Conch Republic

conch-republic-logoYou may have heard Key West referred to as the Conch Republic. That is because in 1982, Key West seceded from the United States.

What prompted this move was a roadblock set up by the US Border Patrol on US1 in Florida City, blocking the only way to get to the Florida Keys via vehicle. Delays getting into the Keys were starting to effect the economy of the islands when people decided to cancel their vacations to the area because they wanted to avoid the hassle. After petitions from Florida Keys government officials to the United States Federal government to remove the road block were denied, Keys community leaders determined that a roadblock separating Monroe County from the rest of Florida was basically the same as a road block between the United States and Mexico or Canada. So, they decided that seceding from the United States was their best option.

Then Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlaw was chosen as the Prime Minister of the new Conch Republic. On April 23rd he read aloud the Conch Republic Proclamation of Secession in the middle of Clinton Square. Afterwards he declared war on the United States by throwing stale Cuban bread at the federal agents that were in Key West to monitor the secession situation. A Conch Republic Military was even formed from locals with boats and planes.

After this stunt, the United States government did finally remove the road block, although the secession was never formally addresses by anyone.

So nothing ever really became of the Conch Republic. But in the 1990s Conch Republic Days began as a way to draw tourists to the area celebrating the islands’ attempts at secession from the great nation of the United States. Events for this week long celebration held each April include a drag race, a bed race, a car show, a music festival, parades, a craft show, and the famous Bloody Battle. You can even buy a Conch Republic Passport (which is not good for anything other than a silly souvenir).

April 17 – 26, 2015 is when this year’s celebration of the Florida Keys secession from the United States will be celebrated. So come on down and join in on the wacky fun!


Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum

This is a view from the tower at the Wrecker's Museum. I was too much of a sissy to make it to the top.

This is a view from the tower at the Wrecker’s Museum.

At one time in the 1800’s, more than one hundred ships per day sailed by Key West with at least one ship wrecking per week in the area due to the treacherous reef line. Locals started taking advantage of these wrecks when they found that they could make a great deal of money off of the unfortunate sailors. These people became known as wreckers, and they would patrol the reef at night from towers on land as well as small vessels. When a ship wrecked, the wrecker that got to the ship first would salvage as many goods as possible which were then sold at a fraction of market value, making the wreckers a nice profit with minimal expenditure.

Eventually, the railroads were built giving manufacturers another way to get goods from place to place. And vast improvements were made to navigational aids. This drastically reduced the number of ships passing by Key West as well as the number of shipwrecks.  1921 marked the end of an era when the wrecking courts were closed.

Old Sailing Vessel at Mallory Square near the Wrecker's Museum.

Old Sailing Vessel at Mallory Square near the Wrecker’s Museum.

At the Key West Treasure Shipwreck Museum you can learn all about this unique lifestyle. Located at Mallory Square, this particular museum is a neat attraction in Key West because of its combined use of actors, films, and artifacts to bring the history of the island’s ship wreckers to life.

Once you are led into the museum by one of the wreckers, master wrecker Asa Tift tells you the story of how the wrecking industry got started in Key West and how it provided early Key West residents with an unusual lifestyle, eventually helping to make the island the richest city per capita in the country for a time.

After Asa finishes with his part of the experience, you are free to explore the rest of the museum. You can lift a real silver bar and climb the museum’s 65′ lookout tower if you dare (I chickened out half way up).

There is so much information presented here that it is really hard to take it all in. But what you do walk away with is a real grasp of what life was like in Key West during this period of history, specifically for these unique individuals that were basically legal pirates and forerunners to present day treasure hunters.

People on tour at the Wreckers Museum at Mallory Square.

People on tour at the Wreckers Museum at Mallory Square.

The Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum is open from 9:40 am to 5:00 pm 365 days a year. Last show starts at 4:40 pm. 

See what is happening on the island during your visit by checking out our Key West Events Calendar, and for other things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before making your dining reservations for while in Key West check out our restaurant reviews!

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!
Island Genn
Key West Concierge

East Martello Fort & Museum

A cannon at the East Martello Fort.

A cannon at the East Martello Fort.

I have lived in the Keys since the 1990’s, and in all if this time I had never been inside the East Martello Fort and Museum until this past weekend. Located next to the Key West International Airport and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, it is easy to find. Before I visited the only thing that I new about the Fort was that it was built during the Civil War and that it houses the creepy Robert the Doll, and that fact did not excite me.  But I decided to check it out with my Dad this weekend before he flew back home to New Jersey. It was Halloween after all, and what better time is there for creepy than that!?

The East Martello Fort was actually built in 1862. It has walls that are eight feet thick made of brick and granite. Like the other Forts on the island, this one never experienced a hostile assault, and it was already rendered obsolete even before the Civil War was over due to new munitions that would be able to go right through this brick and granite edifice.

