How many times did you play the “ring toss” game at the Compleat Angler? Have you ever wondered what happen to the ring? Well have I got a story for you. I have been visiting Bimini since I was just a kid in the early 70’s. I basically grew up on the island. My parents along with Santa’s parents would head over to Bimini at the beginning of the summer. My father and Santa’s father would either hitch a ride back to Miami on someone else’s boat or fly back and forth for work. Santa and myself along with my brother, his sister, and our mom’s, would remain on the island all summer long. On the weekends, when our dad’s would arrive, all we did was dive and fish but during the week, we’d just hang around with the local kids on the island. During all those childhood years, we became very close to several of the local Bimini kids. We became part of their family and they became part of ours. We’d have breakfast, lunch and dinner together everyday. We’d go swimming in the pool, hang out on the beach, fish from the docks, and every once in a while we’d get in trouble. You name it, we did it, and we did it together. It was a great time to be a kid growing up in Bimini.
As we got older, the partying began. During those days, you had two places to party, the “Compleat Angler” and the “End of the World” bar. For those of you who frequented the Compleat Angler, you have many stories to tell, as I do. Most stories revolve around drinking, dancing, the occasional bar fight and playing the ring toss game. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, here is a brief history of the place. The Compleat Angler Hotel was a modest three-story hotel on the island of North Bimini in the Bahamas. The establishment, located in the center of Alice Town, contained 12 guestrooms in addition to its rowdy bar. It is notable for its association with Ernest Hemingway, who was a guest from 1935-1937 and is said to have worked on To Have and Have Not there. It was built by Henry and Helen Duncombe in 1935 following destruction by fire of their first house, “The Dower House”, on 18 November 1934. The hotel was damaged in a 1936 hurricane but quickly repaired. Duncombe was the island’s commissioner during the American Prohibition Era. Henry Duncombe died in 1949 but the hotel continued under the proprietorship of Helen Duncombe until she retired and sold the hotel to the Brown Family in 1973. The hotel later became a major tourist attraction for Bimini and housed a collection of Hemingway memorabilia including signed copies of his work and numerous photographs. Generations of anglers followed in the novelist’s wake to crack open a beer and play a game of ring-toss after a long day on the water. The Angler was an unofficial museum, with one room devoted to Hemingway’s exploits and most of its pine walls decorated with decades’ worth of fading photos and newsclips of assorted anglers and trophy fish. Other notable visitors have included Lucille Ball, singer and writer Jimmy Buffett, and Colorado senator Gary Hart, whose presidential aspirations were sunken in 1987 when compromising photographs were released of him at the lodge with a woman who was not his wife. On January 13, 2006, the hotel was destroyed by a fire and owner, Julian Brown, perished in the blaze after leading a guest to safety. Anyone who has ever visited the place was extremely saddened by the fire and still to this day wonder if it will ever be rebuilt. However, locals say that the property is cursed and will never be rebuilt.
Six months later, we are all in Bimini to celebrate my 40th birthday. Because my birthday lands during the 4th of July holiday, we always ended up celebrating it in the Bahamas and this year was no different. However, it was the big 4-0 so we decided to do something special. We invited all the local Biminites that I had grown up with to join us for a pig roast on the beach. Some of them, now living in Miami, even hitched a ride to the island just for my birthday. It was a great party and I had no idea that I was about to receive the most meaningful birthday gift that I have ever received in my life.
Peanut, the nightwatchman at the Big Game Club and one of the Bimini kids that I had grown up with, had been hired to help clean up the mess left behind by the fire at the Compleat Angler. One day while he was sifting through all the rubble, he stumbled upon it, the ring from the ring toss game. He wondered, how many people would like to get their hands on this little piece of history? So on July 8th 2006, he gave it to me and said “Happy Birthday my brother.”