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Where you’ll find historical, fascinating and even humorous stories.
Photo credit: DaniElle GeorgiEva, Key West Cemetery Facebook Page
Who knew the Key West Cemetery would be one of the most popular things to do and see in Key West! It’s a 2020 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Award Winner, and because of that, we wanted to learn more about the history and believe it or not there is humor found here as well.
About the Key West Cemetery
The 19-acre cemetery located at the center of Old Town, situated halfway between the Historic Seaport and West Martello Tower, at the foot of Solares Hill, surrounded by five streets - Angela Street, Frances Street, Olivia Street, Windsor Lane, and Passover Lane. It’s an amazing peaceful spot to visit and take a walk back in history and learn about the people who lived here and helped build this town. AND there’s some unexpected surprises as well. We had a chance to talk with Key West’s David Sloan about some of the fascinating history and stories found here. Here’s what he had to say:
The cemetery was established in 1847 after an1846 hurricane washed dead bodies from the earlier cemetery out of the coastal sand dunes on Whitehead Point near the West Martello Towers. The reason they moved the bodies from its original location was due to the storm, and storm surge that pushed the caskets up out of the graves. While talking with David he said some people tell the story about caskets floating down Duval Streets, and that's why they chose this bigger area. In the 1800s, this became our main cemetery which now sits on one of the highest elevation point on the island.
It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people are buried here, many more than the 30,000 residents who currently live on the island.
Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy sites in the historic Key West Cemetery
35. B.P. “Pearl” Roberts (1929-1979) – One of the most talked about tombstones is that of local hypochondriac B.P. “Pearl” Roberts, who had the last word with her marker “I told you I was sick.”
Photo credit: Perry Fulkerson on Pinterest
This is one of the most popular grave sites in the cemetery. David Sloan shared more info about B.P Roberts, they say that this was actually the part of her nightstand where she's keep her medications. And when she died, she got the last word by telling everybody “I told you I was sick.”
Atop the Roberts family crypt is the grave marker of Gloria Russell (1926-2000) noting "I'm just resting my eyes."
Photo Credit: Jeff Kern/Flickr
29. “Sloppy” Joe Russell (1889-1941) – Key West’s best-known barkeep and fishing guide to Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s.
Photo credit; Perry Fulkerson on Pinterest
Another popular site at the cemetery is that of Joseph Russell. He was better known as Sloppy Joe and a friend of Hemingway, who owned the iconic Sloppy Joe's Bar. He was a legendary character here in the Florida Keys.
Throughout the cemetery you’ll see a variety of statues including Angels, lambs and one of a naked bound woman. There’s also a german shepard buried somewhere in the cemetery.
Angel statue in Key West Cemetery. (Photo credit: Bonnie Gross)
Photo credit: John Teets / Key West Cemetery Facebook Page
4. U.S.S. Maine Monument – On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor, killing some 260 American sailors, a disaster that led to the U.S. declaring war on Spain. Some two dozen of those dead are buried in the plot, on either side of the central copper statue. Other Spanish-American War veterans lay nearby. Civil War era markers line the perimeter of the fence. Veterans of other wars may also be found in the plot, along with two British airmen, on Brazilian sailor, one woman, and one baby. The iron fence and gates with spear points and battle-axes were manufactured by a foundry in Washington, D.C. The The U.S. Navy still tends the plot.
8. “General” Abe Sawyer (1862-1939) – Key West’s famous 40-inch tall midget who requested burial in the grave of a full-size man.
Kermit ‘Shine’ Forbes, was a former prizefighter in the Army when he met Ernest Hemingway in 1936, just as Hemingway was finishing up his Key West rum-smuggling tale, "To Have and Have Not." The writer lived on the island for 10 years, penning such classics as "A Farewell to Arms." According to Key West Historian, Tom Hambright, Shine Forbes was the last person here who had contact with Hemingway. You might even find boxing gloves nearby.
On the Epitaph it reads LOVINGLY KNOWN AS SHINE SPARRED WITH HEMINGWAY
Read more about the Key West Icon Shine Forbes.
Above are just a few of the stories, when you visit add this to your list of things to do and see.
Photo credit: Martha Hubbard
What people are saying
Peaceful and Calming
Here lies the story of Key West! Grab the brochure and map and follow the history of the early Keys. Fascinating people who contributed to the growth of Key West are buried here. A really interesting place to visit. ~ Joan W., Saratoga Springs, NY, TripAdvisor Review
The Self Guided & Walking Tours
You’ll notice numbers on a few of the stories mentioned above. They are also on the Key West Cemetery Map Self Guided Tour
The walking tour is operated and managed by the Historic Florida Keys Foundation and the map can be found at the entrance to the cemetery on Passover Lane.
Cemetery Hours: Summer 7am – 7pm | Winter 7am -6pm
Good to Know
Where do I enter? There’s a small office located at the Passover Lane and Angela Street entrance and they have free walking tour guides and if you have any questions, they can answer them..
This may sound crazy but add the Key West Cemetery to your out of the ordinary award winning things to do while visiting. While you’re making memories, we’ll keep finding more cool things for you to do. #lovethemarker
Rooms & Suites
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