Key West is a town where folks tend to stay up late. The one place where this is the exception would be over at the old town cemetary.
Bonnie and I have always enjoyed visits to historic cemetaries. I've always thought that history literally lives (how ironic) at an old cemetary.
The old cemetary in mid-town Key West is bordered by Olivia Street on the South, Frances Street on the East, Angela Street and Passover Lane on the North and Windsor Lane on the West. As the cemetary is still "accepting new members", many of the graves are new not of historical note. But, there's history in Key West, and much of it is militarily associated.
For example, there's a special section that contains the final resting place of many sailors killed in Havana Harbor in 1898 when the battleship Maine exploded. The subsequent cries of "Remember the Maine" bolstered public support for war with Spain as the 19th century drew to a close.
There are also numerous civil war era veterans, both Confederate and Union, buried in Key West. Most did not die in the war, but thereafter. However, being vets, they are entombed with their uniformed brethren in special sections of the cemetary. Plenty of World War I and II participants as well.
Anyway, if you like old cemetaries and history, check out the Key West town cemetary.
I took a trip to the Key West Cemetary, and it's actually a ghoulist place. Most of the graves are above ground, and it's a who's who of Key West.
Alot of the headstones have personalized epitaphs like " A dedicated fan of Julio Englasis" and "I told You I was Sick".
The price is free. It's off Truman Street, and there are signs.
An African cemetery appears on an Army Corps of Engineers map drawn in 1861. It is labled "African Cemetery with nine small Xs. This location probably has up to 295 graves extending from under the West Martello Tower out onto the beach toward the east (i.e. toward Miami)
According to the website below (melfisher.org):
"Many of the Africans were quite ill from the harsh, inhumane conditions they endured aboard the slave ships during their voyage from the Coast of Western Africa. Despite the efforts of the US Marshal to restore their health, during the eighty-five days they were in Key West, 295 of the Africans died.
"A cemetery was established for them on a sand ridge along the southern shore of the island. The burials were carried out by Daniel Davis, a local carpenter who had also helped in the construction of the barracoons, and hospital. Davis was paid $5.50 by the government for each of the burials.
"A .. description of one of the funeral services ..by Jefferson Browne in his 1912 history of Key West:
"The first burial was of a child six weeks old, whose young mother was barely in her teens. Her devotion to her offspring made her an object of much sympathy to the visitors to the camp, and, upon the death of the child, our people provided a handsome coffin to bury it in. The interment took place some distance from the barracoon, and the Africans were allowed to be present at the services, where they performed their native ceremony. Weird chants were sung, mingled with loud wails of grief and mournful moans from a hundred throats, until the coffin was lowered into the grave, when at once the chanting stopped and perfect silence reigned, and the Africans marched back to the barracoon with out a sound.”
It may sound morbid to go strolling through cemeteries, but this cemetery is also a historical landmark. Established in 1847 and covering nearly 20 acres. Most all of the graves are above ground, because the city is only a few feet above sea level. Plenty of history is revealed just by reading the tomb stones.
A stroll through this historic graveyard can tell as much about Key West's quirky character as any history lesson.
Me and cemeteries...it's a strange thing! But the cemetery in Key West is definitely a strange thing...located on Passover Lane (great name, huh?). It's not like any cemetery I've seen before! Unusual things around every turn, like the family plot that also contains graves of pet deer, rabbit, and dogs; or how about the grave that says "I told you I was sick"?
I took a walk one morning to see it for myself and I'm glad I did. Here is a photo of one of the graves and there are more in my travelogue.
The 1847 Key West Cemetery has many stacked above ground tombstones (the ground is limestone and difficult to dig) and mausoleums. It is 13 acres and is surrounded by five streets... Angela Street, Frances Street, Olivia Street, Windsor Lane, and Passover Lane. The main gate is actually located at 701 Passover Lane. Until this year (2008), I'd only seen the cemetery from outside the fence (photo 3) or from the Conch Train (photo 2). I'd never actually gone to the entrance at Angela Street and Passover Lane and walked around.
In addition to B.P. "Pearl" Roberts (the local hypochondriac) whose marker says: "I Told you I was Sick." there is also a grave marker for Gloria M. Russell which says: "I'm just resting my eyes." There are some beautiful angel statues, there are several "Woodsman of the World" (WOW) markers which are often in the shape of a tree trunk, and there are also several of the Everlast Company's cast metal markers, made principally of zinc (colloquially called "zinkers")
Separate sections of the cemetery are set aside for Catholic and Jewish burials, and there is also a central memorial for the U.S.S. Maine, and one for the Cuban Martyrs (photo 4). This monument was erected in 1862 to honor those who died attempting to free Cuba from Spanish rule during the Ten Years War (1868-1878). There are Masonic lodge vaults or sections for each of the major ethnic groups in Key West: white, black, and Cuban. The one in photo 5 belongs to the Cuban lodge, named for a Catholic priest who was active in the Cuban independence movement.
There is a guided tour at 9:30 Tues and Thurs for $10, or you can do a self guided tour (pick up guide from the cemetery office or at the library).
I haven't actually taken the tour, but everyone that has told me they loved it. I also read the books "Haunted Key West" and "Strange Key West" which highlights everything that is discussed in the tours (the author also works at the ghost tours).
Each tour lasts 90 minutes and you only walk about half a mile. Not a tough walk, but wear comfy shoes verses high heels.
Located at 423 Fleming Street, close to the Starbucks. You meet up with your guide in the La Concha hotel lobbey.
**Update** Finally took the tour! It was very fun and interesting; even if you don't believe in these sorts of things, you get to learn some interesting things about older Key West. Our guide was great and really kept our group going. She had us yell "you're doomed" to all the cars that honk at us; they usually say something else but there were 2 kids in our group.
For more detailed account of the ghost walk tour please see my travelogue. Warning: spoiler alert!
I don't know why I like cemeteries. Perhaps I like the company?
The Key West cemetery is a great place to walk around. You think the live people in KW are quirky, take a look at the gravestones of some of their previous residents! Examples include "I told you I was sick" and "Devoted fan of Julio Iglesias". You will also find the monument to the U.S.S Maine, the most beautiful stone angel you've ever seen, a family plot that included their pet dogs and pet deer, a midget named General Abraham Lincoln, Jewish and Catholic sections.
You can get a map at the entrance for fee, but there is a box for donations.
The main entry gates open at the corner of Margaret and Angela streets. There are other gates, but be warned those gates close early. I thought I was locked in here once...long story.
Once there was only 1 ghost tour outfit but as of this year there are 3.They are fighting between each other duking it out over the rights and territory of who's the best and first.
Well they all average 18$ per person !!! And they take quite a creative license to stories,another words not always true.
Instead you can pick up a FREE copy of Sharon Wells walking tour guide.It details all the Old Town streets with stories and history.
You can find a better way to spend 18$,cant you?????
When in Key West go to the center of town and visit the cemetary it is one of the most unique graveyards you will ever be able to walk through. The epitaphs on the headstones are worth a thousand words!
There is an interesting cemetary in Key West..one of the headstones is that of a woman who was a hyperchondriac. After continuously complaining to her friends about her medical ailments, people started to disregard her complains and alarms as silly..Her headstone reads 'I told you that I was sick'
This is where the Haunted tour begins. Before the tour, I went to the observatory & snapped a few photos. This building is the tallest in Key West.