by Larry Smith
Later this month, Ernest Hemingway's grandson, John, a 52-year-old writer from Montreal, will take part in a fishing tournament sponsored by the Bimini Big Game Resort & Marina,
Founded in 1955 by Bahamian entrepeneur Neville Stuart, the Big Game Club (as it was originally known) was NOT one of the places frequented by Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s when Bimini was his second home.
Back then, Stuart was a fuel salesman for the West India Oil Refining Company, and Bimini was one of his preferred stopovers. It was Hemingway who persuaded him to acquire a Prohibition-era bar called the Fountain of Youth and offer accommodation to anglers. He called it the Anchors Aweigh Hotel.
After the Second World War, Stuart began organising fishing tournaments, and operated the island's iconic mailboat - the Bimini Gal, which sank in 1972. In 1955 he built the Big Game Club, whose marina was the sportfishing headquarters of the Bahamas for years.
After Stuart sold out to the Bacardi family in 1969, the property changed hands several times. Following major renovations, it re-opened two years ago as part of the Bimini Bay development. Stuart, often hailed as the "father of Bimini", died in 1987.
It is a measure of just how much Bimini has changed that Hemingway will share the fishing spotlight at the Big Game Resort this month with Playboy model Shawn Dillon - a blonde from Sarasota, Florida.
While Dillon poses for tacky pictures, Hemingway will write an online essay for Sport Fishing Magazine's website about the history of big-game fishing in Bimini, accompanied by photo galleries. It is something he is familiar with - having represented the family legacy in Bimini many times over the years.
I met Leicester in the 1970s, when I visited Bimini as a writer for the Bahamas News Bureau. Tall and bearded, he bore a striking resemblance to his older brother, conceding wryly that he was "a tough act to follow.” But Leicester managed to produce six books of his own, including a well-received 1962 biography of Ernest.
For the last few years of his life, he edited the Bimini Out Islands News, a small monthly newsletter that focused on fishing activities. Suffering from diabetes, he committed suicide in 1982 at the age of 67.
Ernest Hemingway produced most of his writing between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s. He won a Nobel Prize in 1954 and many of his works are literary classics. Bimini was a favourite haunt in the late 1930s, where Hemingway lived on his yacht, Pilar, or at the historic Compleat Angler Hotel, which unfortunately burned down in 2006.
But most bars in Bimini claim to have had him as a patron. Hemingway's permanent home at the time was in Key West, but Bimini offered better fishing and a more rugged environment. And Hemingway used his Bimini experiences to write famous novels like the Old Man and the Sea, and Islands in the Stream.
Bimini resident Thomas Hudson is the central character in Islands in the Stream, which was written in the 1950s but not published until 1970, several years after the author's death. An artist by profession, Thomas is solicited to paint a picture "to end them all...You got to have vision, Tom. We can paint the end of the world….that would make a hell of a painting."
The End of the World Bar has been a Bimini fixture since at least the 1950s and it is tempting to believe there is a connection with Hemingway's novel. No more than a shack on the dune, the saloon attracts innumerable online references, although it is unlikely that Hemingway (who committed suicide in the US in 1961) ever drank there.
But we do know who did drink there. New York pastor Adam Clayton Powell, one of the first African-Americans elected to the US Congress in 1945, was a popular figure on Bimini, where he had a vacation home, and he gave frequent interviews to American newsmen at the End of the World Bar.
Powell was a major personality in the civil rights struggles of the fist half of the 20th century. He campaigned to desegregate the press galleries in Congress and to end discrimination in the armed forces. He also famously led efforts to outlaw lynching. And his trademark phrase - "keep the faith, baby" - became a civil rights cliche in my youth.
Following allegations of corruption in 1967 he was excluded from his seat, but was re-elected and subsequently confirmed by the US Supreme Court. He spent more and more time on Bimini, until in 1970 he was defeated by another black politician. Powell died of prostate cancer in 1972 at the age of 63, and his ashes were emptied from a plane over the island.
Powell's girlfriend at the time was an American beauty queen named Corinne Huff. She lived with him in Bimini, but ended up marrying Powell's fishing-boat captain, 25-year-old Bahamian Patrick Brown, whose uncle, Harcourt Brown, owned the Compleat Angler Hotel. It was a big, juicy story at the time, and the wedding was featured prominently in Jet magazine.
