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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Key West, Florida- Hot Vacation Spot, and Home to Many- In life and death

     Key West has been a vacation destination and home for people of all ages for a long time. Who can resist the laid-back lifestyle, warm weather, fresh seafood, rich history and simple relaxation? To make it even better, it's haunted!  The island was discovered by Ponce de Leon in the early 1500's. Originally they named the island "Cayo Hueso" which means "Isle of Bones".  They named it such because the island was totally covered in bones.  The island was the site of a previous massacre or it was some sort of Indian burial ground.  It is unknown for certain where these bones came from. Located 150 miles south of Miami and just 90 miles north of Havana, Key West is one of the best tourist destinations in the United States. The beaches, the snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, sailing,of course the partying, and ghosts!

Beach Scene
      The clubs and bars that Key West is famous for are not the only nightly attractions or entertainment. There's a lot more than just partying going on in Key West, especially at night. There's a parallel spirit world lurking in the buildings, walking the streets, time does not touch them, they do not age, and most of them can't be seen. But when they want you to see them, watch out! Upon first look, Key West appears to be the perfect little paradise, but looks can be deceiving as every little town has its own little secrets. Key West is no different. This little town is a mere 2 mile by 4 miles, with a past that is rich with tales of island pirate lore, voodoo curses, black magic rituals. It even comes complete with its own notorious hauntings. Key West residents accept, and even, embrace their supernatural entities like any other resident on the island. It's just part of their everyday lives in a way. You can take a "ghost tour" and learn about these spirits and hopefully experience their ghostly presence first hand!  

Ghost Tour bus

     Some say Key West is one of the most haunted locations in the United States, which makes it perfect for my list of the most haunted places in the United States that I'd love to visit. Visitors can go on nightly tours looking for ghosts throughout historic Old Town. Local tour companies will guide visitors around after dark when the restless spirits from beyond begin to awaken, all in search of orbs, apparitions, and ghostly sightings near the haunted hotels, 19th-century Victorian mansions, and cemeteries. You will hear stories of famous writers, pirates, rum-runners, and refugees, and as Florida's second oldest city, the ghost stories in Key West are endless, creepy, and often frightening. Key West's original ghost tour, founded in 1996 by "Ghosts of Key West" author David Sloan. Featured on the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, The Tonight Show and MTV's Real World. Locally owned and operated. Come see why the original is always the best!  

