Obey all warning signs around the island. Although the fort is a level walking surface the footing is sometimes rough. The stairs are spiral and the steps narrow. There are cacti and open vents around the fort so be careful where you step. Stay off the cannons and the fort walls for you safety and the preservation of the fort.
Snorkel with a buddy and stay out of restricted areas. Be very careful of the coral and other marine life they are fragile and easily damaged. Never touch or stand on any coral.
The fort was not build as a prison. It became a prison in 1861when President Lincoln commuted the sentence for deserters to life imprisonment here - it had no dungeons, but it was very secure because it was so isolated.
On April 15, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln. When he leaped from the box to the stage, he caught his spur in one of the curtains and broke his leg. Dr. Mudd set the broken leg. Although he had met Booth on at least two prior occasions, Dr. Mudd said he did not recognize his patient. Mudd was paid $25 for his services. Within days Dr. Mudd was under arrest by the United States Government. He was charged with conspiracy and with harboring Booth. His sentence: life imprisonment. He missed the death penalty by one vote.
Dr. Mudd was imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. He attempted escape by hiding on the mail boat on September 25, 1865 and was then put in leg irons. "Imagine one loaded down with heavy chains, locked up in a wet, damp room, twelve hours out of every twenty-four during working days, and all day on Sundays and holidays. No exercise allowed except in the limited space of a small room and with irons on. The atmosphere we breathe is highly impregnated with sulphuric hydrogen gas generated by the numerous sinks that empty into the ...breakwater"
In the summer of 1867 yellow fever broke out on the island. After the fort's physician died Mudd took a leadership role in aiding the sick. Mudd himself came down with the disease but recovered. Because of his outstanding efforts, a petition to the government in support of Dr. Mudd was signed by all noncommissioned officers and soldiers on the island. Dr. Mudd was released from Fort Jefferson on March 8 and arrived home on March 20.
What would a fort built on an island out in the middle of the sea want with a moat? Isn't the whole ocean the moat?
Au contraire. The moat wall (the ribbon of brickwork that surrounds the fort) acts as a breakwater to shelter it from waves. It also serves to keep an enemy warship from sailing right up against the fort, and allowing them to discharge soldiers, marines, right through the fort’s openings or over the top of the fort walls.
According to the NOAA on-line magazine "In two incidents on December 16, 2001 and January 3, 2002, three shrimp boats grounded in the Dry Tortugas National Park, 68 miles west of Key West, Fla. One vessel grounded and was successfully removed, but not before significant damage to coral and seagrass beds occurred. The second incident involved two shrimp boats that grounded close to the historic Fort Jefferson. One vessel broke-up and spilled approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The other was carried by surge and wind up against the moat wall, where it partially broke-up. The area of these groundings is both within and adjacent to the park's most popular swimming and snorkeling area. The groundings caused significant injuries to seagrass and numerous reef corals."
In the second incident, the second boat was attempting to pull the first boat off the reef when they got into trouble themselves.
Although the restoration of the area was expensive, it appeared that the moat was intact in early 2005. But there are signs around the moat warning about swimming in, or entering the moat. Volunteer rangers patrol the moat walls on a daily basis to ensure that visitors don't ignore the warning.
In addition to the photo from the air, there are several pictures here taken while standing on the moat wall.
Anything you need has to come with you. That means all food, fuel, and water. There is nothing for sale except souveniers. All your trash has to leave the island with you.
If you come in a power boat, be sure you have enough fuel. You will probably need to bring a drum of fuel
If you come by the ferry, they supply the lunch, but you might want to bring additional water.
When we were here in 2001, there was zero TV reception on our antenna (without a satellite), and the radio reception was iffy (AM or FM). Although I could get Cuba OK, I had a great deal of trouble finding a station that I could hear the Super Bowl on. The only VHF radio reception was with the rangers at the fort.
The lady at the shop said the radio telephone might work or might not. They keep a sign on it saying that it is out of order, in case it doesn't work. I tried it in 2001 and was able to use it (couldn't use a phone card - had to use a major credit card and the call cost double digit $$/minute). If anyone wants to get in touch with you, they'd have to call the Coast Guard and have them contact the park rangers at the fort by radio.
Possibly some cell phones are available now which can connect even from here. And of course we could use the Single Side Band (SSB) Marine Radio.
For several years, there has been a connection between the sooty tern nesting site and Garden Key where the touists come to see Fort Jefferson and the campers come to camp. It used to be across an expanse of water so the terns could nest undisturbed.
Now it is necessary to post a dividing line (with a rope across the sand spit) so that people know not to go farther. I went out as far as I was supposed to go and set down on the sand for awhile to observe.
I think the birds are two black or brown noddys
There used to be a fresh water drinking fountain in the fort if you didn't have quite enough water with you.
The sign on this water fountain says
Do not drink
I do not know if this is absolutely true, although I see that an additional extra wall has been added to make the fountain harder to get to.
I think the fountain is probably for the use of birds.