The Jet article was written by Cordell Thompson, who later joined the Ministry of Tourism and is now retired on his home island of Exuma. Although Huff told Thompson she planned to spend her time raising a family with Brown, the marriage was short-lived. Huff was the first African-American to enter the Miss USA Pageant. She died in the US in 2006.
First settled in 1840 by a small group of Bahamian wreckers, Bimini had been put on the map as a key port for rum runners during the years of American Prohibition - from 1920 to 1933. During that time, liquor was profitably smuggled in huge quantities from the Bahamas to the United States, and since Bimini was nearest to the American mainland - that's where the first out island resort was conceived.
The three-storey, 100-room Bimini Bay Rod and Gun Club opened in 1920 with its own power plant. It employed scores of locals, but never made a profit. And within a few years it was abandoned. This failed development was the progenitor of today's massive Bimini Bay Resort, which is in the process of creating a virtual South Florida suburb on the tiny island of North Bimini.
In the 1990s the government signed off on a high-rise casino hotel, hundreds of marina slips, thousands of residential units, a golf course and a commercial centre. The original plans would have destroyed Bimini's mangrove-fringed lagoon - essentially killing the only marine nursery in the region - but the development was later scaled back.
The Rod and Gun Club was the brainchild of an American investor who travelled to Bimini on one of the world's first airlines, founded by a mechanic from Kentucky named Arthur ‘Pappy’ Chalk. In 1917 Chalk ran charters from Miami, and two years later began scheduled flights to Bimini, carrying both rum runners and lawmen.
One of his passengers was the infamous American gangster Al Capone, who visited Bimini and Nassau to work out deals with Bahamian liquor merchants. Chalk retired in 1964 and died 13 years later. When I interviewed him briefly in 1974, after his venerable seaplane service was acquired by Resorts International (it went out of business in 2007), he told me was afraid of flying because jet planes were "too fast".
It was during Prohibition that the American media created the stereotypical image of organised crime. Capone was one of many gangsters involved in the illegal liquor trade. One of their major suppliers was Sam Bronfman, the son of a Russian Jew who had emigrated to Canada in the 1880s. Sam ran a chain of saloons before becoming a Montreal liquor distributor, and eventually buying out Seagrams.
According to Larry Okrent, in his 2010 book, Last Call, the Bahamians who made the greatest fortunes during Prohibition never sailed a ship nor sold liquor directly to anyone in the US. "These entrepreneurs were largely the agents, importers and freight forwarders who turned the wheels of the business...By 1923, Roland Symonette, an ordinary Bahamian seaman from the island of Eleuthera who had become a Bronfman family partner, had already earned $1 million from the Bahamian liquor trade."
During prohibition, former US secretary of state William Jennings Bryan even threatened to invade Bimini if the Bahamas continued to tolerate its use as "the base of a conspiracy against the prohibition law". And by the time of his death in 1971, Bronfman had become fabulously wealthy, earning the questionable distinction of having "made drinking hard liquor respectable."
Although Ernest Hemingway was never part of the bootlegging culture, he was, of course, well known for his hard drinking. "Don't bother with churches, government buildings or city squares," he is quoted as saying, "if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars." He famously described drinking as "the irresponsibility that comes after the terrible responsibility of writing", and once shot himself in the leg while drunkenly trying to kill a shark.
When Prohibition ended, Bimini was discovered by pioneer sports fishermen like Kip Farrington, who landed Bimini's first recorded blue marlin in 1933. An associate editor of Field and Stream magazine, Farrington was able to stimulate the interest of other pioneer anglers - including Ernest Hemingway, who at the time was living just across the Gulf Stream in the Florida Keys.
Chasing huge pelagic fish like marlin and tuna became a passion for Hemingway, and his magazine articles did much to publicize the young sport. In fact, it was Hemingway and a small group of fellow pioneers who founded the Bahamas Marlin and Fishing Club, ancestor of the present-day International Game Fish Association.
But those days are largely over. The big fish Hemingway used to catch off the coast of Bimini are mostly gone now, their numbers decimated by commercial fishing. And Bimini's primitive charm has long since vanished.
As Hemingway once said, "all stories end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you."