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Thursday, October 6, 2022

Meet Mr. Miami Memorabilia: Seth Bramson

Professor Seth Bramson is known as “Mr. Miami Memorabilia.”

He is a historian, author, scholar and collector. His “Bramson Archive” in Miami Shores includes photographs, posters, brochures, signs, documents, letters and other valuable items. I recently sat down with Seth as he shared his fascinating story.

“My family moved down here from New York City in August of 1946. The following year, Dad started taking me to the Mayflower Coffee Shop on Biscayne Boulevard and Southeast First Street. Then, to the pony track at Northeast 15th Street and Biscayne Boulevard (where Jordan Marsh would be built). The highlight of the day would be going to “Toodles” to see the great steam locomotives at Florida East Coast Railway’s Buena Vista Yards. Today that area is called Midtown Miami. We did that for three years, and from that point on I loved the FEC. By the age of 13 I knew I had to start saving and preserving the company’s memorabilia.”

Seth continued, “My serious collecting of FEC Railway and Florida transportation memorabilia, Miami memorabilia and Floridiana (artifacts relating to the state of Florida) began on the day I walked into the FEC City Ticket Office in the Ingraham Building in downtown Miami for the first time. It was May of 1958. I asked for timetables, and it has never lessened or let up since then. The Bramson Archive now numbers more than one and a half million individual items. As the senior collector of FEC genre in America, and holding the largest collection of its kind in this country, it appears I have earned the sobriquet of Mr. Miami Memorabilia.”

I asked Seth to share details of his Florida East Coast Railway collection.

“My collection of FEC Railway and Florida transportation memorabilia is the largest in the world. It is larger than the state museum’s collection (of like items, of course, not their entire collection!) and larger than the Flagler Museum’s collection, the same disclaimer applying. Simply put, there is nothing like it in America, as it composes tens of thousands of pieces, from annual passes and letter to tickets, timetables, booklets, brochures, photographs, negatives, china, silver, menus, lanterns, lounge car ashtray stands, the only FEC heavyweight drumhead known to exist, stainless steel passenger car name signs, train name signs from the Miami station and Jacksonville terminal, ticket dater dies, wax sealers, hats and occupation badges for those hats, a big concrete mile post marker from the days of the Key West Extension along with the largest collection of Key West Extension memorabilia in public or private hands in the country along with FEC postcards, original linen drawings of rights of way, stations and other buildings and a great deal more including my Florida license plate which reads ‘FEC BUFF.’”

Aside from his FEC collectibles, Seth was asked what other unusual memorabilia has he acquired?

“The list is close to endless, but several of the most unusual and or unique items (as in one of a kind, none others known to exist) are the largest collection of Black Miami memorabilia in the country, the largest collection of ‘restricted clientele’ memorabilia in public or private hands in the country, the largest collection of Greater Miami hotel and restaurant memorabilia including booklets, brochures, postcards, china, silver and menus in public or private hands in the country, the largest collection of historic Florida postcards in the country, same now numbering 41 shoe-box sized boxes of historic Florida postcards….and there is much, much more.”

I asked Seth, “What is your most prized collectible?”

“Wow, what a ‘loaded’ question. It might be my collection of the FEC Railway’s original negatives, color transparencies and photographs by our long time (1925-1958) Company Photographer, the late, great Harry M. Wolfe, he of blessed memory who, yes, was Jewish and would not work on the Sabbath. Or perhaps the only known to exist promotional brochure put out by the then-incorporated Village of Coconut Grove in 1913 debunking the ‘orange blossom’ myth and clearly stating that Julia Tuttle did not send any orange blossoms to Henry Flagler. The huge Orange Bowl Committee drumhead which had been either a ‘‘Florida Special’ or a ‘Miamian’ drumhead that was placed on the rear of the FEC’s passenger trains; it might be the oldest known to exist piece of historic Miami memorabilia. The hand written 1823 Abstract of the 94,160 Acres of Miami or perhaps the oldest known piece of marked Dade County memorabilia known to exist, the 1878 Revenue (tax) collectors book with about 32 names in it (for the whole county, which, at that time, included today’s Martin, Palm Beach and Broward Counties) showing the $3600 collected that year.

Seth continued, “Perhaps our collection of ‘restricted clientele’ memorabilia or the COLORED sign from the FEC waiting room for the-then referred to as Negroes from the Miami station. Of course we also hold the only two Julia Tuttle signed letters known to exist in Miami-Dade County, but with a world class collection, however, it is close to impossible to name or pick out one single piece as ‘most prized collectible.’”

Seth shared the titles of some of the over 30 books on Florida’s history he has written.

