Tomás Estrada Palma Rides to Havana to Become Cuba’s First President

Originally Published by María R. Estorino on October 2001

Convoy accompanying Tomás Estrada Palma from Bayamo to Havana. From folder 24 of the Tomás Estrada Palma Collection (CHC0460), Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida.

In 1902, Tomás Estrada Palma set foot on the island of Cuba for the first time in almost twenty-five years. José Martí’s successor as head of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano, Estrada Palma was living in exile in Central Valley, New York when he was elected Cuba ‘s first president in 1901. Once elected, he renounced his naturalized American citizenship and traveled to his homeland, landing in Gibara, Oriente on April 20, 1902. Estrada Palma traveled across Cuba for three weeks, getting reacquainted with the island and giving Cubans a chance to see in person the man they had elected as their first repúblican president. He reached Havana on May 11, 1902 and was inaugurated eight days later on May 20, 1902. This photograph depicts Estrada Palma’s caravan as he marched across Cuba. At the head of the group is a rider carrying the flag of Bayamo, Estrada Palma’s hometown and birthplace of Cuba’s struggles for independence. Estrada Palma rides in a black carriage at the center of the photograph. It is part of the Tomás Estrada Palma Collection of the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) of the University of Miami Libraries. This collection was donated to the CHC by Estrada Palma’s grandson, Tomás Douglas Estrada Palma, in 1995. Along with this photograph, the collection contains other pictures of Tomás Estrada Palma and his family as well as personal letters and other documents. For more information about this collection, view the finding aid.

Donor Stories: Ramiro A. Fernández

Click the image to watch the video.

Have you ever wondered how we come to acquire the historical materials in our Collection? So many of the resources we hold have been generously donated by individuals and families who value the history and culture of Cuba. Watch this video to hear from one of our donors, Ramiro A. Fernández, about his experiences collecting Cuban photographs and why he has donated some of them to the Cuban Heritage Collection.

Ramiro A. Fernández
Photo by Rankin

Ramiro A. Fernández is a well-known collector of Cuban photographs and images. Born in Havana and a graduate of Florida State University, Mr. Fernández worked as a photography editor for Time, Inc. for 25 years, including work with magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, People and People En Español, and Sports Illustrated. He is a Contributing Photo Editor for Americas Quarterly. In 2007, he published images from his collection in I Was Cuba (Chronicle Books). Since 2003, he has generously donated several hundred photographs to us, most of which we have digitized and made available online. These images document life in Cuba from the 1890s to the 1950s.

Thanks to donors like Mr. Fernández, we continue to build the most comprehensive research collection outside the island on Cuba and its diaspora and to enhance research, teaching, and learning opportunities for our students and faculty, our community, and the broader scholarly network.

Rare photo from the Tom Pohrt Photograph Collection shows historic Cuban lighthouse in its original design

Last year, we acquired and digitized the Tom Pohrt Photograph Collection, an invaluable collection of photographic images of Cuba in the 19th and 20th century. To accentuate this collection, we featured a guest article by the donor himself, where he reflects on the collection and his personal interests in collecting historical photographs from Cuba. We continue to highlight Mr. Pohrt’s collection below by featuring one very special photograph of the Faro de Villanueva lighthouse in the Bay of Cienfuegos.

This article was written by Ana Rodriguez, CHC Metadata Assistant.

The Tom Pohrt Photograph Collection contains a series of albumen prints of Cuban lighthouses and views. Among these is a photo album of lighthouses and views of Cuba from the 1850s, presumed to be taken by the studio of C.D. Fredricks in Cuba. One of these photos which depicts the Faro de Villanueva lighthouse, located at Punta de los Colorados in the Bay of Cienfuegos. According to Spanish historian Miguel Angel Sánchez Terry in his Faros españoles de ultramar (link to IBISweb record), this lighthouse was commissioned in 1846, and Punta de los Colorados was selected for its construction due to the quality of the land which was formed by solid rock. On March 16, 1851 the newspaper Gaceta de La Habana announced the completion of its construction.  A casa de mampostería (house made of bricks) was added to the lighthouse around 1866 and served as the residence for two torreros (lighthouse keepers) and their families.

In the photo of the Faro de Villanueva, the lighthouse is shown to have an almost square structure, which was, at first, puzzling to me when I was creating the metadata; another photo that I found of this lighthouse, on a website created by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill titled “Lighthouses of Cuba” (link), shows the lighthouse having a circular shape. But as we learn from the blurb given on that page as well as Sánchez Terry, the square shaped lighthouse was torn down by the American vessels “Morehead” and “Winsdlow” on May 11, 1898, during the Spanish-American War.

