After some consideration, he had purchased the former home of Robert “Believe it or Not” Ripley. To my knowledge, the house had enjoyed only one other owner since Ripley’s death and it still retained its jungle-like garden. It was overgrown with tropical plants of all description along with odd statues and to top it all, a Chinese junk, Ripley’s famous boat still moored at its dock. From the side back door stretched a patio made of coral rock which ended with broad and shallow steps the length of the patio down to pool level. The pool on its perch above the rest of the garden had a railing which was so overgrown with bouganvilla tangled round it, that it provided complete privacy from anyone wandering about below. Steps on either side of the pool’s near end led again downward to the jungle like yard and fence and beyond to the lake trail, a promenade which spanned nearly the length of Palm Beach along an inland waterway called Lake Worth. On the far side of the pathway lay the docks of the corresponding homes, many parked with their Boston Whalers for short excursions and yachts of all kinds. From the patio one could see the mainland of Florida stretching out along the far shore. It was another world over there. The real world, the workday world, where people lived as most, in normal houses, going to work every day, worrying about the bills and sending their children to public schools. The stores in West Palm carried the necessities of life. Palm Beach itself had a couple of small drugstores, and an even smaller grocery store on Royal Palm Way which delivered to its residents by way of phone orders. Few residents in Palm Beach did their own shopping, or transported their groceries home themselves. Otherwise, the tiny commercial areas of Palm Beach were devoted to exclusive boutiques, a couple of museums, the Paramount, a regal theater in the old style and its famously expensive shopping destination, Worth Avenue. There was a post office too, a tiny stand alone building at the top of that same street which took care of the residents postal needs. Palm Beachers were took great pride in their little world apart and were loath to leave the island in their daily tasks. There was a sense of containment on the island that left one with the feeling that when driving across one of the two bridges which connected it to West Palm Beach, the driver was leaving one universe and entering another.
It was 1960, and all domestic workers employed on the island were required to carry an I.D. which proved that they had a purpose there and to whom they were employed. This outrageous practice continued well into the 1980s, when Gary Trudeau covered the subject in his comic strip and the public shaming made headlines. Palm Beach police were vigilant in stopping anyone who might appear to be an outsider and ask for identification in the name of “safety” for the residents.
Many Palm Beach domestic servants were black, and they often lived across the way on an area called Rosemary, so called, after a street in that area of the same name. The effects of segregation were still very evident at the time. It’s other name was “Colored Town”, separating it from the rest of West Palm by that designation. The schools for the kids of Rosemary were segregated as well. Even when it was outlawed, the school in that area remained predominantly black. Rosemary ran through a series of small streets and run down buildings and homes with an exclusively black population. They had their own taxis, called “Jitneys” which often carried them to work if they were not “live-in help”. There was a good deal of crime in the vicinity as the extreme poverty there was visible and readily apparent.
My mother used to tell us to roll up our windows and lock the doors when we were passing by in the car on the way to the mall. It seemed odd to me, but I surmised by my mother’s behavior that even the sight of our shiny clean car might cause someone to run up and do something awful to the people inside. It was possible for me to imagine how angry it would make a person- to have to live there, and then to dress up and cross the bridge for work, where people had so much, only to return home to that place at the end of the day. In time, and with some life experience, I came to realize that my own mother was a bigot.