History buffs hear about Marco's early years

A big crowd of around 200 waits for author Coleman to begin his talk.

Mixing tales of triumph, tragedy and down-home humor, author Michael Coleman held a crowd of more than 200 people spellbound during a talk at the official launch over the weekend of his new book, "Marco Island, Florida's Gulf Playground."

He and his team of contributing writers and photographers also signed copies of the book at the reception held at the Marco Island Historical Museum's Rose Auditorium.

During his hour-long presentation, Coleman had the crowd chuckling, for example, when he mentioned that pioneer Capt. Bill Collier's Marco Hotel (today's Olde Marco Inn & Suites) actually had a two-story outhouse.

"It actually made its way into a Ripley's Believe it or Not newspaper column back in the day," Coleman said, later observing: "I'm not so sure I'd want to be on the ground floor ... "

Coleman elicited audible emotions from the crowd when he recalled (from the book) that Capt. Bill Collier, son of island founder W.T. Collier, suffered a series of truly heartbreaking tragedies.

They include losing his mother when her clothing caught fire; his 16-year-old daughter Agnes in a separate island fire; his brother Benjamin, who drowned after falling overboard during a sailing trip; his first wife dying while giving birth to a stillborn child, and later the unspeakable loss by drowning of three young sons aged 8, 6 and 4 when his boat capsized in a storm off the Florida Keys.

Coleman noted that the boys were the first residents to be buried in the Marco Island Cemetery.

The book itself traces the history of the island to the present day, and dwells at length with the ups and downs of the 1960s developers, the Mackle Brothers.

It also talks about celebrities who have been wooed by the island; modern-day growth and the emerging allure that last year led to TripAdvisor's naming it the top destination island in the USA and the No. 4 island in the world.

Writers commissioned to contribute are all long-time residents, and include Former CNN anchors Don Farmer and Chris Curle, photographers Barry Howe and Joel Gewirtz, historians Marion Nicolay and Betsy Perdichizzi, author/historian Tom Williams, and Sun Times writer and photographer Quentin Roux.

The guest of honor and book foreword writer was 95-year-old architect Herb Savage, who worked closely with the Mackle Brothers, and is generally regarded as the island's definitive architect.