Creating and Selling Paradise

For Sale cover

Florida is where winners go to play and everyone goes in search of the good life. Yet only a century ago, much of Florida was a swampy, mosquito infested frontier. In his latest book, For Sale–American Paradise: How America Was Sold An Impossible Dream In Florida, National Geographic News Contributing Editor Willie Drye tells the colorful, captivating story of how Florida went from wasteland to wonderland. I talked to Drye about his new book.

There have been many books written about the reckless real estate speculation in Florida during the 1920s and the spectacular crash that followed. Why did you think one more book about this topic was needed?

Several reasons. Other books focused mainly on “big names” of that era—Coral Gables developer George Merrick, political icon William Jennings Bryan, Miami Beach developer Carl Fisher—and I didn’t think much had been said about the millions of ordinary dreamers who came to Florida and were caught up in the frenzied real estate speculation. I thought the story of Edwin Menninger, a young journalist who came to Florida in 1921 to shake a bad case of the flu, was a new take on this period, and I thought he brought a fresh and unusual perspective to the narrative as both a participant and a commentator.

Also, the other books all pretty much ended with the 1926 hurricane that hit Miami. This hurricane eventually became the landmark event for the end of the land boom.

But identifying this event as the end was something that I thought was determined only in retrospect, when you could look at the entire decade of the 1920s. It seemed to me that the people who were caught up in the boom, who had invested their hopes, dreams and cash in Florida, didn’t realize the 1926 hurricane meant that the good —> Read More