Jan 5-10 2014 (Miss Zanzibar at Longwood, FL-Betty/Denny’s pad while John and Trish are in Marathon, FL)
Before we begin, an acronym Betty thought of for the biggest keys (cayo is Spanish for island): KT I’M B(ac)K.
Key Largo, Tavernier, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West. You will see small green mile markers on the right side of the Highway (MM 0 is the southernmost point).
First a little history on the Keys. The Overseas Highway (aka US1) leaves Florida City hopping from island to island for 128 miles to Key West ending at mile marker 0. The roadway consists of 113 miles of road and 43 bridges. Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain in 1513 and the early history of the Keys was dramatic. Spanish ships laden with gold and treasures were routinely plundered by such famous pirates as Black Caesar, Blackbeard and LaFitte, as they passed the islands. Around the turn of the century Standard Oil tycoon Henry Flagler began his dream of connecting the islands to the mainland by extending his famous Florida East Coast Railway. The railway crossed 100 miles of water and 29 islands. Unfortunately the project turned out to be an economic failure known as Flagler’s Folly. The railroad was completed on January 21, 1912. Flagler died the following year. In 1935 a horrendous hurricane destroyed embankments and swept a train into the sea, once again isolating the Keys from the mainland. The state of Florida built the Overseas Highway 2 ½ years later using the rail bed and bridges as its base. The current Overseas Highway was completed in just 4 years, (from 1978 to 1982). You can see the old rail bridges paralleling it at the Seven Mile Bridge. Note: all the sand (except for Bahia Honda State Park) has to be brought in from the Bahamas for the beaches here because the wave action is so calm. Nice for snorkeling, though!
Note: we stayed in Marathon because it was in the middle of all the Keys (islands), so access would be efficient. As it happened, we went to Key West 2X and never got to Key Largo this time, so we could have settled closer to Key West. Still Marathon has a Publix grocery store in town and the wonderful Sombrero City Park with (free) beach snorkeling and swimming to enjoy. Below are images of the beach our Marathon Key Beach Club condo has access to, one of the grounds and 2 of the church we attended Sunday.
Key West (MM 5-0)
Warning: streets are narrow, crowded with huge trucks, trolleys, pedicabs, bikers and pedestrians. As bad as New Orleans. Parking is hard to find and I think expensive. We were fortunate to come across an empty spot near their old public High School, so the spots were not marked Residential Parking (Southerd and Margaret St). It’s a bit of a walk to town, but we like the exercise. Also, Monday is delivery day-lots of trucks in town. Consider walking or biking as the best ways to get around this town.
Old Town Trolley Tour ($26/senior): Great way to get the flavor and history of a place. We like to ride these at the beginning of our time in a special place.
Florida’s Oldest House (free) was built in the 1820’s by Richard Cussans, a ship’s carpenter. The house was moved to this spot in 1829 and expanded for Captain Francis Watlington and his wife and 7 daughters. The family lived here until the 1970’s. This is considered the oldest house in South Florida. You see the back of the house since I couldn’t get in a good spot to picture the front. There’s a lovely garden surrounding it in the rear.
Harry S Truman Little White House ($14/senior or $13 if bought online) was built in 1890’s for Navy officers. Truman was Vice President under FDR when he died, so Truman became president. A year later he’s so stressed that his doctor recommends a warm, quiet place to relax. The commandant house in Key West had no one living in it so Truman came there. He fell in love with the area. From 1946 to 1952 he used the house 175 days as for working vacations. No photos allowed inside. It was simply furnished, with screened porches. The ship carpenters built a round poker table for him and his buddies: cabinet members, ranking officers and anyone who’d play. It was kept secret because people wouldn’t react well if they knew the president played poker. He was an excellent pianist, could have been a concert player. Events Truman is responsible for: started the UN, dropped the atomic bomb that ended WWII, Truman Doctrine, Marshal Plan, Dedicated the Everglades Nat’l Pk, Desegregated the military, started NATO, entered into the Korean War and even fired General Douglas McArthur, when Truman told McArthur NOT to bomb North Korea with the atomic bomb he continued to lobby for it. McArthur had forgotten that the President was Commander in Chief. Apparently he was supremely egotisical (McArthur), wanting a tomb similar to Napoleon’s. Even though the place is a non-profit, many Presidents (including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton and Carter) have visited here, as well as Edison.
Mile Marker 0
Southernmost Point –where people come to take photos of their family. There was quite the line, I swear!
