The Girl Who Got Away
August 24, 1992 / Hurricane Andrew (Miami, Florida)
b/ dave hogerty (originalnoise.org)
— photographs by dave hogerty (originalnoise.org)
Lost & Found.
After finding her the morning after Hurricane Andrew raged through South Florida, I imagined the iconic Coppertone Girl, bruised and battered, hanging on the living room wall of my Miami Beach apartment.
But it was not to be. The famous girls fell further victim of post-storm circumstance, and her whereabouts is still a mystery.
Between finding and losing the little girl, I shot the pictures, and made a laborious effort trying to wedge her into the back of my small SUV.
After spending the storm (Andrew) at a friend’s in West Palm Beach, I woke up early the next day to a surprisingly clear blue sky. Hurricane Andrew was unusual, almost more like a miles-wide tornado, than any of the previous hurricanes I had lived through, including standing outside in the eye of Donna (1960) as it passed over Orlando.
Andrew had passed through the Miami area incredibly fast, and although producing far less rain than most Hurricanes, its 200-mph winds had devastated Dade County’s most southern and southwestern suburbs.
The beaches, from Bal Harbour (where I lived in an apartment) to the more famous South Beach, with Ocean Drive and its Art Deco hotels had been spared Andrew’s most vicious fury.
It was there (to my apartment overlooking Haulover Inlet) where I was headed, on a surprisingly, calm, sunny day when I found “THE GIRL WHO GOT AWAY.”
After packing up to leave my West Palm sanctuary and return home, I got in my bright red Isuzu Trooper (SUV), and drove the 25 miles south on I-95 to the Golden Glades Interchange, my exit onto the 169th Causeway that took me to North Miami Beach and Bal Harbour.
At the time (1992) the Interchange was home to one of Florida’s most iconic billboards … The “Welcome to Miami” Coppertone sign had greeted southbound tourists for decades, and for my two years had served as an important landmark in directions to my apartment.
For most of the drive, there was little indication that such a monumental storm had raced through the area, and as I say, the sky was blue, with a few puffy-white clouds, and the wind was no more than a typical ocean breeze.
Then came my first view of the familiar Coppertone sign, with its familiar “Welcome to Miami” greeting, and a young girl’s untanned little hiney exposed by a small puppy tugging at the bottom of her swim suit.
Missing, however, was the little girl’s head, which usually extended above the top edge of the sign, which must have made it vulnerable to the intensity of Andrew’s wind.
Broken away, the missing girl was the first visual indication of Miami having suffered a storm.
— photographs by dave hogerty (originalnoise.org)
As a photographer (at the time) on the Miami Herald staff, I was also seeing what I knew would be my first picture documenting Andrew’s impact on the city.
Exiting I-95, I took the first right hand turn off of 169th, into a small, middle class neighborhood, like any other on Florida’s east coast. Unfamiliar with the area, I was having some difficulty getting to the sign’s exact location, where I knew I could stand and compose a more visually pleasing image.
After a little bit of unfamiliar navigation, I came upon the street that took me to my goal. Grabbing a camera, and hopping out of my truck, I was happy to be able to take the picture I had composed in my mind when first seeing the damaged sign from I-95.
Then, in my brief survey of the area, looking for the best angle from which to capture the image, I was met with a most pleasant surprise. Laying up against the chain link fence that separated the neighborhood and the highway, was the “missing” Coppertone Girl.
I took the (overall) picture of the sign, but my attention was diverted to what I saw as a much more revealing “portrait,” and also to the idea of how nice the little girl would look on the living room wall of my oceanfront apartment.
After taking the portrait, I picked the little girl up and tried to put her in the back of my truck. Feeling a little guilty about the inanimate kidnapping, I looked around for any potential witnesses. All I saw were three small boys riding their bikes in front of the small, ranch-style, concrete block house across the street.
I thought the boys were harmless, but I also considered to possibility of trouble transporting her from here to there. I anticipated I would encounter police farther up the causeway, as after every hurricane, law enforcement protects the evacuated beaches from potential looting. I prepared myself with a cover story that would use there’s-a-fine-line-between-looting-and-cleaning up logic to, if asked, explain why I had the well-known Coppertone Girl in the back of my truck.
The question wound up being mute, as after considerable effort, I couldn’t fit the 8-foot piece of art/debris into the Trooper without having to leave the backdoor open.
Deciding that was too much a risk, I chose to rather turn the little girl face down and out of sight in the tall grass growing against the fence … with a plan to call my friend (Herald artist) Philip Brooker, who had an open-aired jeep, and ask if he’d help me retrieve her later.
Appreciating my “artistic” quest, Philip agreed immediately, as I knew he would, and drove out to meet me the next day. He too hadn’t been terribly impacted by the storm, and like me, still had water and electricity, what we found in the following weeks/months for many, were luxuries of the few.
With no police on the causeway on our way back to I-95, my excitement was renewed with my once again imagining having the iconic Coppertone Girl on the wall in my apartment. Now, knowing where I was going, I directed Philip to the spot and we (especially me) jumped out of his Jeep to find The Girl.
To my supreme disappointment, she wasn’t where I had left her. I wondered where she could possibly be? Might the three, small boys on the bicycles have seen me struggling to get her into my truck, and decided to take her for themselves? Or maybe, as I hoped, the billboard company, in their post-storm survey, found her with the intention of returning her to her familiar “Welcome to Miami” spot?
Sometime in the following weeks, the iconic sign was once again complete, but I could never be sure if it was MY GIRL, back home where she belonged, or, much more sad, a new replacement for THE GIRL WHO GOT AWAY?