Faro de Villanueva was later rebuilt, but instead of replicating the original square shape, it was given a circular shape. The new Faro de Villanueva tower was inaugurated in 1901, and according to Sánchez Terry, it has been renovated several times. The latest update dating to 1969, when electricity was incorporated to the tower. This photograph from the Tom Pohrt Photograph Collection, however, is believed to be one of the few taken of its original square design.

Faro de Villanueva, Bay of Cienfuegos
Faro de Villanueva, Bay of Cienfuegos, with the original square shaped design. From “Photo album of lighthouses and views of Cuba,” Tom Pohrt Photograph Collection. Link to digital collection.
Gaceta de la Habana, March 16, 1850
Gaceta de la Habana announces the construction of the lighthouse on March 16, 1851. Link to IBISweb record.


Nuevo Siglo, Jueves 2 de Marzo de 1995
Blueprint of the lighthouse featuring the casa de mamposterías, 1878. Credit to Sánchez Terry, M. A. 1992. Faros españoles de ultramar. Madrid: Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. Link to IBISweb record.
Declaración Internacional, Coalición para la restauración del Gobierno Constitucional de la Republica Cuba
The lighthouse in its current state, 1990s. Credit to Rowlett, R. September 28, 2009. Cienfuegos Province Lighthouses. In Lighthouses of Cuba. Retrieved from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Web Site.
Sánchez Terry, M. A. 1992. “Faro de Villanueva en la Punta de los Colorados.” In Faros españoles de ultramar, 82-90. Madrid: Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.


The Tom Pohrt Photograph Collection now available online

Brooch with picture of woman. Click image to view this item.

Editor’s Note: Last year, we acquired the Tom Pohrt Photograph Collection, an invaluable collection of photographic images of Cuba in the 19th and 20th century.  With funding from The Goizueta Foundation, we digitized the entire collection, which includes albumen prints, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and stereographs. We are excited to announce that it the digital collection is now available for online viewing.

Tom Pohrt, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is an author and illustrator of children’s books.  He is also a collector of Cuban photographs, documents, and memorabilia. We asked him to write a guest article about his photograph collection.

The motivation behind my collecting historic photographs of Cuba began out of simple curiosity. I wanted to know more of Cuban history and its people.

A longer answer to this might come from having parents who instilled in me a sense of curiosity and the value of knowledge for its own sake. My father was a life long collector of American Indian artifacts. The Detroit Institute of Arts and the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody Wyoming are now home to this collection. The exposure growing up around my fathers passion in this aspect of American history had a rich and profound effect on me.

Union case with ambrotype of man and little girl. Click image to view this item.

As an artist I have always had a great love of the visual arts, including photography. About twelve years ago I stumbled across and purchased some photographic studio portraits of Havana residents, taken in the early 20th century. I was taken by these images and wanted to know more of their story.

Like many of my generation I grew up reading and hearing of Cuba during the years of the Cold War. I had a passing knowledge of the “Spanish American War” but that was the embarrassingly limited extent of what I knew of Cuba. Eleven years ago I had my first opportunity to travel to the island, to see and explore some of its history first hand. It left a lasting impression and since I have returned many times.

This collection was put together by purchases made from other collectors and dealers from around the world. Books and photographs were also found in the odd rare book and antique shop. Early on I decided to let the photographs I was finding direct the focus of my collecting. Soon I found that part of the strength of this collection lay in the mid 19th century photographs I was coming across. As a comprehensive history of early photography in Cuba has yet to be written I felt this period demanded special attention.

These rare images represent a significant collection of mid 19th century photography of Cuba. Aesthetically beautiful they are also of great importance as historical documents.

There are examples here of Cuban studio photographers as well as American itinerant photographers.

Stereograph of plantation slaves and workers during a break at noon, taken by George Barnard. Click image to view this item.

Examples of the American Civil War photographer George Barnard, whose Cuban stereo-view’s represent the earliest known images of slavery on the island, form part of this material. His views of Havana also give us a glimpse of life at the time.

