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Bookworm: Florida played key role in first boom, bust

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

"Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on The Great Depression"

  • By Christopher Knowlton
  • c. 2020, Simon & Schuster
  • $30, $39.99; Canada 411 pages

Do this, then that. It’s inevitable – so much so that Newton made it a law: follow through with an action and something “equal and opposite” will happen. If A, then B, that’s how things are, the caution being that you might not like it. As in the new book “Bubble in the Sun” by Christopher Knowlton, it may, in fact, become the worst thing of all.

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It was early 1878, and Henry Morrison Flagler was worried about his wife, Mary. She had been ailing for some time, and her doctor ordered Flagler to take Mary from New York to Florida for sunshine and fresh air. A few days after their departure, they reached St. Augustine but were disappointed in the accommodations there, which were “noisy and ramshackle.”

“Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on The Great Depression” by Christopher Knowlton

Indeed, Florida itself was little more than that then. Travelers heading south might find an occasional village here or there, very few roads, a couple of coconut plantations, and lots of jungle. It wasn’t much different when Flagler returned to Florida a widower in 1882 but by then, he was determined to take advantage of what was basically “frontier.” He was a railroad man, partner to John Rockefeller, and he had a hand in Standard Oil. To say that Flagler was wealthy was an understatement; to say that he’d be deterred from bringing the railroad over the ocean to Key West was a lie.

By the time Flagler achieved his dream, Florida was on its way to being a playground for the wealthy. Offering pampering for society’s finest, high-end hotels, luxury accommodations, and fine resorts were built, followed closely by men intent on taking advantage of it all. Carl Fisher, developer in Miami Beach; Addison Mizner in Palm Beach and Boca Raton; George Merrick in Coral Gables; and D.P. Davis in the Gulf area all had visions of vast new housing developments and their ideas caught fire as the cost of land stratospherically rose, sometimes multiplying in the same day. Newly-landed Floridians, happy with then-newly-available home mortgages, snapped up empty lots, built new homes, and filled them by using revolving credit.

"Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on The Great Depression" author Christopher Knowlton

And then the bottom dropped out …

This real estate boom-and-bust, says author Christopher Knowlton, was so disastrous that it snowballed, setting off the Great Depression. In “Bubble in the Sun,” he offers details and for full comprehension, you'll need them in this long, worthwhile story.

If you like cultural history or urban science, you'll love them.

Beginning in the Victorian era and moving quickly to the Jazz Age, Knowlton tells the tale as though it’s a novel by dramatically bringing the players together in a backdrop that’s so vivid you may be tempted to check your whereabouts. Knowing what we know about real estate bubbles from the Great Recession, you’ll also want to check your breathing, too, because you can clearly see what’s going to happen.

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For readers who enjoy Jazz Age tales or unique Americana, this book is one for the beach or wherever you like to read. Find “Bubble in the Sun.” Do that, like this.

“The Invisible Leash”

  • By Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
  • c. 2019, Little, Brown and Company
  • $17.99, $23.49 Canada 32 pages

What can you see outside your window? Take a look: trees, cars, people, other buildings, things you can touch. And those things you can’t see? As in the new book, “The Invisible Leash” by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, you still know they’re out there, right?

“The Invisible Leash” by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.

It was a Friday and school was over for the week, which made all the other kids excited, but Zack was sad. He just wanted to go home, although he wasn’t sure why. Jojo wasn’t there. Jojo wouldn’t be there anymore.

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Jojo had been Zack’s best friend for a long time. They played games together and slept in the same room, they loved to go hiking, “and when the moon was full, they howled together as it smiled down upon them.” Life was best with Jojo, and though mom and dad told Zack that when the time was right, they could adopt another dog, Zack wouldn’t listen. No other dog would ever be as good as Jojo. Not. Ever.

The only person who seemed to understand was Zack’s friend, Emily. She’d lost her cat, Roxie, a while ago and she told Zack how much she cried when it happened. And then she told him “the very best news ever!”

It was a secret that her grandpa told her: when a pet dies, it’s still connected to you by an Invisible Leash. You can’t see it but “it’s the realest thing in the whole wide world,” Emily said. It “connects our hearts to each other. Forever.”

Zack thought that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard! How could there be a leash that connected him to who-knows-where when Jojo was gone? Jojo hated leashes, and he knew that Roxie was never, ever leashed.

But Emily kept talking. The Invisible Leash, she said, connects all animals to their people, from beyond to here and back. When you miss one another, she said, you’ll feel the tug on the leash. You’ll know that your pet is with you because the tug feels “like love.”

And if you’re not crying now, your soul is made of ice.

That’s one of the odder things about “The Invisible Leash”: while the story here is a major comfort for children who’ve experienced the loss of a pet, it’s one powerfully emotional book for the adult who’s likewise lost the animal.

Author Patrice Karst presents a concept that kids will eagerly (and easily) grasp, one that doesn’t feel one bit impossible for a child who’s used to worlds of pretend and imaginary beings. It helps that Zack and Emily are Every Kid, and that quiet delights are hidden-not-hidden inside the artwork by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Those things help start the healing as you read aloud.

That is, if you can stop sobbing yourself. Yes, it’s that kind of book.

As a companion to Karst’s “The Invisible String,” this story is perhaps best for kids ages 5-9, or for an adult who needs to read it. Find “The Invisible Leash,” but see to it that you bring tissues, too.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.