The first airplane to fly Pan American Airways’ FAM 5 foreign airmail route from Miami Florida to the Canal Zone in Panama was a Sikorsky S-38A piloted by Charles A. Lindbergh on February 4 through the 6, 1929. The flight was in reality a recon trip, but it also carried the first mail to be flown on this route. The route was Miami, Havana, Cozumel, Belize, Tela Honduras, San Salvador El Salvador, San Lorenzo Honduras, Managua Nicaragua, Punta Arenas Jose Costa Rica, and the Canal Zone.
The Monument to a Make-believe Speech
There is a concrete monument set on the ironshore on the beach on the Barbachano property that was once Hotel Cozumel Caribe (now Buccanos Beach Club) and the beach at Hotel Playa Azul. The text on the monument is the reputed “Discourse of Cortes,” the speech Hernan Cortes was supposed to have given to his men while they were on Cozumel in 1519. “The Discourse of Cortes” first appeared in Historia de la conquista de Mexico written by Antonio de Solís in 1684, 165 years after the fact. It is this fabricated text of Solís that appears on the monument.
The Maya culture that built San Gervasio and other Post-classic sites on Cozumel were sea-traders who plied their wares far and wide. The first recorded mention of their trade routes was in Bartolome de Las Casas’ abstract of the log of Cristóbal Colón (known by Americans as Christopher Columbus), where the discoverer recounted the events of his first voyage to the New World. In Las Casas’ version of the logbook, it is stated that Colon came across a block of beeswax on the island of Cuba. At the time of the European discovery of America, the common honeybee (a native of Europe) was unknown in the Yucatan and the only wax-producing bees were the Yucatan sting-less bees (Meliponini beecheii and M. Yucatanica). Since these bees were kept by beekeepers only in Yucatan, it seems pretty clear someone over here was shipping beeswax to Cuba.
The concrete plinth with the bust atop at the intersection of Calle Adolfo Rosado Salas and Avenida Rafael E. Melgar is commemorates a well-loved doctor who moved to the island in 1942. He was renowned for his dedication and often provided his services free. An anecdote told by our island’s historian relates how the night before he died in his sleep the doctor entered the cantina owned by Don José Cruz Bonastre and bought a round of drinks for all present, saying “friends, I want you to accompany me in a toast, for tomorrow I will be buried in the cemetery.” And, true to his word, he was dead the next morning. After he was buried, an arrow was placed on his grave marker pointing towards heaven and bearing the word “consultas” (consultations).
It has been written in some websites that Casimero Cardenas founded Cedral. Not true. Cedral was a center of population on Cozumel ever since prehispanic times. During the Colonial period, there were more people living in Cedral than there were in Xamancab (today’s San Miguel). Later, woodcutters from Belize had dwellings there. Casimiro, on the other hand, first settled in San Miguel. He and his wife show up on the 1850 census of the town of San Miguel, a census which did not include residents of Cedral or the outlying ranchos. Casimiro didn’t move out to Cedral until after 1850.
Mistakes, Misstatements, and Misunderstandings;
The Mythologies Surrounding San Miguel
There have been many garbled and fictitious stories published about the statue of the Archangel Michael in the church at Juarez and 5 Avenue in downtown San Miguel, Cozumel over the years. Most of the stories have at least a few of the following points in common:
1. The statue is believed to be about 500 years old.
2. It was found by workers digging in a field north of town (sometimes it is construction workers) over 100 years ago.
3. It was originally brought to Cozumel by Juan de Grijalva in 1518.
4. Since the find came on Sept. 29, the saint’s feast day, they decided to name Cozumel’s main urban area in honor of the saint.
5. Juan de Grijalva introduced Christianity to the island and placed the statue in a Catholic Temple that was located in the town’s central plaza.
6. The statue was later sent to Merida for restoration, but the restorers kept the original and sent a new one in its place.
