“I am going to kill you,” the caller told Florida attorney and Miami native Daniel Uhlfelder. Then the voice cracked a little. “That was a joke. You are already dead.”
For the last week or so, the father of two young children has been wandering the newly opened beaches of North Florida dressed as the Grim Reaper. He’s scared kids, pissed off sunbathers, and delighted the more cautious among us, who agree with Uhlfelder that opening before the pandemic has passed might just be a deadly idea.
“Unusual times require unusual actions,” said Uhlfelder, who studied history at Stanford University and graduated from the University of Florida College of Law in 1996.
Uhlfelder has become something of a star just in the last few months. After having a public conflict with the former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee over public access to beaches, his Twitter account spiked from just 400 followers to more than 138,000.
While Uhlfeelder advocated for opening up the beaches, Huckabee wanted to keep the public away from his 10,000 square foot “McMansion,” according to Mother Jones’ magazine’s political section. “Apparently [it] isn’t enough space for a quarantine,” wrote senior reporter Stephanie Mencimer.
“Started off last year with 400 followers, but after Mike Huckabee filed a lawsuit against me on customary access of public beaches, I reached around 75,000 followers on Twitter,” confirmed Uhlfelder.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed North Florida beaches to open last week, he decided dressing up as the symbol of death would let people know that this virus should not be taken lightly. His walks on the beach have been featured by The Guardian, Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and other major news outlets.
“If I went out in my suit and tie would I be talking to you or other news outlets? No. If getting in a grim reaper suit gets people to listen to what I believe is the right thing to do, then I think it’s worth something,” said Uhlfelder.
Uhlfelder’s father is from West Palm Beach and his mother, who studied art, is from Orlando. He was born in Miami, where his father was a public defender. He remembers living an “ordinary house life” before going away for school to Stanford University.
While attending the University of Florida, he worked in Washington, D.C., then clerked for a federal judge in Miami. He moved to Santa Rosa in North Florida in 2001.
As a trial attorney, he’s developed thick skin which has helped him to deal with verbal abuse with people who dislike his Grim Reaper attire.
He believes visiting beaches while wearing the tattered black suit and carrying a plastic scythe is a small price to pay for actions he thinks are “considerably saving lives.”
His tweets and his high presence on television have allowed him to gain international support for his drastic actions on the beach.
Closing the beaches for a few weeks just wasn’t enough.
“I think this a once in a lifetime, multi-generational disaster… the Florida governor is acting prematurely in opening up the beaches again,” said Uhlfelder
As someone who is used to wearing a suit and tie attending court depositions, the costume is unusual for him, it is part of a cause worth standing up for.
“Growing up, my parents always told me if you believe in something, take action,” said Uhlfelder. “I believe in this day and age we have lost that. I think we have lost that in our society where we don’t look into things anymore.”
Beaches in South Florida are closed indefinitely but several parks are opened up. Just a few days ago South Pointe park was shuttered after too many people flooded the place.
He will continue to visit beaches throughout South Florida in an attempt to catch the attention of civilians during this time.