Bimini has had a vast number of famous and well known people comes to its shores over its short history. Even if we go back in time to the 1500s we can claim that the great explorer from Spain, Ponce de Leon tried to come to Bimini was alas did not.
However, in the 1700s the great pirates of the region did know of Bimini and several plied the waters here looking to plunder Spanish ships as they travelled north in the gulf stream enroute to Spain laden with treasure. Henry Morgan, Edward Teach, the famous Blackbeard, was here as was Charles Vane.
In the 1920s several notable people came to Bimini.
Van Campen Heilner, the wealthy son of an American coal magnate was here. He built a home here and pioneered the sport of bonefishing at Bimini. He also invited George Albert Lyon, a Detroit industrialist and inventor of the hub-cap clip among other things, to visit the island. Lyon came and loved the place and built two homes. The first was a modest single storey home -- still in existence at Bimini Bay Resort -- the other a three storey art-deco mansion on Bimini's northern tip. It has since been demolished.
Also in the 1920s, which was during the rum running era of Bimini's history, two famous bootleggers made Bimini a smuggler's mecca. Bill "The Real" McCoy and Gertrude Lythgoe made millions of dollars through rum running. Another person who made millions through bootlegging was Alphonse Capone who visited Bimini on board Chalk's seaplanes to make deals with liquor merchants.
In the 1930s other notables visited Bimini and made their impact felt.
With the end to prohibition in 1933 Bimini's prospects for continued prosperity looked grim. However, by 1933 word was spreading through the pioneer sports fishing community that Bimini, a tiny island in the British Bahamas, was a great fishing ground.
As a result the famous pioneer fishing guides and anglers swarmed to Bimini including several notable writers. S Kip Farrington and his wife, Chisie, landed record fish here in the 1930s. Farrington himself landed Bimini's first recorded blue marlin in February 1933. His several fishing books and articles in Field and Stream promoted Bimini even further. Businessman Michael Lerner and his wife, Helen, visited and eventually built a seasonal home here. They both landed many record catches but his interest was mainly in marine science and conservation. He paid the costs of numerous scientific expeditions to Bimini organised by the New York American Museum of Natural History. He would eventually co-found the International Game Fish Association and build the Lerner Marine Laboratory in Bimini. Alfred Glassell would also visit Bimini and land record breaking fish. Legendary fishing guides also made their mark but none moreso than Tommy Gifford and his charter boat, Lady Grace.. The inventor of the outrigger and the east coast developer of kite-fishing, Gifford was a giant among guides. One of his record catches still stands: a white marlin caught in Bimini waters by Dorothy Curtice. Other guides such as the famous Cass Brothers, Bill Hatch, Eddie Moore, Bill Fagen, Douglas Osborne and Eddie Wall all made Bimini world renowned as their patrons landed record size catches.
(L-R) Tommy gifford (sitting) Doug Osborne, a giant tuna,
Kip Farrington and Chisie Farrington
Also in the 1930s American author and sportsman, Ernest Hemingway was attracted to Bimini. He, and his fishing vessel Pilar, spent three summers in Bimini. Hemingway landed record catches and was the first person to bring an unmutilated tuna into a Bimini dock. He was also noted for his prowess in the boxing ring. A hard fighter, hard drinker and superb angler, Hemingway also wrote while here. Several magazine articles for Esquire where penned in Bimini and he worked on his novel To Have And Have Not. He stayed at the Compleat Angler Hotel except for those times he rented a small cottage for his wife and children. His experiences here and in Cuba gave him material for the novel, Old Man and The Sea, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. He also won the Nobel Prize for literature in recognition of his vast body of work. His posthumously published novel, Islands In The Stream is set, in part, in Bimini.
One of Hemingway's friends was the noted Danish author Isak Dinesen whose actual name was Baroness Karen Blixen of Denmark. She loved both Bimini and Hemingway. She is best known for her novel, Out of Africa.
Florida author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was in Bimini in the 1930s also. She met Hemingway here. Rawllings was the author of two famous novels, The Yearling and Cross Creek. She won a Pulitzer Prize for the latter. She was not impressed by Bimini. Her first impressions no doubt persuaded her not to return. She found the island primitve.