During his exile in 1869, Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Ana (the Mexican general who defeated the Texians at the Alamo) convinced Thomas Adams of New York to try to develop a product utilizing chicle, the gum of the sapodilla tree (Manilkara zapota), a tree found only in Yucatan, Guatemala, and Belize. After several failed attempts to make toys, masks, and rain-boots out of the material, Adams finally added flavoring to it and came up with chicle-based chewing gum. Chewing gum had been around for a few years already in the US, but up until then it had been based on Spruce gum and had never really caught on. This new concoction did.
In 1908, a committee of Cozumel islanders got together and formed the “Centenary Celebration Steering Committee,” to plan for the upcoming Centennial celebration of the 1810 war of independence. The motion of building a commemorative clock tower was passed, and subsequently, plans were drawn up for the construction of the tower.
After President John F. Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas, the Warren Commission was set up to investigate the roles of Lee Harvey Oswald and other supposed participants in the assassination. The evidence the commission collected was later made public in a huge bound report which included photo copies of pertinent documents the FBI and the commission had gathered. One such piece of evidence was exhibit #2949, a FBI informant’s report dated January 13, 1964, in which an informant detailed Lee Harvey Oswald’s alleged trips to Cozumel on December 1962 and again on February 1963. Both times Oswald was reported to have stayed at the Hotel Playa, which is now the Museo de Cozumel. An enigmatic American named “Albert” was also supposedly involved in the meet in Cozumel and was alleged to have stayed at the Hotel Isleño, where Cinco Soles now stands.
The statue of the man with a machete that stands at the intersection of Avenida Juarez and Calle Avenida 120 is Juan Bautista Vega.
In the summer of 1897, a man reported to be a treasure hunter by the name of Dr. Juan Fábregas arrived on Cozumel with the intention of hiring a boat and crew to take him to Tulum. His request fell on deaf ears, however, as the War of the Casts was still in full swing and no one on Cozumel wanted to risk their lives entering the mainland stronghold of the Cruzoob Mayan rebels, or Bravos as they were called locally. The Cruzoob (Mayan plural of the Spanish word cruz, or “cross”) were a militant Mayan religious faction who worshiped la cruz parlante, or “the talking cross.” This cross was purported to pass the divine wishes of the creator down to the common folk as interpreted by a priest who listened to it, very similar to the “talking idols” of Ixchel in Cozumel. One of the directives passed down to the masewaloob, or Maya common folk, was that all Spaniards and half-breeds should be expunged from the land of Yucatan. To this end, beginning in 1847, the Cruzoob took it upon themselves to massacre Spaniards where and when the found them.
In 1955, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle made a 1 hour 23 minute documentary entitled Le Monde du Silence (the same title as the book published by Cousteau and Frédéric Dumas in 1953) which contained underwater scenes. The film debuted in Cannes in 1956 and won a Palme d’Or. In 1957 it won an Oscar for the Best Documentary at the American Academy Awards. Many people over the years have come to believe that this film contained scenes of Palancar Reef, but that is most definitely not true. All the scenes in this documentary were shot in eastern hemisphere. All the underwater shots were made in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean. None were filmed in Mexico.
Ever wonder about the military planes flying in formation over Cozumel? They are Swiss-manufactured Pilatus PC-7s and are part of the Mexican Air Force’s Squadron 201 stationed here on the island.
The squadron was originally formed as a P-47D fighter squadron in 1945 and was named the Fuerza Aérea Expedicionaria Mexicana (Mexican Expeditionary Air Force), but more commonly referred to as the Aguilas Aztecas, or “Aztec Eagles.” It was made up of 25 aircraft, 34 pilots, and almost 300 ground support crew. They were trained in the US at Randolph field in San Antonio, Texas, Foster Army Field in Victoria, Texas, Pocatello Airbase in Idaho, Majors Field in Greenville, Texas, and Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg, California, from the summer of 1944 until the end of February, 1945. During the training, three of the Mexican pilots crashed their planes and died. When the squadron graduated and was presented its battle flag, it marked the first time Mexican troops had trained for overseas combat.
