Paradise Found

by Pat Janda

JERI MAGG FELL IN LOVE with Sanibel Island a long time ago. In 1977, she and her husband, Karl, and their two daughters, Carolyn and Kathy, spent spring break on a trip to DisneyWorld from their home in New York. After enjoying the new amusement park, they drove to several Florida cities for an extended vacation. Arriving on Sanibel Island, they surprisingly ran into an acquaintance from their home town at church that Easter Sunday. The friend invited them over to her home for coffee. Taken by the beauty and serenity of the island, they felt it may be time to think about buying a piece of this paradise as an investment for the future. Their friend suggested a realtor and soon they stepped inside a particularly beautiful Gulf front condo, put a down payment on it, and continued to vacation there for the next three years!

In 1980, Jeri and her family made the decision to move to Sanibel permanently. “Our friends and relatives thought we were crazy, but we felt the move would allow our girls an extension of their childhood,” Jeri explains. These new surroundings allowed the girls to ride bikes and explore the islands with no fear for their safety. Carolyn and Kathy soon joined the swim team and made friends.

This move also permitted Jeri to return to her other ‘first love’ – writing. After a stint as a social worker, she started taking writing classes at night at Edison Community College. One of her teachers encouraged her to submit an article about the Oregon Trail to National Cowboy magazine and to her surprise the article was published. Thus began her almost 25 year career as a freelance writer. She is one of the founding members of the Gulf Coast Writers Association.

A History major in college, Jeri became a docent at the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village in 1999. She found the history of the island so fascinating that she began to publish local newspaper articles about those early days when natives roamed the islands. As publicity chairperson for the museum, she was able to interview many of the descendents of the early pioneers. Though books had been written about the islands, Jeri saw an opportunity to do things a little differently. “I wanted a book that told stories about the historical sites,” says Jeri.

She spent many months selecting which sites to include and asked a friend who is a photographer to take some photos. “I ended up having to scan more than 100 old pictures at the Sanibel Library,” Jeri notes. When the project was finally completed Jeri submitted a query to the publisher, Historic Press in Charleston, South Carolina. “I received an email from the publisher only a week later with the subject line ‘Manuscript Accepted.’ I was thrilled.” She spent last summer editing and rewriting the book, which was published last November. Jeri admits, “It was a great experience. One I hope will happen again.”

Historic Sanibel and Captiva Islands: Tales of Paradise is a wonderful journey into the area’s past. Tales of the earliest pioneers resonate in the gravesites and historic structures still dotting the landscape. One can hear the toot of a whistle announcing the arrival of the ferry, visualize the snap of a farmer’s whip urging his mules to plow, or imagine life for a genteel civil war widow fighting mosquitoes and snakes to till the soil. Life was enjoyed to the fullest for most of these homesteaders who reveled in the wild, remote and oftentimes, chaotic existence of calling these islands home.

Jeri recalls stories about how the famous and infamous sought seclusion on the islands. Anne Lindbergh wrote Gifts from the Sea here, Teddy Roosevelt anchored offshore to catch sharks and devilfish, J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling constructed a home in the bay with a drawbridge for privacy, and at least one criminal got away with murder. There are also amusing stories of ghosts haunting a fishing cottage or rearranging items in a clothing store. There is a story about a lighthouse keeper’s wife being bowed to by Cuban fishermen while using a privy. And there are the stories about the great hurricanes of 1921 and 1926 wiping out the farming on the islands.

Readers can follow the maps to these sites and almost hear the voices from the past, whether it’s ferry boat Captain Leon Crumpler laughing about the driver who shot backwards off the ferry or John Oster and Clarence Chadwick arguing about a public road in Wulfert. And who dug up Oliver Bowen’s body from his well? This book provides the answers.

So it turned out that the Easter vacation Jeri Magg and her family took over 31 years ago was the beginning of many years of happiness on Sanibel Island. Not only was paradise found, but Jeri had the chance to write about it for others to find. •

'Historic Sanibel & Captiva Islands: Tales of Paradise'
available at bookstores on Sanibel & Captiva Islands
and throughout Southwest Florida – as well as online.

March-April 2012

Jeri Magg is one of the
founding members of the
Gulf Coast Writers Association
Teddy Roosevelt anchored
his barge in the bay off Captiva
to study sharks and devilfish.
The Sanibel Lighthouse