Saturday, August 31, 2013

key west history, part 6

When FDR died in April of 1945, his Vice-president, Harry S. Truman, found himself in the oval office with a pant-load of pressing problems on his plate.
The second world war was still going on and the decision to drop the atomic bombs still had to be made (killing 250,000 people can't be an easy decision to make).

When the war was finally over, there was the daunting task of rebuilding Europe and Japan and then converting the United States back from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy.
It took Mr. Truman 19 months in the oval office to get all that done; but he did get it done and the ordeal, frankly,
kicked his ass.

The man was physically exhausted. So his doctor ordered a warm, quiet vacation; and Key West was just the ticket.


The navy put him up in a house that was originally the Naval submarine command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. But by 1946. That house became Mr. Truman's "little piece of paradise".

It is, what we now call the "Truman Little White House".

The President loved it here in Key West; So much that he came back, to his "summer home", eleven times.

During the Truman visits, cabinet members and foreign officials were regular visitors for fishing trips and
poker games.

Truman again visited Key West just after his 1948 re-election and Division Street was renamed Truman Avenue
in his honor.

In 1974, when the submarine base was closed, the Truman Little White House was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 1987, was deeded to the State of Florida.

In 1990 a million dollars restored the house
to its 1949 appearance.
It is now held in trust as a public museum.

The Truman Little White House is the only Presidential site in the State of Florida.

Monday, August 26, 2013

key west history, part 5

Battleship Maine monument at Key West cemetery

 Like it or not, the United States has always been an imperialist nation. By the late 1800s the continental west was won and so imperialist eyes were turned to places like the Philippines and Cuba. In 1898 both countries were governed by Spain. But the American government wanted them anyway and so, it took advantage of the political revolution in Cuba and declared war on Spain.
Then the 10 week conflict with Spain began. . .



Key West, because of its location, only 92 miles from Havana, and it's large harbor and the naval base, meant that the United States Navy would naturally use it as a primary supply depot and coaling station.

 Jose Marti

The revolutionary Cuban junta, under the leadership of Jose Marti and Tomas Estrada Palma, organized sixty-one Cuban political clubs in Key West.
The city became a center of Cuban revolutionary agitation, fund raising for the rebels and smuggling arms and men
into Cuba.

News traveled fast between Cuba and Key West.
By the appearance of the ships of the "Atlantic Squadron" in the harbor, Key Westers were able to predict not only the coming of the war, but also to when it would begin.
When the USS Maine exploded, Key West was the first city to hear about it.

Battleship Maine entering Havana Harbor

When that news came, an avalanche of correspondents from the major newspapers followed.
As one writer put it, "Key West became the seat, not of war, but of war correspondents."

After the "Maine" disaster, larger stocks-piles of supplies, coal and ammunition were sent to Key West warehouses, wharves, and docks that had been leased from private owners in the city. Freighters and transports were constantly arriving and departing and the Army was requested to strengthen the defenses that protected the city from attack.
The defenses consisted of Fort Taylor in the city itself, and
Fort Jefferson, seventy miles to the west. Large caliber coast defense guns were rushed to Key West.
The run up to war brought a financial goldmine to business in the city.

The army and navy faced the prospect of large numbers of casualties and planned to bring the most seriously injured or sick to Key West. But the hospital facilities at the Key West Barracks were not gonna be enough.
So the Mother Superior of the Convent of Mary Immaculate in Key West offered the buildings of her convent and school rooms to the Navy for use as a hospital.

Then there was another service in the city that was stretched to the limit by the situation. The three man police force for its nearly 18,000 people. With the servicemen coming to town in force, the cops were completely unable to maintain order; especially in the areas where all the saloons were.
So one additional man was added to the police department, but that would prove to be no help at all.

The Spanish-American War was an exciting time for the city. All those soldiers and sailors coming and going and a rush of new construction. The amount of money spent in the city by the Army and Navy is estimated to be $2,244,850 between March 1898 and July 1899.

Then after the war, the city was able to increase trade with Cuba, and with its new channel, its improved facilities and the continued presence of the services, enjoyed a time of uninterrupted prosperity.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

key west history, part 4

Of course, no history of Key West would be complete without talking about. . .
In 1860, Key West was the richest city in the Union.
Not because of King Cotton or coal, but because
we were wreckers.

"Wrecking" refers to the salvaging of crews and cargo from distressed ships. And in the 1800’s, business was really,
really good.