Captain Tony's Saloon
     As water trade increased so did the population and eventually Key West was settled.  The site of Key West's first bar was established on top of part of these burial grounds. Captain Tony’s Saloon was Florida’s first bar. The bar has been patronized through the years by many well-known artists, writers and celebrities. In fact, an interesting feature of the bar is that when a celebrity visits, they add a barstool with that patron's name. There are  barstools painted with the names of famous people such as Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Buffet, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman, for example. Before the building became the first bar, it was the first morgue on Key West. The mortician dearly attached to his daughter, made her burial place inside the building. As the trade increased, so did the pirating. The hanging tree where pirates and murderers where hanged was conveniently located just outside of the morgue. This tree, from which 75 people were hanged, now grows through the center of the building. Sixteen skeletons were found when they were laying a new foundation. There is still the tombstone in the pool room where the coroner buried his daughter. 
     There was a lady in the latter half of the 19th century, who brutally murdered her husband and two sons.  Then she chopped their bodies into pieces and put the bloody chunks out in the backyard for the animals to dispose of.  A neighbor saw the carnage and found the exhausted murderess inside her home wearing a blue dress covered in blood. A crowd turned lynch mob and dragged her to the hanging tree for instant justice. The legendary "Lady in Blue" is Captain Tony's best-known haunting.  People will see a bluish blur passing through the room. Some have photographed her. She isn't alone though.  There is also a story of a woman who brought her young child into the saloon, where she caught her husband drinking and womanizing.  In a rage, she snapped, and killed her child in the bathroom. Then she carried out the body under a blanket. People have had a lot of supernatural occurrences in the bathroom, especially the 1st stall, where they think she murdered her child and in the saloon itself of course. I, of course heard this and wondered why she killed her child instead of her husband? The child didn't do anything. There have been voices heard, people have claimed to be touched by something that isn't there, and have feeling of being watched, and doors opening by themselves.
Ectoplasm in picture at Tony's
The Hanging Tree in the middle of Bar
      The East Martello Museum is located at the old East Martello Fort.  The Museum was constructed as a fort to represent the Martello Watchtowers in Italy. The walls of this fort are 8 foot thick, and built with granite. It was designed back in the Civil War Era. It's now home to Key West artifacts from past history, and also has military memorabilia. This museum holds all sorts of artifacts and historical records of Florida Keys history. The eeriest of displays is Robert the Doll, dubbed as “the original Chucky.” Robert the Doll was given to artist Robert “Gene” Otto in 1904 by a Bahamian servant who, according to legend, was skilled in black magic and voodoo and was displeased with the family. Soon afterward, it became clear that there was something eerie about the doll. Eugene's parents said they often heard him talking to the doll and that the doll appeared to be talking back. Although at first they assumed that Eugene was simply answering himself in a changed voice, they later believed that the doll was actually speaking.  Neighbors claimed to see the doll moving from window to window when the family was out. The Otto family swore that sometimes the doll would emit a terrifying giggle and that they caught glimpses of it running from room to room. In the night Eugene would scream, and when his parents ran to the room, they would find furniture knocked over and Eugene in bed, looking incredibly scared, telling them that "Robert did it!". In addition, guests swore that they saw Robert's expression change before their eyes. Gene gave the life-sized doll his first name, and blamed it for his bad behavior and anything that went wrong. That really goes beyond the basic,not taking blame for anything" problem that a lot of people have. He blamed a doll for everything? Really? Maybe he was right though. Maybe the servant had cursed it as revenge for poor treatment. After numerous occurrences like these, Robert the doll was banished to the turret room in the Victorian-style mansion. It seemed to take them a while to finally put it in attic, it seems.  I would have just put it in the garbage.  Children passing by on their way to school would notice Robert in one window in the morning and having moved to another window in the afternoon--- yet he hadn't been moved by any human who'd claim it.
Robert the Doll's original home
    Gene had been an ill-tempered person all of his life, and Robert the Doll is said to be a reflection of him. In later years, Gene took a wife, Anne. Gene was an artist, and locally successful. They had an average marriage, oddly punctuated by suddenly volatile behavior from Gene.  As always, after each outburst was over, Gene would say, "Robert did it."  Even as an adult he continued to blame his behavior on the doll. Perhaps the doll could have somehow been possessed somehow, and i'll even go as far as to say that perhaps the doll somehow made weird things happen, he didn't make Gene be an angry jerk in general. Gene had a fiery temper, of which his wife took the brunt of. Upon Gene's death, Anne left Key West. She left Robert the dall in his turret room and rented out the house. A strict provision in the rental agreement stated that Robert must stay in his room and it was strictly adhered to until Anne passed away in 1976, even though the residents actually put Robert in a trunk, then left the trunk in the turret room. Today, Robert resides at Fort East Martello Museum.  
Robert in his display cube, very intimidating...
     When Robert was donated to the museum in 1994, he came with his own hand-crafted Robert-sized chair and a stuffed lion, Leo. (Leo is the name given the lion by Key West Art and Historical Society staff--- his "real" name isn't known nor is it known when the doll and the lion hooked up.) Supposedly, Robert the Doll is possessed, like dolls aren't already creepy enough.   He often prevents his photo from being taken, moves his toy lion from one knee to the other, and even taps on his display case.  The saying goes ... "when you visit Robert you are not allowed to take photos of him, unless you get his permission. Those that do not comply by his wishes, will have misfortune come to them. " First of all, how do you know if he gave you permission? I hate to state the obvious, but he he's a doll. That would feel weird. "Excuse me Mr. Doll, could I please have the honor of taking your creepy picture?"  So go visit and see the "original Chucky" for yourself, and try to take a picture. Good luck, and don't forget to say "Please?"
Robert the Doll

