Yep, the southernmost point in the continental United States is in Key West. So why isn’t it Key South?
The reason I heard while I was down there was that the indigenous people who lived there before the Spanish arrived left their dead on the beaches. They would decompose and the bones were left behind. The word for bones in Spanish is “huesos”, and the pronunciation was corrupted over time to “west”.
Not only is it the farthest south you can drive to in the USA, it is also at the end of the road.
And, if it is at the end, it stands to reason that it is also at the beginning of the road.
Key West got its economical start as a community of “wreckers”. When ships would founder on the reefs, they would be there to lend a hand. One of the “tourism specialists” said that the wreckers would first rescue the people and then help themselves to whatever was on the ship. At one time, this was one of the wealthiest communities of the country. At least, that is what I was told.
Nowadays, Key West is all about the tourists. They come by car, plane and cruise ship.
Everyday, it’s a different ship and a different hoard of tourists. It is amazing the number of languages you can hear being spoken. Luckily (for me) everyone seems to understand my request to take a picture of me.
There were coconut stands all over, although none offered to put “de lime in de coconut.”
And all those tourists drinking all those coconuts leave a heck of a pile of empties!
Of course, not all tourists were satisfied with drinking unadulterated coconut milk. Incidentally, I found it interesting that the vendor didn’t use a machete to open the coconut. He used a power drill. Faster and safer, I imagine, but not nearly as interesting.
Oh, as I was saying…
If you can’t find an alcoholic beverage in Key West, you just aren’t looking. Sloppy Joe’s Bar is the name of Hemingway’s hangout. Now, this isn’t the same bar. I’m not 100% sure of the story, but it sounds like the owner of the building raised the rent and so the bar moved. The building where the bar used to be is about half a block away, and it is – get this – A BAR!
I ate lunch at Sloppy Joe’s one of the days I toured Old Town. It was just before Christmas when I was there, and singing Santas were de rigueur.
And just in case they couldn’t cram in enough bars at street level, this one had three bars in one building. The third floor was for those who found the “no shirts, no shoes” requirement to be oppressive.
There are many places of historic note. One such place it The Little White House.
President Truman spent 175 days during 11 visits during his presidency. His visits started in November 1946 after his doctor recommended a warm vacation. With changes in technology and transportation, the affairs of the government could be run from Key West.
Truman was able to relax in Key West. Immediately upon arriving, he and his staff members changed into the “Key West uniform” – colorful shirts, instead of suits.
Truman wasn’t the only president to spend time at the renovated submarine base commander’s dwelling. President Eisenhower created Department of Defense there in 1949. He returned in the winter of 1955 and 1956 to recuperate from a heart attack.
Kennedy was the last president to spend time at The Little White House. Not surprisingly, one of his visits was right after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. After all, Cuba is only 90 miles away from Key West.
Another famous house on the Key is Hemingway’s House.
The house was built in 1851 by Asa Tift, a marine architect and salvage wrecker. As one of those well-to-do scavengers, he chose the highest point on the key for his house. I think the guide said it was sixteen feet above sea level. It has one of the rare basements in town. Tift had the limestone blocks cut out of the basement and used to build the house.
The quote in the typewriter says, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. Ernest Hemingway”
Do you suppose that a hundred years from now, people will display modern writers’ laptops?
It was kind of hard to get photos, as there was quite a crew on the tour.
The cats have the run of the place.
Hemingway’s wife, Pauline, had this pool put in while he was away. Pauline was his second wife, and the house was a wedding gift from her uncle. It cost $8,000 at the time. The pool cost $20,000. I do wonder if part of the motivation for putting in the pool had anything to do with the fact that he had already taken up with wife number three.
In any event, the guide told us that when Hemingway returned home and saw the pool, he flipped a penny at Pauline and told her that she might as well take his last penny.
Pauline took the penny and cemented it in the patio around the pool. At least, that’s what the guide said.
Another story the guide told us was that when the owner of Sloppy Joe’s lost his lease and had to move, they proceed to wreck the place. Hemingway brought home the urinal and had it made into the trough at the base of a fountain. Pauline was mortified, but he said that he had spent enough money filling it up that he was going to keep it.
And, of course, there are the famous Hemingway polydactyl cats.
Polydactyl cats have an extra claw or “thumb”. The guide told us that he has seen them pick up food with their paws. He also told us that the females are allowed to have two litters and then they are spayed. None of the cats is eager to leave this little slice of heaven. In fact, they run off cats that don’t belong there. I mean, if you were a cat, would you give up food, health care and a good place to live?
Speaking of animals, there are the famous Key West chickens.
The story I was told was that when cock fighting was outlawed, the people were told to get rid of the birds. They just released them and they live a feral life. I was also told that they are protected by law. Theodore Roosevelt established Key West as a bird sanctuary, so now they just roam around at will and no one can touch them under penalty of law.
Of course, when I Google things to refresh my mind about what I heard on the tours, I sometimes get other versions of the stories. I think they should hand out salt shakers when you cross that last causeway onto the key. I think most of these stories should be taken with a large grain of salt.
More Key West in the next installment!