Exploring Key West


Key West: A favorite Getaway

Michael Camp - Standing at the brick wall surrounding Hemingway's house

Standing at the brick wall surrounding Hemingway’s house

There’s no place quite like Key West. It’s been a regular getaway for me every few weeks for the past couple of years. The 5 hour drive starts from Naples down The Old Trail (Hwy 41), east through the lower Everglades and starts a backward time-lapse. By the time I’m through Homestead I’m thinking about everything from pirates to Spanish treasure.  The more time I’ve spent doing research on the history of southern Florida and the Keys, the more I’ve been drawn back to Key West.

I still haven’t seen the inside of Ernest Hemingway’s home, but I’ve been by the place a hundred times. I guess I’m waiting for a day when there aren’t a hundred other tourists waiting to take the tour. Some things are better done solo.

There’s nothing quite like spending the sunset hour at Mallory Square or walking down Duval Street after dinner. But it’s the people… that’s the real story.

 

If you’re looking for a place where “The Weird Go Pro”… Key West is it.

 

 

 

Mallory Square at Sunset

Mallory Square at Sunset

I’ve been working on a novel for the past year and it just makes sense to search out a muse where others have found one in the past. Hemingway did it…Tennessee Williams and Zane Grey, too. So, why not?

The Florida Keys lifestyle is often less than a lot of people expect – it’s rustic, Caribbean and laid back, with a Bahamian touch. Not too many five-star hotels. Lots of marinas and charter boats. Endless blue-green water. Amazing birds. Old Hippies. Salty people. Fresh shrimp.

A walk through downtown on any given day is busy with cruise ship tourists with their mouths and their pockets open – lots of street vendors and landmarks all along the way. I suggest visits to the Aquarium, the Mel Fischer Museum, The Butterfly Conservatory and the Key West Lighthouse for starters. And that’s just the first day.

 

kw_light_house

Key West Lighthouse

History of Key West
Key West has a peculiar and interesting history in its years as southernmost city in the U.S. It’s also been one of the most prosperous, four times being the wealthiest city in the country, and in years when the only access to the city was by boat. Millions were made by the “wreckers” early in the 1800’s; local citizens who got into the salvage business by saving the crews and laying claim to the cargo carried by merchant vessels sailing too close to and “wrecking” on the coral reefs that surround the island.

One story I heard was the account of local minister rushing away from the pulpit hoping to be first to get to his boat when the “shipwreck” siren went off in the middle of his sermon. As the story goes, most of the parishoners followed him out of the front door to get to their own boats and join in the enterprise. “Wrecking” made millionaires out of common sailors, many of whom went on to become the most prominent citizens in Florida.

Fort Taylor Gun Battery

Fort Taylor Gun Battery

 

There were three American Forts built in Key West during the early 1800’s and you can visit all three in an afternoon. Fort Taylor is the biggest and most intact, still standing next to the Naval base and Fort Taylor State Park. The others were strategically built around the perimeter of the island and were used mostly to keep watch for pirates marauding around the Keys laying in wait for the merchant vessels coming from the Gulf of Mexico.

There are dozens of historical sites around the island and I have yet to find one that didn’t keep my attention.

 

 

 

Michael Camp - Key West Butterfly Conservatory and Museum

Butterfly Conservatory

But it’s the people in Key West that get my vote for “best dressed” and “professionally weird”. It’s a happy place and people are taking full advantage of it. Street vendors, Gay/Les community, drag queens and Fantasy Fest… it’s a full-time party that somehow manages to stay in the boundaries of civility.

I love the place. You should visit :)