In 1822, Key West was declared an official port of trade for the United States. During that time, about 100 ships passed the island’s shores every day. The waters were treacherous for passing vessels; the dangerous shoals and shallow waters were  made worse by the a lack of navigational information and unpredictable winds. All those conditions together led to, at least, one distressed ship a week.
Wrecking crews were strategically posted along the shores with all eyes on the horizon. When a vessel met trouble, the race was on. The first crew to get to the scene were the “wrecking masters”, allowing them the largest cut from the salvage and all control of delegating responsibilities.
  Once the initial wrecking excursions were complete, warehouses, ship yards and ship chandlers were employed to store cargo and repair the ships. The island’s economy thrived because much of the stranded cargo was sold locally. Those sales filled Key West’s houses and stores with a wealth of treasures from the sea.
 A few of the most successful wreckers were, Asa Tift, who also designed the "Hemingway House".
John H. Geiger, who made his home in the "Audubon House" and Francis B. Watlington who built the “Oldest House in Key West” in 1829.

Today The Oldest House is home to the "Key West Wrecking Museum", a great place for learning more about this chapter in Key West history.

The wrecking business began to decline in the late 19th century. With the building of lighthouses, improved navigational equipment and  steam-powered engines, the once treacherous waters surrounding the Key West seemed suddenly tame. 

By the 1920s, the wrecking industry was as gone as so many sunken ships.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

key west history, part 3

During the American Civil War, the state of Florida seceded and joined the Confederacy but Key West remained in Union hands because of its importance as a naval base. Most of the locals were sympathetic to the South and many flew Confederate flags over their “Conch” homes.
Fort Zachary Taylor was constructed between 1845 and 1866. It was a very important Key West outpost during the Civil War.

In 1861, construction began on two other important forts, East and West Martello Towers, and they served as sidearms and batteries for the larger Fort Zac.

 All three forts were connected to by railroad tracks for movement of military munitions.

So, for the American Civil War, Key West was loaded for bear. Key West held the largest cache of cannon in one place during the war but never a shot was fired.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

key west history, part 2

In 1815 the Spanish governor in Havana, Cuba deeded the island of Key West to Juan Pablo Salas, an officer in the Royal Spanish Navy stationed in Saint Augustine.

                                                           John W. Simonton

After Florida was transferred to the United States, Salas was so eager to sell the island that he sold it three times.
First for a sloop valued at $575, and again to a U.S. businessman, John W. Simonton, during a meeting in a Havana cafe in 1821 and then finally to General John Geddes, a former governor of South Carolina, who tried,without much luck to secure his rights to the property before Simonton and his influential friends in Washington were able to gain total title to the island.

                                                                     John Whitehead

 Simonton bought the island because his friend, John Whitehead, had drawn his attention to the opportunities presented by the island’s strategic location.
Whitehead had been stranded in Key West after a shipwreck in 1819 and was impressed by the potential offered by the natural deep harbor of the island.

                                                                 Matthew C. Perry

 In March of 1822, Matthew C. Perry sailed the schooner "Shark" to Key West and planted the U.S. flag, physically claiming the Keys as United States property.

                                                             Commodore David Porter

Then 1823, Commodore David Porter of the United States Navy West Indies "Anti-Pirate Squadron" took charge of Key West as military dictator under martial law.

Monday, August 12, 2013

key west history, part 1

 About 2,500 years ago, the Calusa Indians came to Key West from the SouthWest coast of Florida and called it home. They were, by all accounts, the first Conchs. They came and settled in to the easy Keys life and feasted on seafood.

But then something happened.
 In 1513 and again in 1521, Juan Ponce de Leon (remember him from your grammar school history books?) came ashore from Spain searching for his famous “Fountain of Youth”.
He discovered the islands and named them “Santa Isybella,” after Queen Isabella.
 Then, in Key West, he found the the Calusa Indians who weren't too thrilled about being invaded by the Spanish.
Ponce and his crew battled with the Calusa Indians for years.

The Calusa were eventually forced to move further and further inland by the Spanish. In time, exposure to the European diseases brought by the Spanish and all those devastating battles over the islands brought a tragic end to the
Calusa nation.
During one of those many battles, Ponce de Leon was wounded in the thigh by a poisoned arrow.
He retreated to Cuba where he soon died of that wound.  
(what goes around, comes around)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

west wing

Back at Christmas time a good friend, knowing it is my favorite TV show, gifted me with a box set of West Wing.
All 7 seasons on 45 discs and about 180 episodes all told.

It's taken many months but I've seen all the episodes now.

When the show actually aired on TV, I was owner/operating my Philadelphia ad agency (it was a pretty busy time) so I'd only sometimes catch a few minutes of it.
All the same, something about it grabbed me.
Then after I'd moved to Key West and started with the Blue Paper, the show was in re-runs and once in a while, on my off days, I'd catch a full episode here and there.

But now with this great gift I've seen it all, start to finish, front to back, top to bottom; and you know, it's really good.

True enough, it's reality based fiction (I mean, where in the real world would you ever find a good hearted honest politician?) but the casting is great, the walk and talk camera angles are dynamic and the dual story lines are engaging and
often humorous.

But what I like most is how the characters seem to actually like each other.
Whether they're in the tall grass or dancing in the outfield, there's a common bond; a loyalty to each other and their goal, at the end of the day, is to do some good.

It's a really optimistic view.