The courtyard of the East Martello Fort and Museum.

The courtyard of the East Martello Fort and Museum.

I love the old, brick facade. It really draws one’s attention. Inside it is an old Fort that now houses (besides Robert the Doll) many Key West artifacts and lots of historical island information. There is also a cute little gift shop that sells books and other trinkets including Robert the Doll replicas that you can all be sure that I did not purchas

Exhibits were wide ranging in subject matter, all relating to Key West of course. Key West’s military history with the Spanish American War, WWI and WWII, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sponging. Salting. Diving. Fishing. Wrecking. Cigar manufacturing. Aviation. And then there is the weird with not only Robert the Doll but also Count Von Cosel (aka Carl Tanzler) and his Norman Bates-like obsession with the beautiful local girl Elena.

The Fort also serves as an art gallery, displaying some of the folk art of Mario Sanchez and a sculpture garden filled with works by Stanley Papio.

Here are two of the many sculptures located outside at the East Martello Fort and Museum.

Here are two of the many sculptures located outside at the East Martello Fort and Museum.

I found that while interesting, the “exhibits” lacked any orderly displays. It was basically like walking through a hodgepodge of Key West history all mixed up along with modern things like pressure washers that were left laying around by the museum staff. I was not really disappointed with my visit, but perhaps wishing that it was set up more professionally to draw in more folks.

East Martello Fort and Museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm and it is closed on Christmas. Cost is $9 per adult and $5 per child. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and locals.

See what is happening on the island during your visit by checking out our Key West Events Calendar, and for other things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before making your dining reservations for while in Key West check out our restaurant reviews!

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!
Island Genn
Key West Concierge

Key West Resident Profiles: Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway at his desk in Key West

Today would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 115th birthday, and Key West always has a week long Hemingway Days celebration around this time of year in honor of the island’s most famous resident. The author only lived here from 1928 to 1939, but he was a legend in his own time and he definitely left a permanent imprint on the island.

Hemingway friend and fellow writer John dos Passos encouraged him to visit Key West for its interesting people and stellar fishing. After leaving Paris, Ernest and his second wife Pauline decided to visit the island. The newlyweds arrived in Cuba via an ocean liner, and from there they headed to Key West. Here they were to pick up a Ford Roadster that Pauline’s Uncle Gus purchased for them as a wedding gift.  The plan was to drive the car back to the mainland after a brief stay. But we all know that the brief stay became several years.

The Hemingways found the the delivery of the car had been delayed when they arrived at the Ford dealership on 314 Simonton Street, and the dealership insisted that they put Ernest and Pauline up at the Trev-Mor Hotel located above the showroom until the arrival of the vehicle, and the couple accepted the offer. It was two or three weeks before the car arrived, and during those weeks Ernest worked feverishly each morning completing what would be one of his most well known works, A Farewell to Arms.

The island appealed to Ernest because living in Key West was almost like living in another country. “It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms…” After renting apartments around the island for a few years, the couple bought what is now known as The Hemingway Home, located at 907 Whitehead Street, in 1931. They paid a measly $8,000 in back taxes to the city for the deed to the house with money given to them by Pauline’s wealthy Uncle Gus.

While living on the island, Pauline gave birth to the couple’s two sons together. In 1928 Patrick was born, and in 1931 Gregory was born.

Hemingway wrote prolifically during his time in Key West, publishing Death in the Afternoon, Winner Take Nothing, Green Hills of Africa, and several short stories. Surprisingly, there is only novel in which he writes about Key West, To Have and Have Not.

While he did make expeditions in this time to Africa and other places to gather material for his writing, Hemingway certainly enjoyed the Key West lifestyle. There was ample fishing, boxing, cock fighting and drinking at the local watering hole, Sloppy Joe’s.  Hemingway also made some life long friends on the island, including Charles Thompson, Joe Russell, and Eddie Saunders.

However, living in Key West had its drawbacks too. When the city mayor wanted to put the Hemingway’s house on the tourism map, they declined. But the mayor added it to the map anyway. And the gawkers grew from a few to many, prompting the Hemingways to out up the wall that now surrounds the compound so that they could keep their privacy.

In 1936 Hemingway met writer Martha Gellhorn in Sloppy Joe’s Bar while she was on vacation with her family. Ernest, always falling in love with beautiful women, eventually left Pauline and Key West and made Martha his third wife. The new couple ended up traveling to Europe to cover the wars and Ernest moved away from his beloved Key West to another tropical island not far away, Cuba. And even though he never again called Key West home, he would make periodic stops to the island utilizing his home on Whitehead Street much like a hotel until his death in 1961.

For more information on Hemingway and his life in Key West, I suggest reading Stuart McIver’s Hemingway’s Key West, James McLendon’s Papa Hemingway in Key West, and Michael Reynolds’ Hemingway: the 1930’s.

To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my  restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge