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Rex Ellingwood Beach (1877-1949):

Famous Rollins Alumni and Prolific Outdoor Novelist


On September 1, 1877 on a stumpy farm in Atwood, Michigan, Henry Walter and Eva Enice Beach bore their third son, Rex Ellingwood Beach.  At the age of seven, Rex moved with his family to Tampa, Florida, where his father became a squatter under the Homestead Act. [1] There, Henry Beach opened up a broom shop and prospered so his son, Rex, could attend college.

At the age of fourteen, Rex was sent to Rollins College as a member of the class of 1897.  From the beginning, Rex was a non-conformist.  He crusaded against the strict regulations of the day—dates only one time a week, no smoking, and curfew at 10:30 p.m. for boys.[2]  He continuously broke such rules and was eventually reprimanded by President Hooker, the first President of the College, for boating on Lake Virginia on a Sunday.  He was later suspended for several weeks for attending a party in Orlando.  Shortly after such incidents, Beach decided to get involved in “legal” activities; he became local editor of The Sandspur, began playing intercollegiate baseball, and joined the Kappa Alpha fraternity.  Despite such involvement, he left the College his junior year to study law in Chicago.  In the Fall 1896, Beach enrolled at Chicago College of Law, where he played football with the Chicago Athletic Association team and captained the water polo team.  By the summer of the next year, he decided to join the 1897 Klondike rush to Alaska.  Beach returned to Chicago two years later and enrolled in the Kent College of Law.  Just two years after that, he journeyed back to Alaska upon hearing of the Nome strike.  There, he struck gold at the grass roots on the bank of a creek three miles inland from Nome.

By Fall 1902, Beach returned to Chicago, where he decided to write about his frontier experience. McClure Magazine immediately published his short story, “The Mule Driver and the Garrulous Mute.” Directly after, Beach wrote his first best-seller, The Spoilers, which eventually sold 700,000 copies, and made into a movie.[3]  This success prompted Beach to eventually write thirty-three novels, hundreds of articles, and two successful plays.  In the midst of his success, Beach met and married Edith Greta Crater, sister of Allene Crater, who later married the comedian and dancer Fred Stone.  Beach’s career continued to soar.  Beach was awarded both an Honorary Bachelor of Science degree and an Honorary Doctor of Literature degree by Rollins College in addition to being elected President of the Rollins Alumni Association (RAA). 

By middle age, Beach had a desire to return to the soil.  He purchased 7,000 acres of wilderness near Sebring, Florida, clearing the land and turning it into productive acreage.  Towards the end of his lifetime, Beach found himself gradually descending into helplessness.  He was going blind despite four cataract operations, and soon, could only recognize people by their voices.  After two years of fighting throat cancer, he calmly decided to give in.  On the morning of December 7, 1949, Beach shot himself.  Rollins College buried his ashes, along with his wife’s, by the Alumni House on campus.  In further remembrance of this remarkable figure, the College erected a dorm hall bearing his name. 

For further information regarding the life of Rex Beach and the Rex Beach collection at Rollins Archives, please see:

-Alia Alli

[1] “Ashes of Rex Beach Rest on Campus of College He Loved,” Winter Park Herald. October 25, 1951, p. 31.

[2] Eve Bacon, “Rex Beach Non-Conformist”, Historical Quarterly, 25 no. 2 (June 1983).

[3] Eve Bacon, “The Swell Adventurer,” Orlando Sentinel- Fl. Magazine. 30 November 1969.

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