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Shell Shocked: It’s been 25 years, but who’s counting?

By Staff | Apr 12, 2012

Can you believe it, friends? I’ve been writing “Shell Shocked” for twenty-five years. I had recently arrived in Sanibel and knew instantly that this is where I wanted to spend more time. I had no choice. I was in the witness protection program.

I’ve had the good fortune of doing what I love these past twenty-five years writing a column that explores the universe without providing any fresh insights or new knowledge.

Having observed Sanibel for twenty-five years I’m in a unique position to draw some astute observations about the changes that have taken place here. But I won’t. Sanibel was a much different place when I first set foot on these shells. The automobile hadn’t been invented as yet and we all got around by dinosaur and carriage.

And, if you recall, the mayor of Sanibel at that time was Peter Stuyvesant and he had recently bought Sanibel from the Thomas Edison estate for six hundred light bulbs. This was considered a great deal at the time and Stuyvesant has been memorialized by a statue that bears no resemblance to him whatsoever in the Shell Museum.

The main restaurant in Sanibel twenty-five years ago was Four Seasons which did so well here that it moved to the Seagram building in New York. And of course Sherman Billingsley’s The Stork Club. It was at the Stork Club in Sanibel that Humphrey Bogart was reputed to have thrown a toy panda in the face of Hedda Hopper, the syndicated Hollywood gossip coumnist with whom he had clashed because she claimed that he couldn’t act. Bogie had quite a temper.

And unbeknownst to more recent visitors to Sanibel, the Rat Pack used the Sun Dial as its periodic retreat. You could count on Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Bishop and George McGovern to close the bar each and every night after a few rounds of Elizabethan verse. In fact, Francis Bailey was a member of the Rat Pack in those days and sang just as well as Sinatra.

Ah, memories. Not too many people remember that we had a major league baseball team here twenty-five years ago the Sanibel Shellers. Despite sell outs for every game, the owners up and moved the franchise to Beirut, Lebanon where baseball was in its infancy. The team did well there until it was discovered that the star third baseman smoked hashish.

I’m often asked how life in Sanibel twenty-five years ago compares to today. Those were rough and tumble days. Even though the causeway had already been built, no one used it. The causeway was built originally to allow alligators from Lee County to visit Sanibel on weekends. Humans were trafficked to Sanibel by way of an underwater subway which was built in 1871.

Unfortunately, the subway was severely damaged when an Italian cruise ship that was headed for Bali lost its way and collided with the outer wall of the subway causing the subway to elevate above the water. It became an eyesore and was sold as scrap iron to the Iraqi government which used it to build presidential palaces.

The Sanibel City Council passed a law that allowed humans to begin using the causeway and alligators from Lee County were henceforth banned from Sanibel. This law was opposed by environmentalists and went all the way to the Supreme Court.

When I arrived in Sanibel twenty-five years ago it had become a possession of Monaco, which owned it before it was sold to Thomas Edison. Princess Grace Kelly would hold lavish parties at the West Wind Inn and invite royalty from throughout the world. It wasn’t uncommon to see Prince Irving of Luxembourg flirting on the beach with Duchess Sadie of Lower Slobovia. Monaco law forbade the fraternizing between commoners and royalty at that time which meant that I could never get invited to Princess Grace’s wild parties. I readily admit that I wasn’t born of royalty even though my mother insisted on calling me Duke.

All that changed as a result of the Sanibel Revolution when Sanibel natives waged a war against Monaco and fought for their freedom. I was here when the revolution had just ended and witnessed history in the making. Sanibel natives led by Francis Bailey hoisted the Sanibel flag where the Monaco flag once stood and sang the Sanibel national anthem “Caldonia, Caldonia, What Makes Your Big Head so Hard?”

English replaced Monocan as the official language of Sanibel and passports were no longer required to cross the causeway. Monaco and Sanibel signed a peace treaty and if you visit the Sanibel Lighthouse you can still see the Monaco family coat of arms at the very top, just above the portrait of Cary Grant.

And then the Sanibel City Council sold Sanibel to the Edison estate and was later bought back by Mayor Stuyvesant. Twenty-five years of warm memories. They say you can take the boy out of Sanibel but you can’t take Sanibel out of the boy. That’s how I feel after twenty-five years in Sanibel. Every so often I’m accosted when I least expect it by masked marauders who attempt to take Sanibel out of me. But I fight them off, sing “Caldonia, Caldonia, What Makes Your Big Head so Hard?” and send them on their way.

And as I write this from my room in the psychiatric ward of the semantically deprived I have nothing but a smile on my face where my nose used to be. After twenty-five years of lackluster, meaningless and inconsequential observations of Sanibel life I have finally been banned from ever setting foot on Sanibel again.