
world, made it possible for the
Anyway, we made this thing up. About 11 o'clock at night
all the top-hat fellows up on Summit Avenue, a lot of
fellows with plug hats on and so forth, came down with their
white kid gloves. They had been out to a party and had a
few drinks, and somebody tipped them off to the fact that
somebody was monkeying with their trucks down there. In
they came. I stood my ground. I was all coal dust and
everything. I was just a kid.
R: How old were you at the time?
G: Well, let me see. I was thirty-two years old when I got the
patent. Anyway, I got the boys to climb up into the body.
I had not tested it. I pushed the button, and it went up so
fast the whole gang slid out on the concrete floor, and the
mister who was the head of the Northwestern Tool Company
said, "Where can I get six more?"
R: And that was it. That is where it stopped.
G: That was it. All the --there were fourteen or
fifteen of them--all wanted the factory and the whole bunch.
In the first year I made $1 million.
R: You were thirty-two years old, and you made $1 million.
G: That is right. I made a million dollars. The income tax
e e e
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R: Of course, there was not any.
G: Well, there was. It just happened to be. I was an
individual, so it cost me $650,000 income tax that year.
The next year I changed, of course, to a corporation. Then
I made some money.
R: Did you have the patent on it, or did you start making . .
G: No. I went over to the patent office, and there was an old
guy in there. I told him what I had, and he said, "Oh, all
that hydraulic stuff, is as old as the hills." It was not
old at all. They never used it for anything but on
battleships to move the guns around.
R: Yes, on the big turrets.
G: That is the only thing they ever used it for. Nobody ever
had any hydraulic things. Anyway, he got up and said,
"Where can I get six more?" There was a chance then. I did
not have any money to develop it, so I went to the Packard
Motor Car Company. They sent the man up there, and he said:
"Come on down to Detroit. We will give you all the money
you want. We will finance it, because we have to have it."
That was the beginning of that whole thing.
R: But the Packard people did not try to take your patent or
G: Oh, no. They did not want to make it. They were making
trucks. Then I got a plant that made steel bodies, and I
wrote a contract to them so I could buy the special bodies
that were made with round corners so the stuff could slide
out. I designed that myself.
R: This was all for coal trucks?
G: Oh, yes, coal and everything. Principally coal at that
time. I had them make that. It cost me $100 apiece, and I
sold them for $200. I made the hoist for $100 and sold that
for $200. So on every job I sold I made $200 profit on
every one of them.
R: Wow! So that is how you made your first million in one
G: Yes. That is right.
R: Well, then after that . .
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G: After that we went on there and finally wound up . When
the union came in, I sold out. I had $6 million, and that
is all I needed.
R: Well, you and Carl Fisher had about the same thing.
G: Yes. That is right. Then I came down. I decided that I
wanted to get out of there.
I used to be in the Civil Air Patrol. I used to fly.
R: Well, you did about everything there was to do.
G: I have 7,650 hours solo flight in the air.
R: For heaven's sake.
G: Yes. When I built that twin-hull boat over in West Palm
Beach, I flew up there. One day I came back and a friend of
my wife's wanted to come down to see her. She got into the
plane, and I drove down. When I landed at the airport we
walked under the wing of the airplane and lightning hit the
thing. It just killed me. I was dead. It burned her hair
all up here and everything. It pretty near ruined
VANDENBURG. He had a lot of cash in his pocket, and all
this cash was all frozen together.
R: Oh, for God's sake!
G: They had some high-altitude flyers testing there, and they
had some nurses there. They got over there and found out I
had only two beats of the heart when they picked me up.
R: They revived you somehow. How did they revive you?
G: I do not know. I got to the hospital and I was all right.
I came back. But it broke my skull in two or three places.
I am still here.
R: You are pretty durable, I must say. [laughter]
G: Well, the Wood clan is pretty durable. There are thirteen
kids in her family, and they are all pretty good, I will
R: When you came down here in 1916 you lived over there on
G: Yes. I wanted to have a telescope. You had to put it on
something solid. I said to Carl, "What do you do to build
houses?" "Well, you just dig a ditch," he said. "Put some
concrete in and build a house." Well, that is what he did.
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I went over there; my folks and I used to go over to a
certain place over where I built my house. We took our
lunches and went over there. One day I got a rod and ran it
down to find out where there was solid ground. I went down
only about ten feet. So I said: "I am going to dig all this
out and put some pillars down there. I will drive some
piles way down deep in that rock."
R: To hit the bedrock.
G: Yes, to hit the bedrock. [I said,] "I will then saw them
off and fill them and build a concrete pier up there and put
a concrete slab on top. Then I will have something
absolutely solid so it will not vibrate for the astronomical
R: I see.
G: That is what I built over on Collins Avenue.
R: That was Collins Avenue and where?
G: [The address was] 5574 Collins Avenue.
R: Collins Avenue and 55th Street?
G: Yes. The number of our house was 5574 Collins Avenue.
Well, we just got the darn thing built--it was not quite
completed--when that terrible hurricane came in here and
washed all that land away.
R: This was 1926.
