Museums and Musings

My absolute favorite is the beautiful Custom House. You can’t miss it, a beautiful ornate red brick building just across from the Mel Fisher Museum. rc05738It was built in 1891 as a federal building, the original home of the postal service, the customs office and the district courts (Picture:  State Archives of Florida). Today, it is a museum. There are art exhibits, always entertaining. One time a few years ago, there were life size sculptures of people in scenes from some of the better-known impressionist paintings. You could play act in them and have a companion take your picture. What fun that was. fullsizerenderThere is a movie showing the train coming to Key West in the Roaring Twenties. Those wealthy and adventurous people were dressed in the highest fashion of the times. There is a very nice exhibit with photos of Hemingway’s time in Key West in the 20’s and 30’s. And you can’t miss those two very large statues, one in front, a very stylish couple dancing, and in the back, well, you have to see it to believe it.

The Truman Little White House is located a little ways into the Navy Yard, a part of which in recent years has been given back to the city  (Picture:  State Archives of Florida/Spalding). pr30034Truman came to Key West in 1946 for a brief respite, which turned into a long stay. While here, he set up office and ran the affairs of the United States Government. Through the years, other Presidents have stayed here: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. I saw President Kennedy when he visited with Harold MacMillan during the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Truman when he gave a speech to the student body of Key West High School when I was a Senior.

dm0325Fort Zachary Taylor was built in the mid 1800’s to protect the southeastern coastline of the United States. It was used during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. During pretty much all of my childhood, it was buried under a large mound of dirt and debris, with various iron shapes sticking out here and there.n049946 It was unearthed sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s. (Here are a couple of photos, one from the late 1800’s.) It is now used for Civil War enactments during the Old Island Days Festival. img_1244Next door is the Fort Taylor State Park with one of the prettiest beaches on the island (Pictures: State Archives of Florida/McDonald, State Archives of Florida/Moffah).

Fort East Martello was built in 1869 to protect the island from confederate attacks. Although it served during the Civil War, it was never actually attacked. In 1950 the Key West Art and Historical Society turned the Fort into a museum. Because of the U.S. Naval Base, Key West remained Union during the war. My New England friend never misses an opportunity to gloat about this. dm2243There have been several ghost stories circulated involving the fort, so it has become a venue for some Halloween Events during the month of October (Picture:  State Archives of Florida/McDonald).

In 1949, Fort West Martello located at Higgs Beach was thought to be an eyesore to the shoreline and there was pressure on the County to level it. Representative Joe Allen prevailed on the Commissioners to stop the demolition. Today it is the home of the Key West Garden Club and a National Historic Site. dm6602When I was at Reynolds Elementary, I remember going there and each of us making Terrariums with a lot of help from our Garden Club friends (Picture: State Archives of Florida/McDonald). Today the gardens there are heralded as being quite spectacular, with the setting of the white sand beach and the expanse and beauty of the ocean.

Speaking of ocean, we can’t forget the Key West Turtle Museum. Ponce de Leon noticed the many Loggerhead Turtles and named several of the islands near Key West, Las Tortugas. (Spanish for ”The  Turtles”) The later name Dry Tortugas was to indicate to sailors that there was no fresh water on the island. Fort Jefferson is located on Dry Tortugas. I don’t know when the Turtle Kraals were first built, but my father, born in 1906 told me that as a child, he and his friends would ride on the backs of the turtles in the Kraalspr15176 (Picture: State Archives of Florida/Conn). My mother regularly made turtle steak for supper. She breaded it much like you would a veal cutlet. Peter said they served it at the Bachelor Officers Quarters when he was in Key West in the late sixties. Sometime in the 70’s I think, the Loggerhead Turtle was deemed endangered and so, no longer available. The museum on Margaret Street  is free and open to the public.

The rich history, museums and architecture along with the stories of the many famous people who have succumbed to the beauty and comfort of island living make Key West an interesting place to be barefoot, carefree and entertained.