Was There a 'Munchkin Land' in Florida? Apr 12, 2015 8:39:52 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Apr 12, 2015 8:39:52 GMT -5
Was There a ‘Munchkin Land’ in Florida?
FORT MYERS, Fla. – For decades, rumors have persisted about a secretive village of little people that once lived in their own south Lee County neighborhood that stood where The Landings is now located. Stories occasionally surface of a satellite colony of circus retirees or snowbirds of short stature seeking respite from an often-unkind world. Teens supposedly used to dare each other to go in and many still tell tales of those wild nights.
Ray McDonald told me he and his pals called it Munchkin Land because “there were little tiny red and white houses in that area and especially those of us that went to Cypress Lake High School considered it a great place for an evening cruise with your favorite girl (though) I never saw little people . . . There was another story about if you try to view them they would chase you with rakes, booms and shovels.” He freely admits to – and now regrets – teenaged insensitivity, but wonders nonetheless. “All of this took place in the less politically correct 1970s. We were kids and it was amusing. Not saying that we would do that today. But that is a part of Fort Myers history good or bad,” and it continues to intrigue him. The problem is, says McDonald, who now lives in Arizona, lots of people have never heard about it and whether or not the place (and people) existed remains the subject of heated debate on several Facebook groups. The Southwest Florida Museum of History had nothing about a settlement of little people there and so far, nothing’s turned up at the nonprofit Southwest Florida Historical Society either.
What we do know for sure: The property was once home to Braden-Sutphin Farms, developed by Ohio businessman Al Sutphin, who began a printing ink company in Cleveland that survives to this day. In the 1940s, he set up Braden-Sutphin Farms as a vacation retreat for family and friends and a retirement community. A call to corporate headquarters was not immediately returned. We also know for sure that in the 1920s, the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus briefly considered Fort Myers as a winter encampment before settling on Sarasota in 1927.
Marian Godown and Alberta Rawchuck reported in their book, The Story of Fort Myers that “The Ringling Circus midgets (above) who called on Thomas Edison in 1930 were probably his most unusual guests. Circus King John Ringling tried to locate his circus in Fort Myers. Old-timers were genteel and wealthy winter residents didn’t take kindly to the idea, so Ringling set up his circus winter quarters in Sarasota.” But whether or not a satellite clique of little people decided to head farther south is open to debate.
In the Facebook group, “You Grew up in Fort Myers ...,” Fort Myers native Bob Himschoot recalled that “Family members and corporate executives would winter at the (Braden-Sutphin) property. A Mr. Sweeney was manager for property. Jack Gibson (deceased) was caretaker for many years. Pool and pavilion at times was used by the St, Francis Xavier Parish for retreats, family picnics etc. Mr Sweeney (deceased) was a member of St Francis Xavier Parish. This was prior to 1970.”
Nothing about little people, though. What McDonald wants is concrete proof – documents, first-hand recollections, photos and so on. But so far, nothing’s turned up, which is why he’s hoping Tropicalia readers can help. McDonald says, “People will tell you that the windows were built too low, you had to duck to go in the doors and ... circus performers rented them. If it is imagination, then it is the collective imagination of a generation of kids.”
Help solve the history mystery. If you have information, photos or documents about whether there was a settlement of little people on the site of what’s now The Landings in south Fort Myers, please email Amy Bennett Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org, call her at (239) 335-0367 or send a note to her in care of The News-Press, Post Office Box 10, Fort Myers, FL 33902.
Source: Amy Bennett Williams, The Fort Myers News-Press, April 11, 2015.