The Biscayne Times

Jun 05th
The Curse of the Ancients PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim W. Harper   
June 2010

Bad things happen when you mess with the spirits of the dead

Remember the lesson we learned from the hit 1982 movie The Poltergeist? Never, never, never build your house on top of an ancient Indian burial site. So where did Miami’s mega-developer Jorge Perez build his largest project? Exactly where he shouldn’t have: atop an ancient Indian burial site.

The curse of the Miami Circle is unfolding before our eyes. The latest news is that Perez and his partners have been forced to return a majority of the $1 billion ICON Brickell complex to its lenders. Is it just another causality of the collapsed housing market? Or could there be deeper, ancestral forces at work?

Today ICON Brickell and its freaky totemic columns sit between two very new parks it created accidentally: the Miami Circle Park and Brickell Park. Both parks nearly disappeared into the vortex of the hyper-development years, but somehow they survived to inflict their curses on future generations.

Brickell Park is a sliver of land on the south side of ICON Brickell that reaches from Brickell Avenue to Biscayne Bay. Following construction, the developers agreed to deed it back to the City of Miami in perpetuity. Perez would never want it back, I assume, because the property is doubly haunted.

The most obvious haunting is by the Brickell family, who built their mansion here during the early years of Miami’s history of exploitation by immigrants from the north. The Brickells loved the property so much they buried themselves here in a granite mausoleum with Ionic columns. The inside of the mausoleum, open and eerily empty, holds berths for six.

In 1946 daughter Maude Brickell gave up the ghost, so to speak, and moved the parents to Woodlawn North Park Cemetery. In 1989 the original Brickell mausoleum was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Did somebody misplace its marker? The park’s only signage at the Brickell Avenue entrance has a vague reference to the Brickell family. Something this historic, which has survived the demolition of nearly everything else around it, deserves an explanation.

At least these graves are empty. The greatest mystery of Brickell Park are its unmarked graves. “I believe 13 individuals were removed and all of those were reinterred,” says Bob Carr, executive director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy and the man who first documented the Miami Circle site. And where were they buried for a second time? “They were reinterred in the park,” says Carr.

The unmarked human remains relocated somewhere within Brickell Park are most likely Tequesta Indians, the group that inhabited Brickell Point some 2000 years ago. Archaeologist Carr says the use of the area as a cemetery has been known for at least a decade. “It is considered sacred ground by some,” he says.

Carr refers to Brickell Point as “a huge complex,” noting that historically it was not divided into parcels of real estate as it is today. Certainly its mysterious past is much bigger than the towering condos that cover most of the property now. In addition to ancient human remains, the site has revealed various tools, a midden or “trash mound” of shells used by Indians, and skeletons of a loggerhead turtle, a bottlenose dolphin, and a requiem shark buried there deliberately.

The best modern feature of both parks on Brickell Point are views of the waterfront, and eventually a walking path here will be incorporated into the City of Miami’s plans to create an extended Bay Walk and River Walk. Miami Circle Park will be a centerpiece.

Currently the undeveloped Miami Circle Park is accessible, although construction expected to begin this summer may soon restrict access. For its own protection, the actual circle has been covered with soil (reinterred, so to speak), but bumps in the grass make it is easy enough to locate in the park’s center.

Uncovered in 1998 prior to construction of an earlier condo project, the Miami Circle property was purchased in 1999 by the State of Florida for $27 million, using our tax dollars, of course. Its status remained unclear until 2008, when the state subleased the property for 44 years to the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, which recently decided to change its name to HistoryMiami. (Pause and reflect.) In January of 2009, the site became Florida’s 41st National Historic Landmark.

Unfortunately a visitor who stumbles upon the site today would learn next to nothing. Absolutely nothing is marked, not even the circle itself, and the only sentence about the Miami Circle is on a small billboard above the Brickell Bridge. Pity.

In August 2009, the ground-breaking for Miami Circle Park took place with great fanfare and a range of dignitaries, including Florida’s Secretary of State, Kurt Browning, and then-Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. A two-phase architectural plan was unveiled, and phase one was scheduled for completion by the spring of 2010. But it looks like nothing has happened since then. As of May 2010, the only part of the park that appeared finished was a portion of the seawall that collapsed in 2007.

According to George Zamanillo, a vice president of HistoryMiami and coordinator of the Miami Circle Park project, the cost of phase one has risen from initial estimates of $750,000 to $990,000. But he promises that those funds are fully available.

Zamanillo explains the delays in construction as a series of steps to arrange permits, equipment, and contracts. Phase one will offer access by car, but parking space is still being negotiated with the City of Miami, which owns a shady cavern underneath the bridge that would offer ample parking. Donate it already!

Phase one will create a walkway but will not expose the ancient circle for public viewing. The limestone would quickly start flaking if not protected from the elements, says Zamanillo, and finding a way to showcase it properly will require many more years and much more funding.

Despite the park’s bland appearance, it comes to life once a week. On Tuesday evenings at 6:00 p.m., Catherine Hummingbird-Ramirez conducts a ritual involving chanting and pungent smoke. Her stage, on a circle constructed near the bridge, is decorated with bright plastic flowers. Beside it flies a very, very tattered American flag.

At the August groundbreaking, Hummingbird-Ramirez opened the ceremony with these words: “The ancestors are here.”

They are indeed. They can be moved, and re-moved, but the ancestors don’t seem to be letting go.


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Miami Circle Park: 401 Brickell Ave.
Brickell Park: 501 Brickell Ave.
Miami Circle Park (undeveloped): 305-375-1492
Brickell Park: 305-416-1320

Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Picnic tables:
Barbecues: No
Picnic pavilions: No
Tennis courts:
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Swimming pool:
Special features: Brickell mausoleum, disturbed Indian spirits


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