Like the story of Papillon, (the French prisoner played by Steve McQueen in the movie of the same name) who escaped from Devil’s Island, off the shores of the French penal colony of French Guiana, other daring escapes from the Iles du Salut have been attempted during the years the penal colony was in operation (1852 to 1946). One such story is the account of three different groups of escapees who managed to get away and eventually meet up together on the island of Trinidad.
Miguel Molas was a Spaniard from Barcelona who immigrated to Mexico. In 1810, he moved into the old Spanish fort of El Cuyo, near Rio Lagartos, Yucatan. The fort had been abandoned since the late 1600s. He had been employed by the Yucatan Government as a military commander to preside over a newly formed watch-guard there assigned to keep an eye out for pirates and enforce the laws concerning unlawful trade with foreign vessels bringing contraband goods into Yucatan.
George Fisher (whose real name was Djordje Shagic) was born in Hungary to Serbian parents in 1795. He studied to be a priest and found he was adept at languages. By the time he was 17 he had mastered over a dozen languages, including Latin, Greek, English, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Magyar, Serbian, Russian, Polish, Bohemian, Moravian, Slovenian, Croatian, Dalmatian and Montenegrin. However, adventure called and he left school to join and fight with the Serbian revolutionary forces against the Ottoman Turks during the first Serbian Revolution. After the revolution failed, he fled Austria and worked his way across Europe to Amsterdam where and sailed as a stow-a-way to Philadelphia. In 1814, he assumed the name of George Fisher for the first time. In 1817 he moved to Port Gibson, Mississippi and married Elizabeth Davis there in 1818, becoming an American citizen. That same year he was initiated into the Masons and in 1823 became a Royal Arch Mason. Nine years after moving to Mississippi, Fisher moved to Mexico City while his wife stayed in Mississippi and raised their five children. While working as an editor for the Correo de Atlántico newspaper in Mexico City, Fisher met and was befriended by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the US Minister to Mexico after whom the Poinsettia Christmas flower is named, and together they founded the first York Rite Masonic Lodge of that city. Fisher became a Mexican citizen in 1829, and in 1830 was given a land grant (formerly called the Haden grant) by the Mexican government where he was to settle 500 families in the Mexican territory of Texas.
In 1933, Oscar Coldwell formed a partnership with the American James H. Clark to start a company on Cozumel with an eye towards collecting sponges for export. Both the divers and their “hard hat” diving equipment had to be brought in to the island, since it had never been practiced here before. The company tried to gather sponges in the waters near Isla Mujeres and Chinchorro Bank as well as Cozumel, but the business soon failed. A Greek company, however, was able to make a go of it in Isla Mujeres a few years later.
In 1948, Cozumel was languishing. The chicle boom was a distant memory, the American airbase failed to materialize, and fewer cargo ships were stopping at the island than ever before. Times were tough. But things were about to change. Cozumel’s ship was about to come in.
On February 13, 1948 the American-owned freighter “Narwal,” on its way north from Puerto Barrios Honduras to Mobile Alabama with a load of bananas, suffered engine failure and struck the reef at Ixpalbarco, on the eastern coast of Cozumel. While some of the crew remained aboard the crippled vessel, the rest walked the 20 kilometers or so to town, where they were put up in the rooms of the mothballed Hotel Playa, a hotel that had been built by the state government, but closed due to the poor economy years earlier.
Lindbergh made his first flight into Mexico on December 13, 1927, when he flew non-stop from Washington DC to Mexico City, in his plane Spirit of St. Louis, tail number NX211. He was received by Mexican President Calles and toured the city for a few days before returning to Balbuena Field, where he made several flights over Mexico City in the Mexican Armed Forces’ Morane Saulnier M.S. registration number 31A128. On December 20, he made several more flights in a Compania Mexicana de Aviación Fairchild FC-2 (registration number M-SCOE), during one of which he gave President Calles his first ever airplane ride. On December 22, Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis for a few shorts flights in and out of Balbuena over Mexico City. On December 28, he flew the Spirit of St. Louis non-stop from Mexico City to Guatemala City.
