All across the United States, the 1920s came roaring in after the first World War and people were anxious to ride the tide of progress that hung over the land. In the southernmost climes, a little city – heretofore not much more than a quiet town nestled between the glistening turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay to the east, and the hot and steamy Everglades to the west – was heralded by newspapers up and down the Eastern Seaboard as an up-and-coming “Magic City.” Henry M. Flagler’s vision to link South Florida to the rest of the country via railroad was one of the sparks that ignited the flame of frenzied growth in Miami.
I was born in Odum, Ga., in 1920 and was 2 months old when my father, Ellison Ogden, a carpenter, was captivated by the stories he heard of the opportunities to the south. An adventurous young man looking to capitalize on the boom in Miami, Ellison packed up his young wife – my mother, Gladys Robinson Ogden- and me and headed for this land of sunshine and infinite possibility, leaving behind a less than promising future in south Georgia at that time. Our little family adapted quickly to the bustling excitement of a new life, settling in to a little flat off of Miami Avenue where I slept in a dresser drawer as my father began to venture out and seek a fortune he’d heard was there for the taking.
A few years and several moves later, I was of school age. My fondest memories of Miami began at Earlington Heights Elementary off of Northwest 22nd Avenue and 54th Street. At 90 years of age, I can still remember representing the color Indigo and dancing in the school’s May Pole Dance there. Before too long, we moved to Allapattah, where housing was affordable and good things were happening in the community. Still, there were many vacant lots for us kids to explore. We helped ourselves to the guavas that grew profusely there, often eating the green ones even though our mothers had warned us of the belly aches that would result. I attended Allapattah Elementary from third through sixth grade, and in seventh grade I went next door to the newly built – and “modern” – Andrew Jackson Jr. High School. Besides the stores like Live and Let Live Drug Store and the Allapattah Five and Dime, bakeries and hardware stores sprang up. My favorite place was the Regent Theater, which faced 17th Avenue. The Regent Theater was where us kids would go on Saturday afternoons, dimes in hand, to see Tom Mix movies and enjoy the newsreels, Western serials, cartoons and popcorn, which all came with your ten-cent ticket. Sometimes I had to look around the neighborhood for empty pop bottles to cash in for my movie money. On certain Saturdays, talent shows were also held at the Regent, and it was great fun to see all the neighborhood kids on stage, carrying on in hopes of winning the prizes given, which were usually a free Coke or a $5 bill.
Long about the junior high days, my brother James Bryan (Jimmy) Ogden was born. When he was 7 years old, he began his working career, hunting bottles and selling mom’s homemade fudge door to door. When he was about 12 years old, he rode his bike across the causeway to Miami Beach and sold Liberty Magazines to the snow birds who would lounge on the porches in front of the newly built luxury hotels. When the Ringling Brothers Circus would come to town, Jimmy would gain free admission to the shows by watering the elephants. In high school, at Miami Edison, Jimmy delivered The Miami Herald on his bike in the early mornings before school.
After I finished junior high, I was bussed to Miami Senior High, and it was during that time that my parents divorced. My father had not achieved the financial success that he’d dreamed of a decade or so earlier. As a single parent now, my mother made ends meet during those difficult post-Depression years by taking in sewing for people and baking cakes.
As a proud Stingaree, I was a sergeant on the drill team and loved taking part in the half-time shows at the old Orange Bowl stadium and marching in the New Year’s Eve Orange Bowl Parade down Biscayne Boulevard. It was at Miami High that I met my husband, a handsome football player, Oscar DuBreuil. While dating, we would frequently borrow Oscar’s father’s car and stop by a barbecue stand to get sandwiches to go. We’d drive over to Coconut Grove, where the Pan American sea planes landed, to watch the “submarine races” in Biscayne Bay.
During the time after high school, when Oscar was away at the University of Florida, I worked briefly at Dade Pharmacy downtown, making milk shakes and ice cream sundaes at the soda fountain. I made extra money at Kress’ on Flagler Street at Christmas, wrapping presents, before landing a job with Western Union Telegraph Company. On weekends, I would sometimes go with my girlfriends to watch my sister-in-law, Sylvia DuBreuil Self, in jitter-bugging contests held in a large dance hall on Biscayne Boulevard, right at the mouth of the Julia Tuttle Causeway. I would sometimes go to DuBreuil’s Restaurant in Hialeah. My husband’s cousin George DuBreuil, who owned the diner, later became a Miami commissioner. Mother and Jimmy and I would always enjoy visiting the marina at Bayfront Park and watching the fishing boats come in with their catch of the day. I remember the chaos that ensued being in Bayfront Park the day someone opened fire on President-elect Roosevelt, who was there giving a speech.
In 1941, Oscar and I were married in a small ceremony at Holy Cross Episcopal church and spent our one-night honeymoon at the President Hotel in South Beach. The war was raging in western Europe at the time and we were grateful to have found jobs, Oscar working in Miami Beach at the Southern Bell Telephone Company repairing phone lines and driving Ma Bell’s little green trucks. Working for Western Union during the war was an extremely busy and interesting time for me. We would receive and deliver so many messages that we wore roller skates in the building to expedite handling the telegrams, and upstairs from my department was an area held under tight security, where military officials worked, censoring incoming and outgoing material. Ma Bell and Western Union were part of our lives for many years.
In 1955 our only child, Dodi DuBreuil (Mace), was born at Doctors Hospital, and we brought her home to our little “Mackle House” that was near Miami International Airport. We paid $6,700 for a two-bedroom, one-bath home, and I was so excited to choose whatever asphalt tile I wanted for the floors. In the mid-’60s, we moved to South Miami. Sunset and Kendall Drives were two-lane, mostly gravel roads, and the Palmetto Bypass was the new link from north Miami to Coral Gables and beyond.
In the mid-’60s, Oscar wrote a novel called The Wrong Way Out that was loosely based on a scandal that had taken place at the telephone company. Larry King had a talk show on WIOD radio, and Oscar was interviewed by Larry when his book first hit the stands. We lived in South Miami for many happy years and enjoyed life when our daughter was a member of South Miami High’s first graduating class in 1973.
Even though I moved to Atlanta with my daughter and her family over 20 years ago after my husband passed away, I still consider myself a Miamian to the core. Mother used to tell a story that when she would take me back to visit family in Georgia as a little girl, I would call it “MY ami” and get annoyed when other people would speak of Miami, reminding them that they don’t live there, so it’s not “THEIR -ami.” Ninety years later, I will always love the unique diversity and charm of the city that I call “MY ami.”