G: Yes. It washed all the land away; all the land was gone,
and here was this house sitting out in the ocean. Carl came
down. He could not see very well, and he looked out there
and said, "What in hell keeps that house up?" I said, "You
better go out there and see what is under it." There was a
concrete pier about that big square holding the whole thing
up, and here was the house sitting up there. All the rest
of the houses were gone.
R: Oh, for heaven's sake. You built right on the beach, then.
G: Oh, yes.
R: What did Fisher say to that?
G: Well, of course, he changed his method of building more or
less then. He put just as much as he had to get by.
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R: One thing that Pete Chase said that struck me that I thought
you would know about was in the old days in Miami Beach how
important the sports were--the boat races and polo.
G: Oh, yes. See, when I came down here I had to have a boat to
go travel. They wanted to keep the people here and let the
tourists go back home. The spring of the year everything
was all dead, and they closed up the hotels and went north.
They got me to bring my boats down here and put on a show
out there, and that is what we did. We raced in the harbor
and did a lot of running around like that to keep the people
here--either that or the sporting end of it.
Incidentally, a fellow from up north had some polo ponies
down here. I had not ridden very much. I had lived on a
farm and used to ride. The horses had to be worked, so he
got a bunch of us kids together, and we went out there and
played polo. I learned to ride that way. That was a nice
thing. That was one of the things that we did here for
R: Somebody once talked about what they called "the golden age
of American sports" and said that maybe the 1920s were it,
with so many people at all these competitions and things.
It certainly seemed to have played a part in the development
[of Miami Beach]. Do you think a lot of people came down
for the sports especially?
G: No, that was just a sideline. [Let me tell you] what we
used to do. We had Cocolobo Club down on that little island
down there. Everybody would leave from the hotels and ride
down and have their lunch and come back. That is what we
used to do primarily. I took my guests down there. We had
good food--seafood and so forth. That is the way we carried
on for a long time until most of the old fellows passed
away. Then they closed up Cocolobo, and I bought it.
R: Oh, it is a beautiful place. It is down on Adams Key.
G: That is right. Then when I got my planes I used to fly down
there; I flew my guests down and back. I put a ramp in and
so forth. I had that for a number of years. Finally REBOZO
came along that just had this island, and he wanted it. I
do not know what the dickens he bought it for, but I got rid
of it. I did not want it anymore.
R: So you sold it to Rebozo.
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R: I know that the club [is in disrepair]. We go down out
Caesars Creek fairly often and we see it, and it has
sustained a good deal of damage in the past two hurricanes.
G: Oh, yes. It is all beat up now.
R: There seems to be maybe a caretaker there, but nobody uses
G: That is not a caretaker. That is a brother of Rebozo.
R: Rebozo's brother lives there?
G: His brother takes care of it. He is sort of an invalid, I
understand, and I think he takes care of it.
Of course, I love to bonefish.
R: Oh, you went out with Lancelot and King Arthur?
G: Yes. Poor old King Arthur died.
R: Yes, I heard.
G: But Vance is still there. The hurricanes have messed up the
terrain underneath the water so that there are not very many
crabs there. The water is so wild that they have not have
any good fishing lately. I got a P. T. and go down there
once in a while and go fishing, about once or twice a month.
R: It is not so good inshore. It is not too bad offshore if
you can get . .
G: Well, you cannot get any bonefish offshore. They come in to
shallow water. As soon as the tide comes in they come in
with the tide. I got a five here a while ago.
R: Great. Why was it that so many of the automobile people
came down here in the early days? Was that because of
Fisher himself or that he knew them? There were a lot of
people connected with the early auto industry, like you,
G: Well, of course, it is a lovely place to come to. See, Kett
[C. F. Kettering] could come down here and leave from Miami
to roam around through the whole [Caribbean]. We went over
to the Galapagos Islands with him, and we went down to
Mexico City. I went with Kett all different places for a
long, long time. And it is a nice base, just like
Vanderbilt. He had a base here to go to in the wintertime
where it was warm. That is the reason we came here.
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R: I meant that in the early days the tone of Miami Beach was
set very largely by a lot of people who came down from
Detroit. There were more Detroiters than any other.
G: Well, they came down here and liked to live here. See, they
came down here in the wintertime and built a home and were
in warm weather instead of that cold weather up north. That
is what they came here for. That is all that brought the
tourists down here.
R: Yes, but there were a lot of Detroit people. There were not
many people from New York, were there?
G: Not too many.
R: Most of them were middle westerners, is what I mean to say.
G: Yes, lots of them came down from up north.
R: What happened finally with Fisher after the [stock market]
crash and all that Montauk business? [Montauk is a city at
the easternmost tip of Long Island that Fisher planned to
turn into a resort much like Miami Beach.]
G: See, Fisher was one of those restless gentlemen. He got an
idea. They would just go on home [in the summertime, and
then], there was nothing to do. So he conceived the idea of
going down to Montauk [New York] and doing the same thing
down there. He was going to build a free port so the big
boats would not have to come into New York harbor.
R: Like this Freeport, Grand Bahamas idea, sort of.
