Freewheeling Encounters With Miami's Past: Take a Bike Tour With Julia Tuttle

Miami may be known for many things, but history isn't always foremost among them.

Oh sure, there's the ancient Tequesta ruins squeezed beneath a rare stretch of untilled land adjacent to downtown, and the Freedom Tower, which serves as our complement to Ellis Island. We can boast an array of iconic buildings, from Vizcaya and the Biltmore to Overtown's Lyric Theater and the art deco curiosities of South Beach. Then there's the pioneers that inspire retro reflection, people like Henry Flagler, Julia Tuttle, George Merrick, and James Deering, larger than life individuals who helped lay the foundation for what would eventually become our world class destination.

That ought to be proof enough of our own worthy back story of sorts, even if that tale is barely a hundred years old. Even so, Miami's cutting-edge reputation and continuing urban sprawl make unsurprising that people tend to overlook our legacy.

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While it's unlikely that historians will flock to Miami to explore and excavate our environs with the same fervor that's found in the Middle East or Africa, locals ought to consider the historical evidence our city does offer. While we may not have Neanderthal bones tucked into our topsoil, those in search of skeletal remains may someday find them in the form of hapless motorists who were stranded on I-95. So too, our flying insects and crawling creatures ought to qualify as primeval life forms.

Fortunately, for those with adventurous intents, the Front Yard Theatre Collective has created "History on Wheels," an interactive bike ride that combines education, entertainment and firsthand encounters with the players that helped shape Miami's past and present. Scheduled at 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 20, and Sunday, September 21, these special tours offer an opportunity to experience living history from a unique and unlikely perspective.

The rides, which are open to all, will start at HistoryMiami, located at the Miami-Dade Cultural Center Plaza (101 West Flagler St.). From there, participants will trail Julia Tuttle herself -- or at least someone thoroughly adept at playing the part -- as she pedals to places that are linked in some way to our local history. Every stop will feature a scene inspired by a specific historical event, acted and performed by members of the Front Yard Theatre Collective.

Participants are encouraged to dress in historical garb specific to Miami and, of course, to bring their own bikes. Those who want to get further involved can volunteer as production assistants and literally help to set the stage for this unusual adventure. Further information can be found by emailing [email protected] The group is also taking donations on Kickstarter. Dressing up as Tequesta Indians and futuristic sea creatures ain't cheap.

A final note: While it's hardly a trip to the Pyramids or a walk on the Great Wall, "History on Wheels" should go a long way towards disproving the notion that Miami has no history, especially when the view is captured from over a pair of handlebars. Just try to avoid the motorists that are approaching in the here and now.

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Lee Zimmerman

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