Life in Key West has been seven instances stranger than fiction Key West Florida Weekly

The story of the disappearance of Key West Fire Chief Joseph “Bum” Farto is as thrilling as the real crime in Key West. Courtesy of photos

Key West is not called “Key Weird” for nothing. Here are seven times that life in Key West has been stranger than fiction:

¦ Symbolic secession – Here at the end of the street we believe everyone should be free to fly their freak flag. And we have taken this ethos quite literally and created our own banner brand that wafts between the light blue palm fronds adorned with a burning yellow sun, in the middle of which is a shining seashell. This image is the visual representation of the Conch Republic, the micronation created when Key West “ceded” the United States in the early 1980s.

To reduce drug trafficking and illegal immigration, on April 23, 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a roadblock to checkpoints outside Skeeter’s Last Chance Saloon on U.S. 1, the only road connecting the Keys to the mainland. There was a massive growl of traffic that hindered both residents and visitors. Although the checkpoint was not on an international border, visitors leaving the island were required to verify their citizenship and undergo a vehicle search to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the US using the keys. Tourism slowed, businesses suffered, and the Key West City Commission’s complaints to the US federal government only resulted in a sea of ​​red tape.

Reba Sawyer's tombstone with Captain Tony.

Reba Sawyer’s tombstone with Captain Tony.

Outraged, “Skeeter” (he from the Last Chance Saloon mentioned above) teamed up with the then Mayor of Key West, Dennis Wardlow, and several similarly angry residents. After a restraining order to end the blockade was denied, Mayor Wardlow stood in Mallory Square, read a secession statement, and then – and this is where it gets really good – solemnly broke a stale loaf of Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval officer’s uniform.

The formidable uprising of the Conch Republic lasted about a minute. During this time, the Conch Republic Navy dropped the naval base with liquid bullets before surrendering to the US Navy admiral. Surprisingly, not long after, the roadblock was removed from US1 and the Conch Republic cried out for victory.

The German immigrant Georg Karl Tanzler first saw Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos in 1930.

The German immigrant Georg Karl Tanzler first saw Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos in 1930.

¦ At that time the mayor went to Cuba – with water skiing.

1978 after being challenged by a local reporter, then Key West Mayor Charles “Sonny” McCoy (we won’t dive deep into the man in later years, but feel free to do a simple google search and the enjoy depravity) buckled onto a single slalom waterski and drove 110 miles to Havana. After 6 hours and 10 minutes in the midst of seas that swelled up to 6 feet, McCoy was hit by a Cuban gunboat and taken to Havana Harbor.

He said of his performance: “I did it. I don’t think I’ll do it again. “We don’t blame him.

¦ Key West’s very own Mile High Club – The early Aughts were jack-of-all-trades in the Florida Keys (OK, we know it’s always a jack-of-all-trades in the Florida Keys). “Come and fly through the very friendly skies,” says the Fly Key West website. “Cleaner than a hotel room. Brand new Key West Mile High Club souvenir sheets on every flight. “

Robert the doll.

Robert the doll.

Wait what

How it got started in the first place is still a mystery, but before it closed, Fly Key West ran a special series of tours known as the Mile High Club – subtle, no? