You could call Miami the Magic City for any number of reasons. Because of its spectacular sunsets, its balmy breezes, its warm waters. Or maybe because of the way traffic materializes magically everywhere on every highway at 4 p.m.
Google the question, and results say the city’s rapid growth is the inspiration. Maybe northerners were surprised that so many people wanted to live in a malarial swamp before the advent of air conditioning. But what’s so magical about people not wanting to freeze their butts off from November until April? That’s just good common sense.
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Miami historian Dr. Paul George knows the truth. The name, he says, is a perfect example of Miami hyperbole.
Henry Flagler, founder of the Florida East Coast Railway and developer of Florida’s east coast, needed to lure unsuspecting northerners to the land of humidity, the mosquito and giant flying Palmetto bugs. He told writer E.V. Blackman to write a “strong, positive story” about Miami for Flagler’s magazine East Coast Homeseeker.
He may or may not have suggested that Blackman, a New Yorker who fought in the Civil War, not dwell on the malarial swamp factor.
So Blackman wrote an article referring to Miami as “the Magic City.” Like many Florida stories, there may have been a bit of a swindle involved. George says Blackman may have borrowed the name from Birmingham, Alabama, which billed itself as “the Magic City of the South.”
All these years later, we still call Miami the Magic City. And by “we” I mean Chamber of Commerce types, a local casino and a short-lived TV series about mobsters. The rest of us just call it Miami.
Still, “that name is the most enduring element of Miami,” George says. “Nothing is more durable than that nickname. Everything else has changed.”