East Martello Museum
      The Key West Hard Rock Café is located in a sizable house on Duval Street, the Key West Hard Rock Café is home to Robert Curry. The house was built by William Curry, Florida’s first millionaire, as a wedding gift for his son, Robert. Robert was very ill throughout his life, plagued by a variety of ailments and illnesses, yet found himself in control of the Curry family fortune. Since he wasn’t a very good businessman and likely had a lot of medical expenses, due to his poor health, the money rapidly faded away. Distraught and depressed, Robert committed suicide in the second floor bathroom. The Curry House is now the Hard Rock Café, but Robert doesn’t seem to know the difference. Guests and employees have reported seeing a dark-haired man walking the premises, then disappearing into thin air. This Hard Rock Café is supposedly the only haunted one in the World! It's already a good place to visit on a vacation, but in Key West, the resident ghost gives you even more reason to have a meal there! 
Hard Rock Cafe
     The story about the Dean-Lopez Funeral Home is the true story of German immigrant Georg Karl Tanzler (AKA Count Carl von Cosel) and Elena Milagro Hoyos Mesa, isn’t exactly a ghost story and might not have anything to do with a haunting. But, it might.  Read on, and you will be freaked out beyond your wildest imagination. Self-proclaimed Count von Cosel was an x-ray technician in Key West. He was 54 when he fell madly in love with Elena, a 22 year old patient dying of tuberculosis. There obviously wasn't a future there for them due to her imminent death. Regardless, he begged Elena to marry him but, a devout Catholic whose husband left her, she declined. Sadly, Elena died in late 1931 and was placed in a mausoleum Cosel had built for her in Key West Cemetery. About a year and a half later, the still distraught Count, went off the deep end and took Elena from her resting place and brought her to a new one: his bedroom. Cosel began to “reconstruct” Elena’s body out of wax, plaster of Paris and silk. Tanzler attached the corpse's bones together with wire and coat hangers, and fitted the face with glass eyes. As the skin of the corpse decomposed, Tanzler replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of Paris. As the hair fell out of the decomposing scalp, Tanzler fashioned a wig from Hoyos's hair that had been collected by her mother and given to Tanzler not long after her burial.  Tanzler filled the corpse's abdominal and chest cavity with rags to keep the original form, dressed Hoyos's remains in stockings, jewelry, and gloves, and kept the body in his bed. Tanzler also used extensive amounts of perfume, disinfectants, and preserving agents, to mask the odor and slow the effects of Elena's decomposition.  In October, 1940, Elena's sister Florinda heard rumors of Tanzler sleeping with the disinterred body of her sister, and confronted Tanzler at his home, where Hoyos's body was eventually discovered. Florinda notified the authorities, and Tanzler was arrested and detained. He was found mentally competent to stand trial on the charge of "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization." After a preliminary hearing on October 9, 1940 at the Monroe County Courthouse in Key West, Tanzler was held to answer on the charge, but the case was eventually dropped and he was released, as the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.  Shortly after the corpse's discovery by authorities, Hoyos's body was examined by physicians and pathologists and put on public display at the Dean-Lopez Funeral Home, where it was viewed by as many as 6,800 people. Hoyos's body was eventually returned to the Key west Cemetery here the remains were buried in an unmarked grave, in a secret location, to prevent further tampering. This story has been featured on many different television shows and in countless books. Take a stroll past the cemetery and funeral home. It’s free, super creepy and perhaps you'll see Costel's ghost, searching for Elena. Or perhaps it's Elena, furious with Costel for what he did.
Elena, on display
An "Apparition" at cemetery.
    The Hemingway Home & Museum is home to Key West’s most famous apparition, the legendary author Ernest Hemingway. The Hemingways heard of Key West from Ernest’s friend John Dos Passos, and the two stopped at the tiny Florida island on their way back from Paris. They soon discovered that life in remote Key West was like living in a foreign country while still perched on the southernmost tip of America. Hemingway loved it. "It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms...Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks." After renting an apartment and a house for a couple of years the Hemingways bought a large house at 907 Whitehead Street with $12,500 of help from Pauline’s wealthy Uncle Gus. Pauline was pregnant at the time.  They called Key West their home from 1931 until his suicide in 1961. His life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. The suicide probably wasn't too inspirational. Hopefully.  Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. Three novels, four collections of short stories, and three non-fiction works were published posthumously. Many of these are considered classics. Shortly after the publication of the "Old Man in the Sea" in 1952, Hemingway went on safari to Africa, where he was almost killed in two successive plane crashes that left him in pain or ill health for much of the rest of his life.  I hope it was worth the "thrill." Apparently it wasn't, or maybe his health got to him.  But Ernest Hemingway the author, the man who encouraged others to "think positively," killed himself in 1961. Ironic.
      Now, the Hemingway Estate is home to approximately 60 cats, direct descendants of the 16 cats Hemingway had when he lived here. The phrase is usually "that crazy old cat lady," but I suppose in this case it was the "crazy old cat man."  This main house is no longer a home, but a museum dedicated to Hemingway and the way he lived. He enjoyed adventure and travel. Hemingway penned "A Farewell to Arms" with the typewriter and chair on display in the studio. You can go on a tour, and walk around the house and garden. Have fun locating the 60 cats (some with six toes, descendants of Hemingway's unique favorite) roaming the property, the fountain constructed from a local bar's urinal (classy), and the penny under glass near the saltwater pool, which Hemingway reportedly tossed at his wife for "spending his last cent" on its construction. Everything has been preserved the way that Hemingway and his family had it. So much so that Hemingway may think that he still lives there! His ghost has been spotted all over the grounds, accompanied by the sound of a typewriter when he is inside the main house. The carriage house in the back has been turned into the administrative offices for the museum as well as a bookstore. This is a must see for literary buffs, as well as ghost hunters, and cat lovers.
Could this be Hemingway's ghost?