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum ($13/adult) The first 6 toed (front toes) cat “Snowball” was given to Hemingway’s children. They are a charm for good luck in the sailing world and Hemingway was a superstitious guy, so he was happy to accept her. She had many kittens, well loved. He had about 60 around the house at one point. Now they keep the number controlled to about 50. All carry the gene but not all show the extra toes. Some may have 5 back toes (back feet normally have 4 toes). They always show in pairs, no cat ever has an odd number of extra toes. A couple stories: the chairs are from Spain. The one without “arms” is for the midwife, the other is for the mom giving birth. Hemingway loved to take them to the bull fight in Spain and get looks from those who saw him sitting in one of them. He had 4 wives. His relationship with Pauline (#2-on right of wives photos) was not good after the honeymoon time. While he was on a war correspondant gig with another lady (wife to be #3), Pauline had an outdoor pool installed for $20,000 (cost at that time) out of spite. When he returned and saw it, he threw a penny at her saying “You’re going to take my last penny.” She preserved it and set it into the concrete near the pool. His daily routine was to write from 6 am to noon, fish, then drink at Sloppy Joe’s. Because the lighthouse was just across the street from Hemingway’s home, Sloppy Joe said he must have built there so he’d have the lighthouse to guide him home. One day the landlord raised Sloppy Joe’s rent by $1/week so Sloppy Joe had all his patrons pick up their bar stools and move over to another building that he’s been in since then (we ate there – excellent food). He also tore out all the fixtures and threw them into the street. Hemingway asked for the urinal. No problem. So in revenge for Pauline’s pool, Hemingway installed this urinal for the cats’ drinking bowl. Also, he was an ambulance driver in the war, getting severely injured rescuing a soldier, thus the photo of his time in the hospital and medals. They think he was bi polar, eventually shooting himself in Ketchum, ID, where he lived his later years.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory: I’m not a shopper but 15 years ago I bought a butterfly here, encased in an acrylic box, that is still a point of beauty in our home. I’ve wanted to return for more ever since and bought 2 more. I had them shipped home and forgot to take pics.
Key West Butterfly Shopping Bag- if you’re interested see http://www.keywestbutterfly.com
Audubon House and Botanical Gardens ($12/adult): This home was built in 1830 by John H Geiger, a skilled pilot and wrecker, that is he salvaged the goods of ships that struck the Florida Strait reef (no lighthouses in those days). He, like many wreckers, became wealthy and this house was a way to show it off. No electricity, indoor plumbing or indoor kitchen at that time, of course. It was in the family for 100 years. Later the house was purchased, saved from demolition, by Mitchell Wolfson. He and his wife wanted the house dedicated as a public museum, to be named the “Audubon House” in honor of the artist’s visit in 1832 to Key West to study and sketch the Florida Key birds. The house features numerous first edition Audubon prints. Note the “cellarette” for wine bottles in the lower right corner of the dining room. The white crowned pigeons print is special because Audubon asked John Geiger to give him the tree branches so he could use them for it. The original 4 volume set was large (he used elephant sized watercolor paper) and cost $1,000 per volume at that time. Because it was so expensive he painted another smaller set. These sell at something like a million dollars today.
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum ($12.50/adult)
In September 1622 a combined fleet of 28 ships left Havana harbor returning to Spain with a cargo of silver, gold, pearls, grain, indigo, tobacco, coral and other merchandise from the New World. Nine of them were driven off course in the Florida Straits by a hurricane. By dawn the following morning, 550 persons and cargos worth more than two million ducats had been lost at sea. Mel Fisher begain his search for sunken treasure in 1969. He discovered the flagship, “The Margarita, in 1980, along with silver and gold ingots, fabulous personal jewelry and thousands of silver coins. His search continued until 1985, 16 years, before the hull structure and main cargo hold of the “Atocha” was found by his son Kane. 55 feet underwater – a virtual reef made of silver bars, chests of coins, silver plates, copper ingots, stone ballast and many other artifacts, yielding a treasure estimated at over 200 million dollars and a window into the past which will take a generation or more of research before its value is fully understood. There were 1,041 silver bars and boxes of coins – 3,000 coins to a box! Wouldn’t you know, Florida and the US Government said it wasn’t his. He battled in court for 7 years even to the Supreme Court. They determined that the treasure he found lay outside of US territory borders, thus it was his. This is one persistent man. The last image is of a painting (1909) by Howard Pyle. This man popularized the mental image we have these days of what pirates looked like and wore.
Mallory Docks/ Sunset: too cloudy the days we were there so we didn’t stay for the fun celebrating the sun’s setting.