by Spencer Howard
In January 1929, President-Elect Herbert Hoover returned from his seven-week trip to Latin America and began preparing for the Inauguration. (At that time Inauguration Day was March 4, so he had an extra six weeks to work with.) After a couple of weeks in Washington DC during which he chose most of his Cabinet, Hoover escaped to Florida for something of a working vacation.
Hoover arrived by special train in Miami on January 22, where he was presented with a three-foot-long key to the city and an assortment of fishing tackle. He was paraded in an open-topped car through Miami, cheered by thousands and serenaded by brass bands. Hoover’s destination was the estate of J. C. Penney on Belle Isle, an artificial island in Biscayne Bay connected to Miami Beach by a causeway; the Penneys were in Europe and had offered Hoover the use of their Italianate villa and a neighboring property. Eager for a private retreat and ready access to Gulf Stream fishing, Hoover accepted the Penneys’ offer. The press quickly dubbed the Penney home “the official pre-inaugural White House.”
Inside the main house, Hoover found a staff of 30, newly stained woodwork (to hide the water damage from the 1926 hurricane), new carpets, linens and silver settings. A new stove stood ready in the kitchen to cook meals for the future President. Hoover claimed a small guest cottage for his office and designated a nearby boathouse as the pressroom. Wrapping up his Cabinet appointments and obligatory meetings with political supporters who came calling, Hoover turned to the last item on his agenda, his Inaugural Address. One reporter noted, “President-elect Hoover is at sea in pile of notes from which will come his outline of a new era of construction…He wants it concise, accurate to the last comma and comprehensive. He will draft and redraft, write and rewrite, change and delete, confer and then revise, poring over it all for weeks.”
Hoover’s Inaugural Address may have been his foremost concern, but his main goal for the
Florida visit was to catch a sailfish. Having failed to land one during five previous trips to Florida, he was determined to succeed. Spending every possible hour on the water, Hoover brought along notepads, pencils and his secretary to jot down any speech ideas that came to him while fishing. Fishing primarily in the vicinity of Long Key, he caught numerous saltwater fish including barracuda, bonito, tuna and kingfish. Finally, on January 30, after a spirited fight, he landed a seven foot six inch forty-five pound sailfish. Hoover’s joy was somewhat diminished when three of his companions, including a rank neophyte, landed larger ones.
Hoover returned to the Penney estate every few days for meetings and conferences. One evening he sat down with Willis Abbot, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, to discuss his upcoming administration. “I am not at all apprehensive of the normal work of the Presidency,” Hoover said. “It is arduous and taxing, of course, but that is to be expected. What does somewhat disquiet me is the way in which I have been over-advertised. My friends have made the American people think me a sort of superman, able to cope successfully with the most difficult and complicated problems. They expect the impossible of me and should there arise in the land conditions with which the political machinery is unable to cope, I will be the one to suffer.”
On February 18, Hoover returned to Washington DC, refreshed and tanned from his vacation, but unaware how prophetic his statement would prove to be over the next four years.