Last updated: May 15, 2017
Episode 02 - Alicia
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TranscriptHi! I'm Gary Bremen, a ranger here at Biscayne National Park, the largest marine park in the National Park System. The eastern waters of the park contain untold numbers of ships that have been lost upon the shallow patches of coral reef. Six of these shipwrecks have been carefully chosen to be part of the only underwater maritime heritage trail in the National Park Service. Before we look closer at a ship with one of the most fabled wrecking stories of all time, let's explore some of the natural features that helped to shape this Park's unique maritime history. Biscayne National Park is comprised of mangrove shorelines, the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay, the northern portion of the Florida Keys, and the northern section of the Florida coral reef. From pirates to homesteaders, people have long relied on the valuable natural resources found in these waters. In the 1800s, nations were trading and connecting like never before. The waters along the Florida reef came to be a marine superhighway for trade and commerce. Merchant ships had to round the southeast coast of Florida in order to head west to New Orleans, or east to New England or Europe with their goods and cargo. The increase in shipping traffic also brought about an increase in shipwrecks. The loss of considerable amounts of cargo carried on these ill-fated voyages led to the rise of the wrecking industry. Contrary to popular folklore, the wrecking industry was a tightly regimented business with the seat of legal authority located in Key West. Wreckers performed valuable salvage operations along the length of the Florida coral reef, including present-day Biscayne National Park. A wrecker's first priority was to save the human lives aboard the stranded ship. Second came the salvage of the cargo. In return for their services, wreckers were often paid with the very cargo they had helped to salvage. Many made their fortunes through the misfortune of a wrecked ship. In 1905, a steamer named "Alicia" ran aground on Long Reef. "Alicia's" cargo was valued at well over one million dollars. It included such fine items as silks, wines, ales, pianos, shoes, and even a complete iron bridge! Wreckers immediately went to work to salvage the expensive cargo. Crews of wreckers from Key West and the Bahamas nearly came to blows over who would have rights to salvage the vessel. Eventually, the ship's cargo was equitably split by painting a big line right down the center of the boat. Wreckers were then entitled to the cargo on their corresponding side of the line. As was common, the wreckers of "Alicia" were given cargo instead of money for their assistance in salvaging the ship's freight. It was reported that after the salvage, men from Key West to Miami were wearing Edwin Clapp shoes and women were wearing Queen Quality shoes. Both brands of shoes had been part of "Alicia's" precious cargo. "Alicia" is considered to be one of the last great wrecking stories. Advances in technology, updated charts and newly-installed lighthouses were turning shipwrecks into things of the past. In 1923, the doors of the Key West wrecking court were closed forever. Today, SS "Alicia" lies in 20 feet of water and is one of the wrecks on Biscayne National Park's Maritime Heritage Trail. While excellent for divers, experienced snorkelers can also explore the ship's remains. As you snorkel in the clear blue waters and view the abundant marine life that now calls the ship home, Imagine the goods and stories that once lay in the holds of the mighty vessel. You can help protect "Alicia's" story by remembering that this site, like all national park archeological sites, is part of our shared heritage. Remember to take only pictures and leave only bubbles. Dive into history and discover the stories behind the wrecks of Biscayne National Park's Maritime Heritage Trail.
Dive Into History: Shipwrecks of Biscayne National Park. A 5-minutes podcast on the Alicia shipwreck. Hosted by Gary Bremen. This video is open-captioned.