There are 71 photographs from an album, taken between 1859 and the early 1860’s, documenting lighthouses from around the island, with views of Havana and outdoor views taken along the islands northern coastline. While the photographer remains unknown there is evidence that these may have been taken by photographers (most likely Cuban) working for Charles DeForest Fredricks. C.D. Fredricks & Co. was one of the premier photographic studio’s in Havana in the mid 19th century.

With the wealth of historic material at the Cuban Heritage Collection I felt this was the natural home for this material. I was also greatly impressed by the CHC Digital Collections. This service provides easy access both to scholars and to the general public.

Selected photographs and original daiquiri recipe from the Carmen Puig Papers now available online

The Carmen Puig Papers primarily document Puig’s family ties to Jennings Cox, Puig’s step-grandfather and the American credited with inventing the daiquiri cocktail. Cox was an engineer with Bethlehem Iron Works in charge of mines in Daiquirí, a town in Cuba’s southeast region. Cox reportedly invented the famous daiquiri cocktail in 1898 by mixing together white Bacardi rum, mineral water, sugar, lemon juice, and crushed ice.

From this collection, selected photographs and the original daiquiri recipe are digitized and available online. Of note are photographs of Santiago de Cuba after an earthquake in 1932. Visit the digital collection here.

Meet the staff: Rebecca González-Kreisberg

This week we say goodbye to our summer intern, Rebecca González-Kreisberg. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts to Cuban and Jewish parents, Rebecca became interested in the genealogy of the Cuban side of her family while in high school and visited CHC to use our genealogy resources and study the history of Cuban refugees for a term paper.  Now a third year student at Colby College in Maine, where she is focusing on Latin American Studies and Studio Art, Rebecca spent 10 weeks this summer working in our archives division.

Rebecca’s work focused on arranging and describing manuscript collections. Under the supervision of archivist Beata Bergen, Rebecca processed the papers of Teresa María Rojas, a Cuban-born actress and founder of Miami-Dade College’s Promoteo theater group.  She also inventoried the 19th-century Cuban photographs recently acquired from Tom Pohrt and a donation of photographs and ephemera from the well-known collector, Ramiro Fernández.

Rebecca noted that the internship was the perfect complement to her studies. “As a photographer and a student of Latin American studies, getting to know the photograph collections on such an intimate level was an amazing experience. The work that I had to do allowed me to really get into some very specific facets of Cuban history and culture, which helped to solidify my overall sense for the island’s history as well as that of Latin America at large.” When asked what her favorite thing about working at CHC was, she immediately answered that it was getting to see and work with the daguerreotypes contained in the Tom Pohrt collection (learn more about one of the those daguerreotypes).

In the future, Rebecca plans to live and teach in Latin America, while working on her photography. We were thrilled to have Rebecca working with us this summer and wish her every success.

If you are a college student and interested in internship opportunities in the Cuban Heritage Collection, contact us at

Selected photographs and theater programs from the Herberto Dumé Papers

Herberto Dumé (1929-2003) directed the Teatro Nacional de Cuba from 1959 until he left the island in exile. In New York, he founded the Dumé Spanish Theater in 1969. Dumé is best known for his theatrical direction and one-man poetry recitals. The Dumé Papers (link to finding aid) document Dume’s work, primarily during his years in exile from Cuba, and include the scripts of plays that he directed along with photographs, clippings, programs, and reviews and records related to the Dumé Spanish Theater.

Selected items from the Herberto Dumé Papers are digitized and available online. Visit the digital collection here.

¡De Película! Getting to Know “El Guapo de la Canción” One Photograph at a Time

Newly digitized are photographs documenting the career of the Cuban-born singer Rolando Laserie. Known as “El Guapo de la Canción” and “El Guapachoso” (the Ebullient One), Laserie performed with various musical groups including Benny Moré’s Banda Gigante and recorded many popular albums of boleros, guarachas, and other musical genres. Among his best known songs are “Sabor a Mi” and “Amalia Batista.” He was also famous for the interjection “¡de película!” (“out of a movie!”). Laserie and his wife Gisela went into exile in 1960, settling in Miami, Florida in the 1970s.

The 394 digitized photographs are viewable here. What follows is an account of working with the digitization process by Ana Rodriguez, our metadata assistant.

¡De Película! Getting to Know “El Guapo de la Canción” One Photograph at a Time

by Ana Rodríguez, CHC Metadata Assistant

Around the beginning of February I started working with the Rolando Laserie Papers, creating descriptive records (known in the library world as metadata) as part of the process of digitization. My job was to provide item-level description, which means that I had to create records for each and every item being scanned in the most detailed way possible. This includes not only technical or administrative information about the object being scanned (like information about how the object was scanned, the object’s genre, and its dimension), but also descriptive information about what the object is about, what it depicts, what subject headings it could be associated with, and so forth.

