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Three Days in Key West

Jeff Campbell

Posted on June 25, 2018 08:29

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What do you do when you want to get away for a 20th anniversary trip with your spouse and soak in some legendary literary points of interest? Head for Key West, of course.

Hemingway’s writing room in Key West

I don’t generally use the term bucket list, but visiting Key West, with its eclectic mix of people and places, was something we had been wanting to do for years. I was sufficiently brushed up on Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway’s time there and re-read "To Have and Have Not" with fresh insight into Key West’s history. To get more of the feel of living there, we rented a small traditional Key West cottage in the thick of Old Town.

Anyone familiar with Key West knows of its independent style of living, establishing themselves as the “Conch Republic,” when they jokingly formed their own micro-nation back in 1982 after an intrusive U.S. Border Patrol roadblock was set up, greatly inconveniencing residents and tourists alike.

Originally called Cayo Hueso or Bone Key, it was inhabited first by the Calusa people and eventually passed hands from Spain to the U.S. on its way to becoming part of Florida. At various times, Key West was a base of operations for shipwreck treasure hunters, pirates and the navy. It was a center for cigar manufacturing and salt production. By 1889, Key West was the wealthiest city in Florida.

Storms and the move of cigar manufacturing to Tampa were just two factors in the decline of Key West, which became destitute during the Great Depression. Julius Stone was appointed to oversee the relief efforts in Key West. With the island being so remote from a communications standpoint, Stone took it upon himself to spend the federal funds in anyway he saw fit. He had the vision that Key West could be spruced up and become a major tourist destination. The rest as they say is history.

We expected to hit all the touristy attractions but ended up limiting those visits as we were embraced by locals and other free-spirited visitors into the island-time lifestyle that both Hemingway and Williams fell spell to. Locals told us that most people who come to the island either love or hate Key West; there’s not much in-between. We quickly fell into the love-it camp.

For our time there we were neighbors with a local Cuban coffee shop and would greet the owner as she walked by our cottage to open-up each morning. Another day there was an interesting gathering and discussion we stumbled upon outside a local church thrift shop while wandering the neighborhoods lined with lush green vegetation and a colorful blend of cottages. In addition to many locals, we met new friends from Australia, New Zealand, France, England, Germany and Spain.

Any time there was something happening that was a little wacky or unique, the locals would always shrug and observe, “What can I say, it’s Key West.” The only thing they seemed to request of visitors was to be friendly and accepting. Maybe if everyone would adopt even a little of Key West’s friendly accepting spirit, the country would be a better place.

Jeff Campbell

Posted on June 25, 2018 08:29

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