Digging into Orlando’s Past
Digging into Orlando’s Past
Q: Is there a secret tunnel connecting the Beacham Theater and the old Angebilt Hotel??
A: Local lore has it that in the 1920s, vaudeville stars frequented a passageway between the downtown Orange Avenue buildings (both still standing) to avoid fans at street level. But it may only be urban legend.
For certain, there’s something down there, at least on the Beacham end. In 2007, local historian Steve Rajtar and a TV crew descended through a trap door off the stage and found a passageway about 5 feet high. As they approached Orange, the space shrank to 3 feet and then appeared to be blocked.
“I didn’t try to crawl all the way and figured that any performers at the Beacham would also have been reluctant to do so through cobwebs and rat droppings,’’ Rajtar says.
On the Angebilt end, there have been rumors of a basement door that led to the tunnel. Orlando resident Bill Milligan’s grandfather owned the hotel in the 1920s, and Milligan’s late older brother, Jimmy, used to work there. However, says Bill Milligan, 79, “I never heard a tunnel mentioned. And my brother would have known if there had been one.’’
Another Orlando historian, Joy Wallace Dickinson, raises an intriguing possibility about the Beacham. Recently she toured some historic buildings in Tampa and learned that during renovation, crews came across subterranean spaces about 3 feet high that were used to hide booze during Prohibition. Could it be that our “tunnel’’ was actually a special storage area?
Answer Man proposes a toast to creativity.
Q: Whatever happened to Ericka Dunlap, Miss America 2004?
A: After venturing into country music in Nashville for a few years, Dunlap is back home in Orlando, running her own PR firm and a foundation she created to teach girls how to develop a strong self-image. She also does motivational speaking around the country, sharing team-building skills she learned in 2009 as a contestant onThe Amazing Race with her then-husband (they placed third).
Dunlap, 30, started her Crown Jewel Foundation in 2007 with an eye toward using teaching sessions and camps to help girls ages 6 to 16 “understand the worth and the value of their own personal brand.’’ And the Boone High-UCF graduate knows something about that subject. After she became the first African-American Miss Florida, and subsequently won the national title, Dunlap had “a sense of invincibility, and I felt like I could take on any of my goals and make them happen.’’ While she didn’t achieve all of them, she has few regrets.
“That’s why a rearview mirror is really small and the windshield is so large—you need to look forward,’’ Dunlap says.
Answer Man welcomes your questions about the Orlando area. Send queries to email@example.com