“A sunny place for shady people.” Narratives about Miami have often borrowed the late British novelist Somerset Maugham’s line from his 1941 book, Strictly Personal, to describe the Magic City. Although the phrase originally referred to the French Riviera, Miami adopted it as a motto to characterize its own seedy underbelly as America's golden but corrupt riviera, where many historical actors like the Cocaine Cowboys of the '70s and '80s laid claim to notoriety.
But sometimes you’ll find sunny people in sunny places, too. Weirdly sunny. We did a little digging and discovered lesser known, oddball figures that have added to Miami's special brand of weirdness in many forms — including a few you might never have known existed.
1 and 2: The Hilton Twins
Real-life conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton were treated as caricatures in the popular freak shows of the early 20th century. Born in 1908 connected at the hips and buttocks, the famous Hilton Twins were forced by adoptive parents to tour around the world as a circus sideshow act until 1931, when they started managing their own careers. The twins appeared in the 1932 cult classic Freaks as themselves, and performed in the vaudeville and burlesque circuits. In 1955, they took a break from the stage and ran a snack bar in downtown Miami, but closed down after competing vendors complained about the novelty hogging up all the business. The sisters made a few more forays into show business until a tour manager ditched them in Charlotte in 1961, leaving them penniless. They worked at a grocery store until their death in 1969.
3. Silver Dollar Jake
Long before cruisin’ on Ocean Drive was fly, a wacky guy called Silver Dollar Jake drove around in a red convertible Cadillac with an inflatable doll by his side. During WWII, he contributed to the war effort by handing out silver dollars to soldiers stationed in Miami Beach who visited prostitutes at Bayfront Park — effectively underwriting their condom budget. After the war, Jake was gung-ho on rattling another memorable character, Holy Joe, an evangelist who preached on the corner of Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue to save the sinning souls of Miami Beach High's students. According to an account by Myron S. Lubell, Jake passed those days shouting "carpe diem" and tossing out prophylactics to young boys who gathered around the bustling crossroads, where all the cool kids hung out in 1950s.
4 and 5: The Scull Sisters
The late Cuban-Chinese Scull Sisters also added much color to Miami’s art and party scene, standing out from the crowd in matching brightly-hued dresses and hats. Twins Haydée and Sahara Scull, along with the latter’s son, Michael Blandino, created whimsical three-dimensional paintings and sculptures of street scenes in Old Havana and Florida with paper mache, wire and acrylic paint. The two Cuban exiles were born in the '30s and died one year apart in 2007 and 2008. They'll always be remembered as two of Miami's most flamboyant icons of style.
6. Mr. Clucky
The famous and feathery Mr. Clucky, Mark Buckley's pet rooster, was seen daily on the handlebars of his owner's bicycle and once honored with the role of Grand Marshall in the King Mango Strut Parade. But in 2009, he was given the boot after City of Miami Beach made no exception to a ruling forbidding farm animals from taking up residence on the island. Artist and activist Buckley begged, and even had the support of locals who held a candlelight vigil, but the inseparable pair eventually moved to greener pastures in New Hampshire, where Buckley claimed to own a farm. Although Buckley and Mr. Clucky lost the case in Florida, the two die hard activists didn't give up on their beliefs. In 2016, they were spotted campaigning for Bernie Sanders' presidential run aboard a tricked-out blue school bus, Buckley still wearing his signature blue denim overalls and Mr. Clucky, we're happy to observe, in fine feather.
7. The Thong Biker
It’s hard to miss the nearly naked cyclist who rides around around East Flagler, Coconut Grove and South Beach. Armando “AJ” Sardinia, AKA the Thong Biker, is comfortable in his own skin, revealing as much as he legally can, save for parts covered by a thong and an explorer's pith helmet. The 62-year-old, Cuban-born grandfather once donated a kidney to his brother and survived quadruple bypass surgery. He braves another hurdle — Miami traffic — with carefree swagger as he soaks in the sun and attention from gawkers who are surprised at his ballsy sartorial preference, even though showing skin ain't no big thing in this town.
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