The mural "Legend of James Edward Hamilton, Barefoot Mailman" was painted by Connecticut artist Steven Dohanos and hangs in the main U.S. Post Office in West Palm Beach to commemorate James Edward Hamilton, one of the Barefoot Mailmen, who died while crossing the Hillsboro Inlet carrying mail in 1887. This image is panel two of six panels painted by Dohanos in 1940 during the New Deal as part of a WPA initiative.
The week-long route was a great improvement over the mail route available before 1885. Prior to that year, it took a voyage of 3,000 miles and a period of six weeks to two months for a letter to arrive in Miami. When the United States Post Office decided to improve its Florida service in 1885 by establishing the barefoot route, it was a welcome decision. When the job was put out to bid, one of the men interested in the route was James E. “Ed” Hamilton, who had come to Hypoluxo Island from Kentucky. Stormy weather came regularly near the end of September and early October in 1887, so that all the low lands were under water. On October 10, 1887, Ed arrived in Hypoluxo with the mail pouch from Palm Beach, having rowed ten miles in his small skiff. Although he mentioned that we was not feeling well, he insisted on continuing his trip. Due back on Saturday afternoon, he did not return.
Suspicion focused on a stranger noticed by Charles Coman, the keeper at the Fort Lauderdale Station (New River House of Refuge). Coman had heard the stranger coming from the beach, having arrived from the north. When Hamilton's friends arrived at Hillsboro Inlet, the boat Hamilton would have used had disappeared. It seemed that he had seen his boat on the other side of the inlet and had plunged into the water to retrieve it. To Hamilton's friends, the possibility of his drowning was out of the question, he was an excellent swimmer and the current at this spot was not very strong. There were sharks here at this time of year, but there was no sign of any when the search was taking place. There were, however, numerous alligator tracks. Even an excellent swimmer might not have escaped them. The stranger accused by Coman of foul play was later charged with tampering with government property (Hamilton's row boat) and was tried in Federal Court in Jacksonville. He was acquitted and his name was never entered in the court records.
The barefoot route was continued until 1892 when a rock road was completed from Jupiter to Miami. The Bay Biscayne Stage Line took over the mail contract at that time. Henry John Burkhardt, who settled at Hillsboro Inlet in 1891, was the last of the barefoot mailmen.
Kleinberg, Eliot. (2012 Oct 11). Bare Foot Mailman vanished 125 years ago today. The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved November 9, 2012, from http://bit.ly/RgTKAI