Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Florida History: No king cakes or beads but Seminoles for early West Palm "Mardi Gras"

View from WPB to Palm Beach

By Jane Feehan
(USE SEARCH BOX AT RIGHT TO FIND MORE FLORIDA HISTORY or visit my all-history blog at: janeshistorynook.blogspot.com)

We all know about the dollars and attention Mardi Gras (http://mardigrasday.com/) generates for New Orleans but few remember that West Palm Beach once vied for a similar event in the early 1900s. The business community was eager to elevate the profile of this new South Florida city; New Orleans was its inspiration.

With an idea and vague plan, a committee of businessmen in 1916 set out for the Everglades to solicit the participation of Tony Tommie (1889-1931), a young Seminole who they thought was chief.

A caption underneath a photo of Tommie (Palm Beach Post, Feb. 17, 1916) used to promote the event   read:  “Tony Tommie is the newly-elected Chief of the Tommie tribe of Seminoles who has agreed to bring his tribe to the Palm Beach Seminole Sun Dance.”

The first Seminole to attend a white school, Tommie was never chief but often spoke unofficially for his people.  He did agree to bring other Seminoles to the first event, named the Seminole Sun Dance.

Seminole traditions never included a Sun Dance but that didn’t bother anyone. The first event, launched with $1000 and high hopes, was held in the spring of 1916 and continued each year until 1923.  It included Seminoles in their traditional dress marching side by side with costumed white participants in a parade.  A beauty contest, baby parade, marching bands and other elements were added over the years.  After 1923, it was held intermittently until the 1950s.  In 1959, some called for the event to be made permanent, but it never came to pass. Needless to say, nor did an event comparable to the New Orleans Mardi Gras ever materialize.

Today, Sunfest (www.sunfest.com), an annual three-day music festival, has long dimmed memories about its Seminole Sun Dance predecessor.  
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Sources:

Palm Beach Post, May 3, 1955 at:

Tags: Florida history, West Palm Beach history, West Palm in the 1900s, Tony Tommie, 
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