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The Last Photographs of “Piano Island”

January 28, 2011 By Bill Cooke in Miami: Local News  | 5 Comments

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Boaters stop to look at the piano.

The Biscayne Bay piano has been removed from the narrow strip of rock and sand that’s been its home for the past month. A salvage company broke the piano down and towed it away late Thursday afternoon.

And with that, the saga of the baby grand piano drew to a close.

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The piano spends its last day on the sandbar.

The piano, which appeared mysteriously just after the New Year on a sandbar in the bay north of the Pelican Harbor Marina, had captivated the imagination of South Floridians and the nation.

It had everyone asking the same questions: Why is there a baby grand piano in the bay? How did it get there and who put it there?

On Wednesday my curiosity won out and I made my way over to a vacant lot just north of the Quayside condo on NE 108th Street.

I attached a telephoto lens to my Nikon and peered through the viewfinder. The piano, which sat about 200 yards offshore, was little more than a speck.

Nevertheless, with a little cropping I was able to post an interesting picture on my blog that showed the piano and its surroundings.

But I wanted to get closer.

As I pondered how to get a boat on a limited budget, my friend Cindy called.

She’s one third of a trio that dress up as mermaids and occasionally rent themselves out to parties. They call themselves the “Miami Mermaids.” But one of the mermaids is actually a dude as I would later learn!

She wanted to know if I’d shoot some pictures of her and her friends in costume posing with the piano.

“Sure,” I said, “can you get a boat?

“I’ll start making calls,” she said.

After a few hours she called back to say she’d lined up a boat…for free!

We would meet the owner of a small sailboat at Pelican Harbor the following day.

Thursday morning we all met at the marina.

I watched as Cindy and her friends unloaded cases of costumes and props. Had anyone walked by at that moment, they might have mistaken us for a group that was about to set off on a three week Caribbean cruise.

At about the same time, our captain Gary showed up and soon we were headed for “Piano Island.”

As Gary steered a course for the sandbar, I peered through a pair of binoculars.

The day before, countless boats had zipped past the abandoned piano but none had stopped.

But as we approached today, I could see that several small boats had beached and the owners were walking about taking pictures of each other posing with the beat up instrument.

Gary got his sailboat as close to the island as possible but we had to wade through knee-high water to reach dry land.

As Cindy and her fellow mermaids brought their cases of gear ashore; I set about shooting pictures of the charred hulk of what used to be a marvelous musical instrument.

As I composed the picture in my viewfinder I couldn’t help thinking that the piano a very long time ago, must have been the proud centerpiece in someone’s home.

Now, it was nothing more than a castaway living among the bay’s flotsam and jetsam on a no-name island; spending its last days unwanted and smelling very much like a smokehouse ham.

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Miami Mermaids pose with piano

Once Cindy and her friends were ashore they decked out the piano with pink fabric and a candelabra.

As they wriggled into their fake fish-tails, a Miami Dade marine patrol boat slowly glided up to the island.

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A fire department boat speeds past the piano on Wednesday

Out of the corner of one eye I noticed that the two police officers on board were watching us very closely, perhaps not sure of what we were doing.

I turned my camera towards their boat and snapped off a few frames. Almost immediately, the boat powered up and circled to the north side of the island.

As soon as it stopped, a sergeant jumped off and made his way towards me.

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And before I knew it he was demanding my ID. At this point there were at least half a dozen people on the island, but I was the only one he was interested in. I had apparently stepped over some invisible line in the sand when I dared photograph him and his boat.

As we spoke, one of his passengers - a Miami Dade Environmental Resource agent inspected the piano.

Gary had told us earlier that the word around the marina was that the county was interested in getting the piano off the island by Friday. It looked like the plan was being set into motion early.

Soon my new friend, the police sergeant, apparently satisfied that I wasn’t a wanted fugitive, got back on his boat but continued to watch our activities from a distance.

Before long, the occupants of other boats joined us on the island, all of them with cameras and interested in capturing photos of the world’s most famous piece of discarded junk.

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Spirit Airlines pilot Chris Jemino takes a picture of the piano.

Two men, who arrived in a small motorboat, admitted that they were supervisors of a work crew that was re-surfacing the 79th Street causeway. Instead of a coffee break, they decided to stop by and see the piano.

Another pair of boaters turned out to be an off-duty pilot for Spirit Airlines and his wife. They arrived in a very sleek 28-foot open fisherman.

Before long, I had all the pictures I needed and we started getting the gear back on Gary’s boat.

Fifteen minutes later we were back on dry land.

And 20 minutes later, I was on the way home, anxious to get out of my wet clothing.

Later in the afternoon, the story took another turn.

The 5pm news carried live pictures of the piano being dismantled and loaded onto a salvage boat.

As the sun set over Biscayne Bay, a TV station helicopter trained its camera on the remnants of the piano as they were transported back to the marina.

Today, the cameras are gone and the pelicans once again have the sandbar all to themselves.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Bill Cooke is a professional photojournalist and life-long Miami resident. He also runs the wildly popular Random Pixels blog, covering local and national issues.

See more articles by Bill Cooke.

See more articles by Bill Cooke

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5 Comments on

"The Last Photographs of “Piano Island”"

Larry says:

Timely shooting, Bill, and with mermaids and a mer-guy, yet!

Wonder if that sand bar will ever be marked on navigational charts as “Piano Bar.”

Posted on 01/28/2011 at 8:58 PM

Christy says:

I LOVE the second photo. I totally see that for sale at an expensive gallery on Lincoln Rd.

Posted on 01/29/2011 at 6:29 PM

bill says:

Thanks Larry and Christy.

Yes, Christy, I also see that photo for sale at an expensive Lincoln Rd gallery! Any suggestions?

Posted on 01/30/2011 at 8:43 AM

dolce says:

Why go to an expensive gallery? I’ll sell you that photograph for only $99.99!

Posted on 02/01/2011 at 5:23 AM

Nadia says:

The picture looks so surreal, like from a dream. I like the atmosphere. I also wonder, who would bother to drive a piano to a sand bar in the marina, surely if it was just about abandoning the piano, there was an easier way to get rid of it.

Posted on 02/01/2011 at 6:05 PM

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