Off the north shore of Nassau, capital city of the island nation of the Bahamas, sits an island formerly known as Hog Island. Up until 1959, it was a private estate belonging to a Swedish entrepreneur named Axel Wenner-Gren.
Axel. By http://www.ericssonhistory.com/templates/Ericsson/Article.aspx?id=2068&ArticleID=1336&CatID=366&epslanguage=SV, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4105629Axel’s may not be a recognizable name today, but in his time, he was one of the world’s wealthiest men. Born into humble means in 1881, he was one of six children, of which three had died in childhood. After spinning his wheels as a salesman of agricultural machinery in fin de siecle Germany, he wandered past a storefront in Vienna in 1908 to marvel at a new device called a “vacuum cleaner.”
The sucking machine obviously intrigued him. Clearly, in this case, he was thinking “outside of the box,” especially when you consider that his past business experiences was in the spice trade or the aforementioned farm equipment. When his attempts to become a distributor were rebuffed, somehow he managed to purchase a 20% stake in the company. A few years later, he made his coup when he persuaded Electrolux to buy the underlying patent in return for shares of the Swedish company’s stock.
That was the winning ticket!By the 1930s, he was the owner of Electrolux, which had successfully marketed the vacuum cleaner for domestic use. My Grandmother had one, didn’t yours? His fortune notwithstanding, he fell out of favor due to his friendship with Nazis, Hermann Goring in particular. In demand, and then not, he decided to leave Europe, and the impending war, to his estate off the coast of Nassau.
As an elderly man in his eighties, he sold his property to one Huntington Hartford in 1959, who had a vision for the island. He stripped away the landing strip that Axel had build for his private use and built a development to be known as The Ocean Club. The “club” was intended to be a Monte Carlo in the new world, complete with a reconstructed French cloister he purchased from William Randolph Hearst’s Florida warehouse.
Huntington Hartford, original owner and developer of Hog (turned Paradise) Island in the Bahamas and one of the world’s richest men in the 1960s, shown here in front of his hotel (the Ocean Club) on the island.As recounted in my initial post “IN DEMAND, AND THEN NOT,” Hartford managed to lose fully one third of his wealth in the deal, and for his part, retired back to New York to live in relative obscurity. His efforts to sell and promote the sport of “Ten-Net” were likewise not successful.
Hartford’s experience proved to serve as a blueprint for my Dad’s. Although Dad was friendly with Hartford over the years — the two had probably met during golden days in the 1950s at glam spots like The Stork Club — their relationship was rather sparse by the late 1980s.
Maybe they spoke about Nassau when they got together. I noticed that Dad was intrigued with the Bahamian capital for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was warm there in the wintertime. This was a decided advantage over Bermuda, which can be cool and windswept in January. Dad had gone through a lot of trouble to get a Bermuda Residency Permit in the late 1970s. He probably went down there one winter and found it was just too chill for his likings.
Not a problem in Nassau! Off the coast of Miami, it was never too cold in January. Secondly, it was only 2 and a half hours from Newark Airport (direct flights started in the 1980s so the LaGuardia shuffle — and its parking hassles — was no longer necessary).
Thirdly, residency permits were a much more relaxed affair, compared to the snooty island to the north with their namesake shorts.
Fourthly, a residence could be had in the most economical way conceivable — a houseboat! No lawn to mow! Never mind that hurricanes regularly sunk ships in the Hurricane Hole Marina.
For Dad, that was a winning combination.
Besides, he would make a sport out of conquering a new island by playing the ‘visiting dignitary’ from the New York Yacht Club. Dad was ever angling. I am sure he felt that the bar at The Ocean Club — built by his friend!, he would mention to those within earshot — was an ideal place to hustle invites on the boats of well-heeled locals or the itinerant idle rich alike.
Dad was not the only hustler in the room, however. Sometimes the hunter becomes the game.
Unfortunately, sitting at the bar as a mature gentleman, er, I mean, dignitary from the States — one who knew the famous Hartford! — he came to attract the attention of Mr. Minford Dedwaigt¹, barrister at Her Majesty’s Court across the bridge in downtown Nassau. Min, as we’ll call him here, was a fellow of questionable reputation in the local community, who much preferred dealing with gullible foreigners than with his own kind.
Seeing his mark, and ingratiating himself quickly by buying my Dad his next Whiskey and Rye, Min maneuvered the conversation stoically away from boats to business, his specialty. Being a barrister must have been an easy score for Min; Dad was always impressed by a law degree. Her Majesty’s Courts, no less! Elizabeth Regina, indeed! Crafting thus a conversation to gain my Dad’s trust, he regaled him with multiple ideas for fast and quick riches.
That conversation continued over the course of the entire 1990s. Soon I heard of the wonderful Mr. Dedwaigt and his many hymns of opportunity calling.
The first idea I remember was to import a still-to-this-day unknown Bulgarian fruit juice cocktail into the USA. I never saw or tasted the elixir myself but, as I recall, there were some significant hurdles, probably having to do with annoying government oversight like customs regulations, FDA, health standards for food products, insects, as well as, probably, reliability and stability of the producers back in Eastern Europe.
Dad dodged a bullet there.
The next idea was more lugubrious. Why not a chain of porn shops in Nassau to sell peep shows, novelties, VHS movies, glow in the dark condoms (not smalls), and other what-not to randy locals and tourists? A growing opportunity, no?
One, er, small problem was related to size. I mean in terms of cities. Nassau was not an especially big town; typically, these kind of establishments do better in much bigger, more anonymous, municipalities. No matter, Min was sure to say, he had all the right connections to get things done pronto. All they had to do was to set up shop and then watch the cash roll in.
Dad was all in if you could offer him a get-rich-quick scheme. I recall him talking about this in the mid to late 1990s. After examination of some sort, the idea went flaccid.
Just like Herby, though, with a work ethic to match, Min kept at it. Just as Herby took to cold-calling impressionable rich people with reasonable sounding offers to buy IBM, Min changed his gears from the implausible to the more down to earth. From juice and squeeze shops, how investing in some of the sunshine?
Specifically, why not invest in a lot at the Ocean Club Estates? A golf course lot could be had for $500,000, a house could be erected for another half mil, sell the thing north of $2 large, carry all the shopping bags full of cash to the bank while grinning.
What could be easier? Best yet, as mentioned previously, Min knew all the players in Nassau. Construction permits? No problem. Construction crews? Min’s got that handled. Local eyes to watch over everything? It’s in the tank! Why not get rich together, Bernie?
Such an offer would prove to be irresistible.
If Dad had managed to check Min’s references, he might have balked. But Dad knew Herby’s reputation – he had been swindled by him! – only to reinvest regardless. Paradoxically, Dad was attracted to those who stole money. As long as he felt they stole for him.
Such was the twisted logic that sucked Dad into his ultimate morass, while Mike the Accountant and I scratched our heads in wonder. (He already had a money-making business!)
¹ – Not his real name.
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Listen, listen, it’s in the third stage of approval…
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A well written essay; really enjoyable, James. My Choate chum, I can not help thinking that this must have been difficult to watch first-hand.On a lighter note, the hunter as the game line reminded me of this classic ending to the only Steve Martin flic l ever liked. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xof2LkhAFGU R.i.P., Glenne Headly.
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