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The graves.

Grave of Johnnie Brown: the Human Monkey

Field review by the editors.

Palm Beach, Florida

Jokes aside, there are only two marked graves in Palm Beach. They are side-by-side in a restaurant courtyard, just off fancy Worth Avenue. Neither belongs to a human being.

The more famous of the admittedly obscure pair is Johnnie Brown, the Human Monkey. Johnnie Brown was the pet spider monkey of Addison Mizner, an eccentric Palm Beach fixture of the roaring twenties. Johnnie Brown would sit on one of Addison's shoulders, a parrot on the other.

Mizner was the kind of character fictionalized by playwrights and novelists. He landed in South Florida in 1918 (via California, Guatemala, China, Alaska and New York) at the urging of Paris Singer, playboy heir to the Singer sewing machine empire, ostensibly to design a hospital for World War I vets. When the Florida land boom hit, though, the hospital morphed into the tony Everglades Club, and Mizner went on to create the iconic Palm Beach look, an architecture described in one biography as "Bastard-Spanish-Moorish-Romanesque-Gothic-Renaissance-Bull Market-Damn-the-Expense style."

Johnnie Brown the Human Monkey headstone.
Johnnie Brown the Human Monkey headstone.

He created vast showplaces for the era's oligarchs. His home for the Wanamakers later became the Kennedy compound, and a house he designed for himself was instead sold to the Vanderbilts (and later to John Lennon). Worth Avenue itself was created when Singer bought a tourist attraction called Joe's Alligator Farm, kicked out the alligators, and called upon Mizner to create an upscale shopping mecca.

Mizner lived on Worth Avenue, in a castle-like villa that anchored the Via Mizner shopping center, still a collection of restaurants, galleries and designers. Presaging other odd Florida builders, Mizner's apartment had a portcullis and trapdoors for dropping boiling oil on unwanted callers.

Our Laddie headstone.
Our Laddie headstone.

As South Florida took its place as a Jazz Age centerpiece, Mizner's pets became nearly as well-known as he was: macaws, anteaters, raccoons and two other monkeys named Ethel and Deuteronomy. But Johnnie Brown was first among equals.

Brown ran for mayor of Palm Beach and feuded with Oscar-winning actress Marie Dressler (who was there helping Mizner hawk property). When not tethered, he followed the milkman around in the morning in order to jab his thumb in the necks of bottles for the fun of seeing the milk spurt up. He was sent a special invitation to attend the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.

Mizner and his brother Wilson became rich during the twenties, then embarked on what was to become their undoing -- turning unincorporated backwater Boca Raton into "the Venice of the Atlantic." In 1926, General T. Coleman DuPont publicly attacked them for their land shenanigans, and later that year a hurricane decimated Boca. Wilson fled for Hollywood, where he would open the famous hat-shaped Brown Derby restaurant (not named for the monkey).

Johnnie Brown died the next year, and was buried in Via Mizner. The tombstone reads simply:

Johnnie Brown
The Human Monkey
Died April 30, 1927

When Addison died destitute in 1933, Via Mizner was purchased by socialites Rose and Morton Sachs, who lived in its villa for the next fifty years.

Buried next to Johnnie Brown is the Sachs' dog, Laddie, who died on December 1, 1959. "We miss you so," is the simple epitaph. Interestingly, Laddie's headstone is engraved with Christian crosses.

At the height of the last real estate boom, in March 2005, an 11-foot-tall statue to Addison Mizner was erected atop a clock tower in downtown Boca Raton. A tiny Johnnie Brown is perched on his shoulder.

Note: Some historians spell Johnnie Brown as Johnny Brown. But the grave is inscribed "Johnnie."

Grave of Johnnie Brown: the Human Monkey

14 Via Mizner, Palm Beach, FL
Ocean Blvd/A1A, turn west on Worth Ave., on block past Hibiscus Ave. In the outdoor seating area of Pizza Al Fresco.
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Flagler Museum: Gold TelegramFlagler Museum: Gold Telegram, Palm Beach, FL - < 1 mi.
Nuclear DinosaurNuclear Dinosaur, West Palm Beach, FL - 3 mi.
Manatee LagoonManatee Lagoon, West Palm Beach, FL - 4 mi.
In the region:
Giant Indian Head, Fort Lauderdale, FL - 41 mi.

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