“My latest is ‘Lost Restaurants of Miami.’ I have written five books on the history of the FEC (’Speedway to Sunshine: The Story of the Florida East Coast Railway’ is America’s single best-selling regional railroad history with now close to 4,000 copies having been sold. Among the other books are the histories of Hallandale Beach, Sunny Isles Beach (’From Sandbar to Sophistication: The Story of Sunny Isles Beach’); ‘33154: The Story of Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Indian Creek Village and Surfside;’ ‘The Curtiss – Bright Cities: Hialeah, Miami Springs and Opa Locka,’ ‘Broward County’ in Arcadia’s ‘Images of America’ series which in 2018 was named the Broward County book of the year by that county’s commission; six and one-half histories of Miami Beach and its northern suburbs (’But Seth, how could you write half a book?’ and the answer is simple: ‘L’Chaim! The History of the Jewish Community of Greater Miami’ is approximately half Miami Beach; two biographies and the histories of Miami, Coral Gables, North Miami Beach, Homestead and more.”

I asked Seth, “Why have you chosen local history as the subject in your books?”

“Remember, as I like to tell people, I’m just an ol’ South Florida hillbilly, raised from the age of two in the wilds of Miami Beach. Grew up there, went to Miami Beach High, dated girls from Gables High and Miami High (I have the very first Miami High yearbook, 1914) and eventually graduated with my bachelor’s degree from a little school in a small town in upstate New York called Cornell University. But I have always loved the place where I grew up – Greater Miami – and, frankly, so much of what had been previously written was made up nonsense filled with bubbemissehs and I know that. I would be and was the person to ‘set the record straight,’ and in addition to being known as ‘Mr. Miami Memorabilia’ and ‘Mr. F. E. C.’ I have also become known as ‘the great debunker’ because I have debunked so many of the nonsensical and completely fairy tales, fol-de-rol and myths which have been thrown around as if they were factual for years and which needed and need to be set straight.”

Seth was asked if he had a favorite among his books.

“Tough question. Having written 33 and working on the 34th, have to say (write) that I’ve loved ‘em all, but perhaps ‘Speedway to Sunshine…’ being my first, might still be my favorite but certainly close behind are such as ‘Sunshine, Stone Crabs and Cheesecake: The Story of Miami Beach;’ ‘L’Chaim! The History of the Jewish Community of Greater Miami;’ the two biographies and ‘The Greatest Railroad Story Ever Told: Henry Flagler and the Florida East Coast Railway’s Key West Extension.’ Truth be told, I’ve loved doing them all and I’m now working on my 34th, the history of the City of North Lauderdale.”

Seth has written over 400 articles. I asked him, “Where have they been published and what are the subjects?”

“Wow! Great question! ‘A Tale of Three Henrys: the Three Great Henrys Who Built Florida’ in the Wolfsonian Journal of the Decorative and Propaganda Arts; several articles on local history in Biscayne Times; numerous articles in ‘The Speedway,’ the magazine of the Florida East Coast Railway Society; an article some years ago in Tequesta and many, many more both online and in print publications, all of them having to do with South Florida local or Florida transportation history.”

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Seth was asked to share an interesting fact or story about Florida that people are not aware of.

“Oh, yes, I love it! Unfortunately and unhappily we are burdened locally with untold amounts of hooey and nonsense, and as ‘The Great Debunker’ I have developed a talk which is called ‘Debunking the Greater Miami Myths’ and it is in that talk that people learn that Julia Tuttle never sent Mr. Flagler any orange blossoms to get him to extend the railroad to Biscayne Bay (how did she send them, by FedEx? By Postal Service Overnight?) The whole story is nonsense; ‘Oh, I remember the signs on Miami Beach which read No Jews/No Dogs!’ There were about six hotels or apartment houses that did have signs that read ‘No Jews,’ but never on the same sign, did it read, ‘No Dogs,’ and if there was such a sign it was twenty or thirty feet away.”

Seth continued, “I give 15 different talks (seven of which are my ‘adult show and tell’ talks to which I bring the memorabilia) to service clubs, fraternal organizations, churches, temples and veteran’s organizations at no cost or charge. Everything from ‘L’chaim….’ to ‘History of Miami Part One’ followed by Part Two, ‘Lost Restaurants….,’ ‘Speedway to Sunshine,’ and the talks on the Curtiss Bright cities, Miami Beach, 33154, Debunking the Greater Miami Myths and one everybody loves because I am the only person in the state of Florida who gives the talk titled ‘The History of Discrimination in South Florida,’ which is half Jim Crow and segregation and half restricted clientele, this is one of the ‘adult show and tell talks.’”

“On October 1, I will be giving the Lost Restaurants talk to the South Florida Writers Association at the library in Pinecrest, the former Parrot Jungle site and then I will, in late October, be giving three talks on the Florida west coast, two on the FEC and one, in Gulfport, on the history of the St. Petersburg trolleys.”

I asked Seth if his collection is open to the public?

“Absolutely, but because we are a private museum, those wishing to visit The Bramson Archive must call or email to arrange a visit as we are in class at Barry University five days a week this term and often giving talks or presentations.”

To schedule a tour or for more information, call Seth Bramson at (305) 757-1333.

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