Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940

Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940

Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940

Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940


Poised on the edge of the United States and at the center of a wider Caribbean world, today's Miami is marketed as an international tourist hub that embraces gender and sexual difference. As Julio Capo Jr. shows in this fascinating history, Miami's transnational connections reveal that the city has been a queer borderland for over a century. In chronicling Miami's queer past from its 1896 founding through 1940, Capo shows the multifaceted ways gender and sexual renegades made the city their own.

Drawing from a multilingual archive, Capo unearths the forgotten history of "fairyland," a marketing term crafted by boosters that held multiple meanings for different groups of people. In viewing Miami as a contested colonial space, he turns our attention to migrants and immigrants, tourism, and trade to and from the Caribbean--particularly the Bahamas, Cuba, and Haiti--to expand the geographic and methodological parameters of urban and queer history. Recovering the world of Miami's old saloons, brothels, immigration checkpoints, borders, nightclubs, bars, and cruising sites, Capo makes clear how critical gender and sexual transgression is to understanding the city and the broader region in all its fullness.


In 1941, gay socialite and national columnist Lucius Beebe attempted to put into words his view of Miami as a fairyland. He called it “the last Gomorrah, the ultimate Babylon, the final Gnome-Rhone-Jupiter-Whirlwind, superdeluxe, extra-special, colossal, double-feature and Zombie-ridden madhouse of the world.” Beebe captured the national and transnational influences that had earned Miami its wide-open reputation. Like the fallen cities of Gomorrah and Babylon—and even Sodom—Miami had come to represent unrestrained carnal pleasure, vice, and sin. Just a few decades prior, white wealthy families constituted the vast majority of those able to indulge in the exclusive resort city’s fairyland. the area had since become much more accessible. Visitors boarded modern airplanes with the whirlwind engines of the “Gnome-Rhone-Jupiter” variety and mobile tourists drove “superdeluxe” trailers. Over the years, Miami had become a hub for pleasure, the unthinkable exhilarating magic beyond the exclusive grasp of an elite class.

Miami’s fairyland appeal had long drawn inspiration from the sorcery U.S. imperialists attributed to “uncivilized” lands in the Caribbean. in this way, Miami as fairyland had also become a “Zombie-ridden madhouse of the world.” in fact, the zombie as a U.S. cultural phenomenon had entered the national imagination less than a decade prior to Beebe’s musings as a metaphorical representation that helped justify U.S. military forces’ regulating of “backward” Haiti. Much like the United States had tamed Haiti’s so-called savagery through occupation, capital, cultural dominance, and the subjugation of native and racialized communities, a mix of northern, midwestern, and southern investors had converted Miami into an “exotic” tropical fairyland linked to the Caribbean and available for purchase.

Beginning in the early 1900s, travelers and residents alike referred to Dade County (modern-day Miami-Dade County) as fairyland. While fairyland, a marketing strategy crafted by urban boosters, meant different things to a diverse group of people, its dominant sense was that of a place where leisure and entertainment were central to every aspect of life. a visit to fairyland could suspend reality and the rules of the “real world.” Miami became a “veritable Fairyland” where one could escape the busy life of the big industrialized city, indulge in paradise, and live out a fantasy. One man called Miami Beach a “combination of Heaven, the Garden of Eden, and Fairyland . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.