The 1940s were the war years. World War II was raging in both Europe and the Pacific. Three persons of note visited Bimini during these years. His Royal Highness Prince Edward The Duke of Windsor bonefished at Bimini with bonefish guide Sammy Ellis and played golf at Cat Cay. The duke was the former King Edward VIII who in 1936 gave up the British throne to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. From 1940 until 1945 he was Governor of The Bahamas. A frequent guest at Cat Cay it was there that the duke met with US Presdent Franklin Roosevelt. Noted US General "Hap" Arnold was also in Cat Cay recouperating from a heart attack. Cat Cay housed several American and British senior officers during the war.
The Duke of Windsor takes the royal salute as Governor of The Bahamas (1940-45)
The 1950s and 1960s saw many well known people visit Bimini. The great anglers kept coming of course and to their number were added younger anglers such as George and Phyliss Bass. Royal anglers also visited. Prince Wilhelm of Sweden, brother to the king, fished at Bimini and stayed at the Big Game Fishing Club.
Film stars came to Bimini including Sammy Davis, Jr, Lucille Ball and Judy Garland. Several of the Apollo astronauts came to the islands in the late sixties and early 1970s. George Albert Lyon had died in 1960 and his properties at Paradise Point on Bimini were sold to the Rockwell family who were leaders in the aerospace industry. American Labour leader Jimmy Hoffa also visited Bimini in the 1960s. The Museum displays his Bahamas Immigration card. Visitors often ask if he is still here.
Martin Luther King, Jr the Nobel Peace Prize recipient and leader of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s visited Bimini in 1964. His visit was brief but he came to get some peace and rest prior to his travelling to Sweden to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. While in Bimini he worked on his acceptance speech. He travelled with bonefish guide Ansil Saunders through the Bimini flats and mangroves of Bimini harbour and East Wells. The museum displays his Bahamas Immigration Card.
The 1960s saw another famous American political leader in Bimini. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr practically made his home here. Beginning in the mid 1960s Powell, the US Congressman from Harlem, visited Bimini to fish aboard his yacht, Adam's Fancy. Powell was the seminal leader of the American civil rights movement having been a force for desegregation in New York's restaurants and hotlels in the 1930s. He was a passionate spokesman for civil rights. He was also the Baptist preacher and pastor of one of Harlem's largest churches. Elected to congress in the 1930s he was a political force that took Washington by storm. He did not endear himself to the entrenched elite and was the victim of racism even in the halls of Congress. He was taunted by many of his fellow congressmen and eventually he was expelled from congress for alledged misdeeds but was re-elcted by the people of Harlem again and again. He had legal troubles in New York also as the result of a law suit that was made against him. He refused to the pay the suit or attend court. He could only visit Harlem on Sundays when such court summons could not be served. He spent more and more time in Bimini. He built a small house and continued to enjoy the fishing. He attracted news people to Bimini on a regular basis and the publicity helped Bimini become more well known.
He took ill in Bimini and was diagnosed with cancer and despite treament he took seriously ill while on Bimini and was flown to Miami where he died on April 4, 1972. After his New York funeral his ashes were sprinkled over the waters at Bimini. The Museum displays a collection of his books, a shirt, and his Bahamas Immigration Card. Today, Charles Rangel represents the Harlem district once held by Powell having won the Democratic nomination for the seat in 1971.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the angles continue to come. Film stars also made their way through Bimini and sports heroes as well. Johnny Cash, the country singer was here. NFL's Walter Peyton was here.
Don Johnson from Miami Vice fame received his SCUBA training here. His co-star Philip Michael-Thomas came to star in a British film, A Little Piece of Sunshine which also starred Lauren Bacall.
The film Silence of The Lambs had its ending filmed here. Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster starred in the horror-crime film which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year in 1991. Over 100 people from Bimini were hired as extras and support people for the production. The final scene was shot at the now defunct Chalk's Airline ramp. As the credits rolled Bimini's main street, the King's Highway, was clearly in view.