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Key West Legends

ernest hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway fell in love with Key West when he arrived in the early 1930s. He had said that it was unlike any other place he’d ever been and the greatest place in the world anytime, any day. It was here that he and his wife Pauline bought their home on Whitehead Street and where he worked every morning writing novels that would become some of his best known pieces. After spending several hours in the early morning writing, Hemingway would hang-out at Sloppy Joe’s with the locals and the bar’s original owner, Joe Russell. Hemingway and Russell became great friends and would often go out fishing together. In fact, they, along with several other Key West locals, were referred to as The Key West Mob, and were known for their fishing expeditions to the Dry Tortugas and Cuba. They were also known for their nicknames, which is where the legend of Papa Hemingway came to life.

For Hemingway, Key West was a town of inspiration and familiarity. He lived like anyone else: fishing, visiting and drinking with his buddies. And he wrote books that were often based on the people he was closest with. "To Have and Have Not", one of his acclaimed novels, was based on Key West during the depression. Ernest Hemingway left an indelible impression on the community. At Captain Tony’s Saloon (which was the original location of Sloppy Joe’s), visitors can see his original bar stool where he sat almost daily. And his home on Whitehead Street hosts thousands of visitors everyday, allowing everyone to see where it all took place. A tour of the Hemingway House is a treat, revealing original items and artifacts that belonged to the Nobel Prize winning author. Guests can even meet the descendants of his beloved six-toed cat and see the penny he stuck into the cement after Pauline had the pool built in their backyard for a cost of $20,000. His spirit is alive throughout the mansion and the streets of the community he called home for nearly 30 years.

Mel Fisher

Mel Fisher spent every day for nearly 17 years searching the ocean floor just offshore of Key West for the 1622 sunken Spanish galleon, "Nuestra Senora de Atocha." Though faced with much adversity and many obstacles, and the tragic loss of one of his own children, Mel never gave up. And on July 20, 1985, his lifelong dream was realized as he sat in his Key West office listening to his son on the radio calling out “put away the charts, we found the mother lode.” That day was “the day” that Mel always talked about—as his mantra was “today’s the day”. For his family, his crew, the Key West community and the world, it was an astounding event, the recovery of over $450 million worth of sunken treasure. Pieces of eight, 40 tons of gold and silver, Columbian emeralds, gold coins, silver and gold artifacts and over 1,000 silver bars were found. This remains the largest treasure discovery in Key West History.

In Key West, Mel was well-known for his vast background and knowledge of scuba diving and for his unwavering determination to successfully recover the sunken treasure. He loved Key West and the people he’d come to know over the years and was thrilled to share his find with the community and the world. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum displays many of the priceless pieces that were recovered from the "Atocha."

Mel Fisher lived out the rest of his life in Key West, passing away in his home in December of 1998 at the age of 76.

Jimmy Buffett

It’s no surprise that when people think of Jimmy Buffett images of Key West often come to mind. Perhaps it’s the laid back lyrics and melodies that buffett is famous for or the fact that he got his first real taste of fame right here. After living in Nashville and New Orleans and having very little success in the music business, Jimmy came to Key West with a friend in the early 1970s. His first performance in town was in the Chart Room at the Pier House and was the beginning of what became a thriving career that would span decades (and is still going strong).

During that time, Key West offered Jimmy what the other cities couldn’t… freedom to express himself and a host of interesting characters and places to sing about. The island paradise is said to be the place that had the most influence on his musical career. We’ve all heard the songs "Margaritaville", "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and "Come Monday" and most of us know enough words to sing along. Songs like these and other Jimmy Buffett favorites not only entertain people, they also tell a story about his life and the many places he’s been to, Key West among them.

Jimmy Buffett brought the Margaritaville Café on Duval Street to Key West so visitors could experience their own “changes in latitude” while sipping a frosty frozen concoction, indulging in delicious fare and enjoying performances by local musicians.

Jimmy has traveled the world over, has had albums go gold, performed for thousands upon thousands around the globe, yet still holds a special place in his life for Key West---and maintains a home here as well.

Harry S. Truman

When Harry Truman came to Key West in search of a place to recuperate and relax, he discovered something better. The island paradise could offer not only an ideal winter home, it had perfect climate, friendly locals and excellent fishing. Life here was relaxed and unhurried, tranquil and serene. Once he settled in, Truman hardly wanted to leave and it’s because of his affection for Key West that he spent 175 days of the year here. Living in the Little White House, Truman enjoyed his life, managed the country and entertained prestigious visitors. The home became a working Presidential Office where important meetings were held; the Department of Defense was actually conceived in one of the rooms.

Over the years, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and other powerful United States leaders visited the Little White House and were said to be equally entranced by its alluring spirit. Today, everyone can get a glimpse into Truman’s life in Key West by touring the Little White House. Personal items that belonged to Harry, Bess and Margaret still remain, as do furnishings and other artifacts. Knowledgeable tour guides bring the history of the home to life and provide a wonderful look at our 33rd President and his deep affection for Key West and the Little White House.

Henry Flagler

Throughout the state of Florida, Henry Flagler is known as an oil entrepreneur, hotelier and railroad magnate. His pioneering vision and development of opulent hotels helped create the grand reputation of Palm Beach as an elite oasis for the wealthy and powerful. When Flagler came to Florida in the late 1880s, he realized the area’s potential for tourism and trade—and knew just what was needed to make it successful. Soon after, he founded Florida’s East Coast Railway and with that, amazing developments began to occur. The railway was extended to reach Miami and Biscayne Bay and Flagler did not want to stop there. He soon began planning an over-seas railway that would extend 128-miles out to sea to connect Key West with the rest of the state.

What others thought was impossible, Flagler knew was attainable. After 7 years of arduous labor, major obstacles including hurricanes and mosquito infestations, the Flagler Over-Seas Railway was completed and on January 22, 1912, Henry Flagler arrived triumphantly on the first train into Key West.

The Sails to Rails Museum serves as an everlasting tribute to his tenacity and ingenuity. While touring the museum, visitors can go inside an actual railroad car, view memorabilia from the Flagler era and see a variety of photographs and artifacts about the railroad industry.

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams won great critical acclaim as a playwright and was perhaps best known for his two Pulitzer Prize winning plays, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." He moved to Key West in the 1940s and is said to have written the first draft of "A Streetcar Named Desire" while staying at the La Concha Hotel. Although he lived many places throughout the United States, the only home he ever owned was at 1431 Duncan Street in Key West. It was there that Williams lived until he passed away in 1983.

Tennessee Williams created many other award-winning plays and short stories that inspired, entertained and intrigued the world. His play "The Rose Tattoo" was made into an Academy-Award winning movie that was filmed in Key West in 1956.

Today his creative spirit lives on at the Tennessee Williams Theatre on College Road. The theatre brings live shows and performances from talented professionals that hail from New York and around the world. From opera to pops and orchestra to broadway comedies and dramas performed by Tony Award-winning actors, the Tennessee Williams Theatre offers a host of exciting events and productions year-round.