Friday, January 13, 2017


Here's another piece I wrote for our community magazine. This one was a labor of love because one of my most memorable vacations was at Caneel Bay on St. Johns, way, way back in the day when, the week before I got there, Frank Sinatra, Roz Russel, and Bennett Cerf and their spouses stayed there. (I got a lot of: "Guess who was here last week?")The place was elegant, the food fabulous, and the relaxation complete. From what I see in the images, it is still a wonderful resort.

This looks like where I stayed at Caneel Bay

One hundred years ago, as of January this year, give or take a month or more for signing, ratification, and proclamations by each of the countries party to the treaty, the United States, after years of negotiations, purchased the Danish West Indies from, of course, Denmark. The price, which has proved to be worth every ounce, was a nice, round figure of $25 million in gold, worth over twenty times that in today’s currency.

The final impetus for the purchase was the fear the Americans had that the Germans would take over the islands and have a foothold in the western hemisphere, and the concern the Danish had for their people there in the troubled months before and during World War I. The continued neutrality of the Danish was insured when the final transfer was made just days before the United States declared war on Germany.

Today we know the Danish West Indies as the American Virgin Islands: St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, and the many other small islands and cays.
The history of the islands is quite interesting and includes Stone Age peoples, the more recent Arawaks and Caribs visited by Christopher Columbus, the colonizing Spanish, French, and Danish, and ultimate purchase by the United States.

Explorers once delighted in naming places they visited, regardless of whether they’d already been named by the indigenous people. We owe the name of the Virgin Islands, the US and the British, to Columbus. The whole system of islands and cays reminded him of St. Ursula and her thousands of martyred virgins, and he named the larger islands for saints and such. Some day we may see these places revert to their original names, as has Uluru, formerly Ayres Rock in Australia, and Denali, formerly Mt. McKinley in Alaska.

The principal economic factor of the islands had always been the production of sugar and rum. This production declined significantly in the late 1800’s with the rise elsewhere of the cultivation of the sugar beet. Today, the principal economic factor of the islands is rest and relaxation, the enjoyment of good food, great beaches, and abundant sunshine: tourism.

Tourists from all over the world flock to the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands. The peak tourist season, with appropriately elevated prices, is December to March. The best time to visit is off-peak April through June, and even later in the summer when it’s off off-peak. Many northerners wouldn’t consider a Virgin Islands trip in the summer. What they forget is that the islands’ daytime temperature, even in summer, is usually around 80° and it’s usually cooler there than up here. It is certainly breezier there. Yes, there can be hurricanes, and yes, the temperatures may get a bit higher, but it’s usually a serene time in the islands. There is plenty of elbow room and plenty of beach room. There are museums and plantations to visit, duty-free items to buy in a relaxed shopping atmosphere, and swimming, hiking, and snorkeling everywhere, especially in the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. For further information, start googling.

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