In June, 1837, one year after the Republic of Texas became independent from Mexico, the Texas Navy sent the two Schooners of War (the Brutus and the Invincible) to the coast of Yucatan to harass Mexican shipping in retaliation for Mexican blockade of Texas ports. The Texas Secretary of the Navy, Samuel Rhoades Fisher, went along as an observer. After raiding several Yucatecan towns and capturing several Mexican vessels, the Texian fleet sent a landing party ashore at Cozumel and claimed the island formally for the Republic of Texas. The Texian Navy Commander Henry Livingston Thompson of the Brutus sent a dispatch on August 29, 1837 to his headquarters in Galveston regarding this foray, containing the following lines:
When it comes to taking advantage of naïve foreign visitors who are looking for cheap deals, early Cozumeleños were no slackers. Back when the island was a center of trade in pre-Hispanic times, the occurrence of “counterfeit” cacao beans, which were used a currency by the Maya, was not uncommon here. The soft inner meat of the bean was hollowed out, so it could be consumed and then mud stuffed back inside the husk to hide the fact that the meat was missing.
The frequently heard statement that Cozumel was abandoned in the 1700s due to predations by bands of roving pirates is nearly true. The island was an easy target for buccaneers and in the mid-1600s the Spanish government finally decided to move the population inland, to towns like Chemax and Xcan Boloná that were far from the marauders’ reach. Some Cozumelenos did, in fact, move to the mainland. However, many stayed on the island and were joined by English dyewood cutters, later known as “piratas.”
In 1959, Truman Capote read a story in the New York Times about the murders of the Clutter family and immediately began to write a book about the killers. It took him five years to finish writing it. He published his story first as a four-part series of articles beginning with installment number one in the September 25, 1965 edition of the New Yorker magazine under the title In Cold Blood: The last to see them alive. The book, In Cold Blood, was published immediately afterwards in 1965 by Random House. The book was made into a movie by the same name in 1967.
PAN AMERICAN AIRWAYS AND COZUMEL
Pan American Airways was initially a shell corporation founded by US Army Major Henry “Hap” Arnold in 1927 as a front to keep the German airline SCADTA from winning landing rights in Panama. The German line had already an established route that they had been flying since 1920 that went from Colombia, Roatan, Belize City, Cozumel, Havana, to Miami. Arnold was concerned that SCADTA, operating out of Colombia, was angling to get landing rights in Panama in order monitor movements in the canal. Even though his new company had no airplanes at the time, Arnold was able use his influence with the US Government to win a contract to deliver US Mail from Miami to Havana. Later, by joining forces with two other airlines (one company had one plane, but no landing rights, and the other had landing rights in Havana, but no plane) Arnold was able to fulfill the terms of the contract. He next tendered bids for contracts on all the new US Mail routes (F. A. M. routes) between the States and Central and South America, winning every one of the contracts in 1928, thus denying SCADTA the Panamanian landing rights.
Most Americans were brought up to believe Abraham Lincoln was one of our greatest Presidents. As schoolchildren, we were told his belief in the equality of man led him to free the black slaves through his Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. However, reviewing the transcripts of his public speeches, the memoirs of those he worked with, and the public records, a very different Abe Lincoln comes to life. It would seem that the main reason he wanted to free the nation’s slaves, was to be able to then deport them, preferably back to Africa. Since the 1840s, Lincoln had been a member of the American Colonial Society, a group who, with the help of the US government, were instrumental in setting up colonies along the shore of Sierra Leone in 1820 for the express purposed of receiving deported black freedmen. The colonies were managed by a hodge-podge of missionaries, American government appointed functionaries, and black entrepreneurs. The colonies were not very successful, until most of them banded together in 1838, renaming their capital Monrovia, and their new unified colony Liberia. In 1847 they declared their independence, drawing the wrath of the US government, who refused to recognize the new nation. The ships bringing deportees stopped coming.