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Key West, Part 7

Southernmost Point Previously, I shared a photo of the southernmost house in the continental United States and here is the official marker of the southernmost point — naturally, very close to the aforementioned house. The funny thing was that there were quite a few tourists at this spot and each wanted his or her picture taken in front of the marker. I could barely get in a photo with no one in front!

And did you notice the Conch Republic banner painted on the marker? Interestingly, citizens of the Florida Keys seceded from the U.S. and established their own republic in 1982. What led up to this action was a blockade set up by the Border Patrol on U.S. 1, supposedly to catch illegal immigrants. However, the residents of the Keys vigorously objected because U.S. 1 is their lifeline for all commerce and tourism.

When legal action failed to stop the blockade, Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow went to Mallory Square and proclaimed that the Conch Republic was now an independent nation. To mark the event symbolically, he then broke a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform.

Knowing that they could not win a shooting war with the U.S., the mayor next surrendered to the Admiral in charge of the Navy Base at Key West — then demanded $1,000,000,000 in foreign aid and war relief to rebuild his nation after the long Federal siege. The residents of the Florida Keys now hold dual citizenship as Conchs and Americans.

If you care to read more about The Conch Republic, click here.

Sailboat Before the highway was built, there was a rail line that provided access to the Keys (which later was destroyed by a hurricane and was replaced by the highway). Before the rail line, the only way to travel to Key West was by boat or airplane. There is still a strong nautical tradition here with lots of boats. Sure would be fun to go sailing — there are boating tours available if you don't have the means to afford your own. Maybe next time.

Lighthouse And where there are boats and ships, there must be a lighthouse. This one was built in 1847 after the original 1825 tower was destroyed in a hurricane. Wisely, they decided to rebuilt further inland so as to not have a repeat with the next big hurricane. In the 1970's, the lighthouse was deactivated in favor of more modern automated facilities. Fortunately, it was preserved and now serves as a museum (and tourist attraction).

Lighthouse ViewIf you are in good enough shape and not afraid of heights, you can climb the 88 iron steps to the observation deck that provides views like this. By the way, in the previous issue about the Hemingway House, I mentioned that the second level veranda there provided a great view of the lighthouse. As you might guess, the observation deck of the lighthouse provides a great view of the Hemingway House (although not in this direction). And do you suppose the lighthouse provided a beacon for Ernest to return home after a night of boozing with his buddies at Sloppy Joe's? Probably.

Wyland Mural Back when we were first exploring Key West, I spotted this mural and thought to myself, "This looks like a Wyland mural". It's a what you say? Robert Wyland, who is known simply as "Wyland", is a artist known for his superb paintings of marine scenes both above and below the waterline. He has galleries in Hawaii — which is where I became familiar with his work.

Moreover, the really eye-catching paintings are his murals on large walls — the one in the photo to the right is the side of the Waterside Market. You can see many fine examples if you do a Google image search on "wyland murals" or if you are feeling lazy, just click here.

The Wikipedia article on Wyland contains a link to a full list of his murals — if you are interested you can click here. It is interesting to note that some of his murals are labeled as "extinct". In fact, I recall that he painted one on the side of a building on Front Street in Lahaina, Maui — which I noted is listed as extinct. Unfortunately (for him), the building was listed as an historic building and as such, could not be altered without permission. So he had to paint over his mural using the original color paint.

Wyland Gallery One would not be surprised that with a Wyland mural in Key West, one might also find a Wyland Gallery. Bingo. Duval Street. Naturally, his galleries contain his works that are smaller than the huge mural above. But they are still quite pricey. Fortunately, his online gift shop also offers some more reasonably priced items such as books and small prints. Credit cards happily accepted.

American Gothic While we are on the topic of art, I noticed (it was hard to ignore) these huge figures, greatly resembling the painting "American Gothic" by Grant Wood. They stood outside the Key West Museum of Art and History in the Custom House. Further research credits these statues to J. Steward Johnson — the artist called them "God Bless America". I wish I had more time to visit the museum — it sounds like there are more interesting items to investigate there. Maybe next visit.

Truman Little White House Another necessary stop (in my humble opinion) is the Truman Little White House. It was initially built in the 1890s as a residential duplex for the base commander and the paymaster of the Naval Station at Key West. Our guide told us that the commander had requested funding for barracks for his naval personnel — because at that time they were housed in hotels in town — thus a potential for saving money. However, once the funding was approved, the plans took shape as a residence for the commander. Apparently, the paymaster figured out this little scheme and suddenly the plans changed to be a duplex instead of a single residence. Thus there are two sides, exactly symmetrical.

In 1946, President Truman decided to use the residence as a Winter White House and the wall between the two halves was removed forming a single larger residence. During his presidency, he spend 11 working vacations here. Interestingly, Truman (like myself) had a fondness for aloha shirts. Their home page has a wonderful photo of President Truman in a great aloha shirt — click here to see it. When Truman was in residence, he received many gifts of aloha shirts — many more than he and his staff could use. So he used to hang them on the surrounding fence to share with the locals.

The residence has been used by many of the presidents since Truman and for a number of historically significant events. Interestingly, Truman visited Key West five times after he returned to private life — but he never again stayed at this residence — instead staying at a private residence in town. He felt that the American taxpayer should not be paying for the travel accommodations for a private citizen. Doesn't that seem quaint given the spending that accompanies the modern presidency?

One last point, photography is not allowed inside the house. This is a standing regulation by the Secret Service for all presidential residences. I presume this is avoid anyone finding a vulnerability that an unscrupulous individual could use to harm the president or other VIP in residence. So no interior photos — sorry.

Sunset performers Well, our time in Key West is winding down. And the place to enjoy the end of every day in Key West is Mallory Square. There are commercial shops here but what everyone comes for is the sunset — and the artists, crafters, street performers, psychics and food carts. Hundreds of people, locals and tourists alike stroll along the waterfront enjoying the entertainment, food and beverages.

Sunset Curiously, the actual setting of the sun into the Gulf of Mexico is partially obscured by a little island just off the waterfront. It appeared to have houses or condos on it — and I was told that a hotel maintains the island as a more exclusive retreat — which can only be accessed by boat.

A quick Google search revealed that the island is Sunset Key. From their web site — "Sunset Key is a 27-acre luxury island consisting of a Resort and Residential Community. Located just 500 yards from historic 'Old Town' Key West, Sunset Key is accessible only by 24-hour daily launch service from The Westin Key West Resort & Marina. The launch ride is only about ten minutes each way. Once the launch arrives at Sunset Key, you will be transformed to another world with colorful tropical blooms of bougainvillea, hibiscus and frangi pani. Your cares will slip away once you take in your first deep breath of fresh ocean air and your eyes feast on views of the Gulf of Mexico and the horizon." Note that their web site indicates that the cheapest one-bedroom garden view room starts at $595 per night. They also have residences for purchase — no prices listed so I guess, as they say, if you have to ask, you cannot afford one. No thank you — I'll pass on both offers.

My artistic sense said I wanted to capture the sun setting into the Gulf, not into Sunset Key. So we walked a short distance north, found a good spot and waited. Then snapped some 20 photos until I got this one — which I loved because of the bending of the light rays made it appear as if the sun is on a pedestal.

Sadly, time to return to reality and begin our trek back to family in Fort Lauderdale and then on home. But it was a great trip, packing so much into two days. Next time, I'll stay longer.

 Life is good.

 B. David