Part of the challenge with digitizing this collection was that its finding aid only describes the contents to the folder level; that is, you could only find out brief information about the contents of a certain folder overall, but not detailed information about each and every item within that folder. For instance, the papers include a folder titled “Panamá, n.d., 1957-1959” which is part of a series “Photographs: Outside Cuba, [1950]-[1990].” The series and folder titles give us a lead as to the contents of this particular folder, but it does not tell us that it contains specifically a photograph of Rolando Laserie signing a contract in Panama on December 1957. This means that for me to do my job, I have to do a bit of detective work, so that each item being digitized is described in such a way that will help people find it in our digital library.

In providing descriptive metadata lies the real challenge. Take the case of properly identifying and describing photographs. Sometimes, there are photographs with a caption or other description on the back of the photograph, or verso, which details exactly what is being depicted, who the people in the photograph are, and when it was taken. But other times, you come across a photograph where next to no context is given at all. There is a photograph, say, of Rolando Laserie with two unidentified men who appear to be barbecuing, and the verso bears no information other than that it was taken in Panama in 1958. Who are the two unidentified men? What was the occasion? Is this a photograph of Laserie enjoying a day off with several friends from Panama, or is Laserie celebrating with fellow musicians with whom he is collaborating? Without further evidence, these are speculations and so I could not say for sure. For this reason, the metadata could not say more than just “Rolando Laserie with two unidentified men.”

This can be particularly frustrating when you have a definite clue about what the photograph might be depicting, but nevertheless cannot verify it. Take this photograph of Rolando Laserie on a TV show with several unidentified people. Although there is text on the verso, it gives no concrete information about the TV show itself. The seal on the front reads “XHTV-4.” When I sought out more information on this acronym, I discovered that it is a Mexican TV station also known as Canal de la Ciudad (The City’s Channel), owned by the Mexican multimedia conglomerate Televisa. Since the photo was found in a folder titled “Mexico,” it made sense that this was a photograph taken on the set of a TV show featured on this channel. I searched further to see if Televisa made available anywhere an archive of old programs, but I could not find anything. I therefore had to leave it as it is now, without any information about the show itself. Again, we try to be as descriptive as possible, but we can only provide information that is absolute verifiable.

This is where we can use your help. Do you think you might know people that are being depicted in these photographs or what TV shows the photographs are from, or can provide context in any other way? Please take a moment to browse through these newly digitized images from the Rolando Laserie collection. There are somewhere between 30 and 50 photographs for which we were unable to provide fully detailed metadata. With your help, we can create more accurate and useful records to help others discover these images for many years to come. Leave a comment here or email me directly at

Now online: Cuban Refugee Program photographs and Tad Sculz interview transcripts

The Tad Szulc Collection of Interview Transcripts contains the typescript transcripts of Tad Szulc’s taped interviews with Fidel Castro, Blas Roca Calderío, Raúl Chibás, Universo Sánchez, Vilma Espín, Max Lesnick and other Cuban government officials and Cuban exiles in Miami, Florida, from 1984 to 1985, in preparation for his book Fidel: A Critical Portrait. All transcripts from this collection are digitized and available online. Visit:

This online selection features selected photographs and newsletters published by the Cuban Refugee Program. This federal program provided education, medical, employment, and relocation services to Cuban refugees. The photographs primarily depict refugee families and the service activities coordinated by the Program during the 1960s and early 1970s. The digital collection is part of the Cuban Refugee Center Records. Visit:

New acquisition: Raquel Lázaro and Jesús M. Casagrán papers

Last week we had a visit from Raquel Lázaro, the Cuban painter and widow of sculptor Jesús Casagrán. She was generous enough to give us a collection of photographs, exhibit catalogs, and a scrapbook related to her and her husband’s careers as visual artists. Here are a few images from the Raquel Lázaro and Jesús M. Casagrán Papers.

Click images to enlarge.

Raquel Lázaro and Jesús Casagrán, early 1950s?

Raquel Lázaro with one of her paintings, 1980s

A 30″ x 40″ acrylic painting by Raquel Lázaro, 1980s

Rumba by Jesús Casagrán, 1930s

India by Jesús Casagrán, 1931