The Barefoot Mailmen


Stevan Dohanos, Panel 2, Legend of James Edward Hamilton–Barefoot Mailman (mural study, West Palm Beach, Florida Post Office), 1940, watercolor on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the General Services Administration, 1982.20.1

Johnson History Museum

Not too long ago I was walking through West Palm with my kids and we walked by the Johnson History Museum of Palm Beach County. It’s a small museum but they have a couple of interesting exhibits and “games” for kids to play.

The kids got a sheet of paper and did a mini scavenger hunt in the Shipwreck exhibit. After that they had some displays of old medical tools, typewriters, and computers. The museum also has preserved the original Palm Beach County court house.

What I found to be the most interesting was The Barefoot Mailmen exhibit. I had never heard of this before, and for some reason was fascinated by the idea of mailmen trudging barefoot through south Florida.


The Story

The barefoot mailmen carried mail between Lake Worth and Miami during the late 1800’s. There were no roads connecting Miami to Palm Beach at the time, and the land between the two cities was swamp. To avoid walking through the swamps the mailmen walked the beach or used row boats throughout the trip.

The most famous of the barefoot mailmen was James “Ed” Hamilton. Unfortunately for Ed, the reason he’s the most famous is that he died in the line of duty.

I’m not sure how many mail carries die in the line of duty, but I am willing to bet that few have been drowned or attacked by alligators or sharks while on their route.

It’s neat story and there is plenty more information about it online.


Smithsonian American Art Museum

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