Key West Cemetery
The phrase, etched in stone, is simple and to the point: "I Told You I Was Sick." Passersby do a double take, read the line again, and find themselves nodding and laughing, in of all places, a cemetery.
Not just any cemetery, of course, but the Key West Cemetery, which - like the native inhabitants of this tiny, subtropical island - is unique. "I Told You I Was Sick" was one Key West soul's final expression of humor, immortalized on her gravestone.
Key West's cemetery fills nearly 20 prime acres in the heart of the island's historic district. It is old and picturesque, a photographer's dream, with stone-encased caskets resting on top of the earth in addition to more traditional below-ground graves.
It's historic, too. At a special memorial in the cemetery rest the remains of U.S. sailors who died when the battleship Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor in 1898, touching off the Spanish-American War.
There's also a plot dedicated to those who died in the Ten Years' War, fought from 1868 to 1878 in an unsuccessful attempt to liberate Cuba from Spanish rule. The memorial, which contains a single grave, was established in the mid-1890s by Cuban patriots living in Key West.
Fans of Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Prize-winning author who lived in Key West throughout the 1930s, have a special reason to visit the cemetery. Along its tree-shaded lanes they'll find the grave of the author's longtime friend and fishing companion, "Sloppy Joe" Russell, and that of his sparring partner Kermit "Shine" Forbes, a resident of the island city's Bahama Village until his recent death.
The cemetery's individualistic and sometimes insouciant character is reflected in the inscriptions on many of the graves. For example, the tomb of E. Lariz, who passed away in 1986, reads "Devoted Fan of Singer Julio Iglesias." Another intriguing burial place is that of Thomas Romer, a Bahamian veteran of the War of 1812, whose grave marker reports that he was a "good citizen for 65 of his 108 years."
Humans are not the only ones buried in the historic cemetery. A well-maintained brick lot features the graves of three Yorkshire terriers - one bearing the inscription "His Beautiful Little Spirit Was a Challenge to Love." The plot also contains the final resting-place of Elfina, a pet deer.
Key West Cemetery Entrance
Key West Cemetery
The Key West Cemetery is open daily from sunrise to dusk, and locals and visitors alike are often seen strolling there, taking in the history and beauty of the island. Guided tours are scheduled by reservation at 9:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, and can be arranged by calling the Historic Florida Keys Foundation at 305-292-6718. Tours begin at the cemetery's main entrance on Margaret Street.