     Now, we will visit the infamous haunted La Concha Inn of Key West, Florida. legendary Key West hotel has hosted guests like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Harry S. Truman since opening in 1926. Room 160 of the Hotel is haunted by a man who lost his life in the hotel after falling into an empty elevator shaft. Guests of the hotel report having someone tap them on the shoulder, but when they turn to see who tapped them, they find no one there. Despite the fact that La Concha was approved as a Holiday Inn franchise, this lurking spirit has proved to be quite an enduring nuisance to guests.  I guess that would kind of take out the "Holiday" part of Holiday Inn. Ghosts aren't very relaxing.  While some people may not like the idea of spending the night in a place that is said to be so haunted, there are others who relish the chance to add this additional experience to their Key West vacation. I think it would be the perfect place to stay the night. 
La Concha Hotel
     Like the island itself, La Concha had weathered many changes and had undergone numerous face-lifts. The hotel had been restored, reopened, and had recovered from its fall, but one New Year’s Eve a waiter who had been cleaning up after a party had pulled his cart full of dishes down the hallway on the 5th floor and was patiently waiting for the elevator. As the elevator doors opened and the bell sounded, he backed into the elevator pulling his cart in with him. Unfortunately the elevator had malfunctioned and the car stopped at the floor above him. He stepped into an empty elevator shaft and fell to his death. His spirit seems most active on the fifth floor and to no surprise, around the elevator. Many guests have reported hearing his scream followed by a deafening crash, while others have seen the young man in the elevator perhaps trying to complete his task. The lesson in this is, look where you are going.
    This seven story hotel has also been the scene of many suicides as some 13 people leaped to their death from the rooftop observation deck, and some of these spirits may also remain. I guess that the roof was inspiring and depressing at the same time. A lawyer who leapt to his death in 1992 after being accused of embezzlement can still be seen pacing back and forth contemplating. One gentleman who took the leap in 2006 reportedly downed a glass of Chardonnay before doing so. Since then, patrons have reported their glasses of Chardonnay were sometimes suddenly jerked from their hands by some unseen force. Could the spirit of a former employee be trapped within these walls for all of eternity?  Is the La Concha home to several guests that never checked out. 

Hallway of the haunted hotel

      Of course, there is always the lighter side of Key West. You can drink, party, relax and basically do the ordinary things that ordinary people do on their ordinary vacations. But, why settle for something ordinary when you can do something so extraordinary? Key West is the best of both worlds: our living world and the supernatural world. Beings from each world just can’t seem to get enough. I can't wait to visit, for a vacation of fun in the sun, beautiful beaches and "lively" ghost adventures!  From awesome margaritas to ghosts, Key West has it all!
Haunted Houses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow "The spirit-world around this world of sense Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense A vital breath of more ethereal air."


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