G: Well, I know. That is a good idea. When he got out there,
he got a lot of his friends in it with him to finance the
doggone thing. It cost them so much that they ran out of
money, and then he had to quit. He went broke.
R: So you mean he was just bored? That is the reason he did
G: He was bored down here. He wanted something to do in the
summertime, and that is the only thing he could think of.
Electric trains run from down there to New York, but big
boats want to go in the harbor. [The idea was that Montauk
could be a passenger port for New York City with trains
waiting to meet ocean liners.]
G: The idea was good, but all you have to do is [make] one
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R: Yes. Well, he had an awful lot of luck, and I guess it just
ran out on him there.
G: Yes, it took it all out of him, the poor fellow.
R: How was he at the end?
G: Well, he carried on. He married his secretary, I guess.
R: Well, I gather that was not too happy.
G: No, he was not very happy. Jane took up with Jane
got along. She had enough security, so she is pretty well
fixed, I think.
R: And then towards the end he was awful sick for quite a
G: Yes, that is what he was. He drank a lot. He never drank
anything before, but he drank a lot [at the end], and he got
something wrong with him.
R: When did he start drinking? After Montauk?
G: Yes. You know how people do. I guess when they are
failures they will do anything.
R: Pete Chase claims--I think he is very loyal--that [Carl] was
not a failure at the end and that he did not feel like a
failure at the end. What do you think?
G: Well, of course, he had accomplished a lot of things, and he
had gone as far as he could. He was getting along in years.
What else could you do? He went as far as he could, but he
made a mistake. All his friends--he had quite a number of
them in with him--lost money, and that hurt him. I think
that is one of the main things that made him sick.
R: He had an awful lot of wonderful friends that . .
G: . went down with him.
R: They went down with him, too?
R: Well, I take it you were not very much involved in that.
G: No, I never got into that.
- 18 -
R: Well, you were smart. There was this picture of him as kind
of a sad, old wreck, and I was wondering to what extent that
was [true]. Was he really a sad, old wreck before he died?
G: No, I do not think so. I never knew what he died of at all.
R: He had a liver thing, maybe from drinking.
R: So it was all that way.
Let me see. I have a couple of other things to ask you.
You said that Fisher was a restless man. Was he actually
restless the way he moved and talked? Was he a guy that
could not sit still?
G: Restless? No, I do not think so. He had a dynamic force
that seemed to prevail. He had to be doing something all
the time. But what could you do? There was not anything
that he could do. He failed up there, and then what is he
going to do? He cannot do anything after that. That is too
R: Even if he had wanted to, he would not have had the money.
G: No, he did not have the money, and the people that had been
with him abandoned him. They would not go along with him
anymore, because, after all, you do not go with the
R: No, I guess not. How long, then, did you stay at your
famous house? The last we heard about your house is that it
was sitting out in the middle of the sea. Now, did you move
out of there, or what did you do with it?
G: It was not built. It was not complete.
R: Oh, it was just the foundation.
G: Carl pumped it all in. Then I put a big wall around it so
that if we had any more [high] seas [it would remain
standing]. And we had several of them, but that house stood
just like a rock until just a little while ago. Then they
tore it out. I put those walls in concrete down about ten
feet underground. My goodness! I did not see them tear it
out, but I bet they had a heck of a time taking it out.
R: I bet they did.
G: They sure must have.
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R: How long did you live there?
G: Oh, my goodness. I lived there until 1932. I quit racing
in 1932. No. Let me see.
R: Oh, I do not care about the year, actually. I just wondered
if you lived there for a long time.
G: Oh, yes, I lived there for a long time.
R: And then you moved in here.
G: Yes. I had made this twin-hull boat for the government, and
I went over to Panama City over on the Gulf of Mexico. The
boat was still floating, so I towed it back over here. Then
I had to have someplace to pull it up on land so I could
rebuild it and make a yacht out of it. There was no place.
The kids that owned this island wanted to sell it cheap.
R: The Vanderbilts.
G: No, not the Vanderbilts. It was the Collins kids who owned
it, and they wanted to get rid of it. Collins was the man
who built it. He was the one that had Collins Avenue [named
after him]. He was one of the early settlers here. There
were two of them. Finally they built this island, and they
had that land. They sold it to Vanderbilt.
Anyway, I needed a place, so I got hold of Pete Chase. He
had charge of selling the property.
R: That is right.
G: He said, "You can buy it for about $300,000," so I bought
it. Then we put in the ways down here and carried on all
that activity. That is how I happened to have it.
R: Well, that was in the 1930s, then, that you came.
R: I was very interested to see in the paper your idea about
making it into . .
G: . a pleasure yacht.
R: . this oceanographic thing that you are talking about.
R: How do you picture that? You have this island as an
oceanographic center or what?
- 20 -
G: We just roamed. We used that to roam. We did not do any
real research. We just had a ship that you could travel in.
I spent quite a lot of money building this thing, and it was
quite a success. It was just plywood. I went to Nassau
several times and roamed around. She could run about thirty
knots. It was quite a nice boat. It had accommodations on
it, and I took my friends out. We enjoyed it very much.
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