We’ve visited Key West many times and have done most of the “touristy” things around the island. Our last visit, we checked out one of the last places we hadn’t visited yet, the Key West Cemetery. The cemetery isn’t a typical tourist attraction; there isn’t even anywhere for you to pay to get in. That is, if you can manage to find the entrance in the first place.
It’s important to remember this is a real cemetery, still used by the people of Key West. While you are walking around following your map looking for gravestones, keep in mind that these plots are all the resting place of someone’s loved ones. Try to keep the conversations down and be respectful.
The best guide I was able to find was by the Historic Florida Keys Foundation. They print a map of the cemetery as well as offer guided tours twice weekly. They take donations to support their cause – there’s a box near the maps on the porch of the cemetery office, or you can mail them a check or money order. You can find more information at their website. http://historicfloridakeys.org/historicfloridakeys/Key_West_Cemetery.html
The Key West Cemetery is very much like the rest of Key West. It’s part history, part funny and just a little bit weird.
There are monuments to those who were lost while serving our country, such as the USS Maine Monument. The USS Maine sank in Havana Harbor in 1898.
Just a short walk away is the grave of Gen. Abe L. Sawyer. You’d think this was a military grave but Gen. Sawyer stood all of 40 inches tall and was famous for touring with carnivals. He is now famous for his request to be buried in a regular sized casket. That’s the real Key West spirit.
The Otto family plot isn’t popular because of the family but because they are buried along with their four Yorkshire Terriers and a pet Key Deer. I find it touching that they chose this quote to remember one of their dogs:
“His beautiful little spirit was a challenge to love”
There’s no shortage of witty epitaphs around Key West Cemetery. The most popular one gets right to the point.
Don’t be surprised if you spot some of the local resident Key West roosters and iguanas wandering among the graves.
Without a doubt, one of the strangest plots in the cemetery belonged to Archibald Yates.
This statue of a naked woman with her hands tied behind her back is more commonly referred to as “The Bound Woman.” There are four miniature versions of the sculpture on each corner of the grave site. The meaning of the sculpture is unknown, which makes it even more synonymous with the Key West lifestyle, where you can do whatever you want and you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.
Unarguably the best known “resident” of Key West Cemetery is Joseph S. Russell. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you probably know him by his nickname, “Sloppy Joe.”
Key West’s most famous barkeep and fisherman is buried way in the back of the cemetery. It’s hard to find his grave, even with a map. Many previous visitors have left various gifts for Joe to use in the afterlife. I hope he liked Budweiser.
The Key West Cemetery is only a moderate walk or a short bike or scooter ride from Duval St. The entrance is at the intersection of Passover Ln. and Margaret St. If you map the address 701 Passover Ln, that will get your pretty close to the entrance. In the summer the cemetery is open from 7AM to 7PM, and until 6PM in the winter months.
We walked around the cemetery in little more than an hour. I’m sure you can do it in less but we took our time and looked at some graves that weren’t “on the tour.” I’m also sure you could spend more time but there isn’t much shade in the area and it can get really hot in the afternoon, so plan accordingly.
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