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.
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.
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.
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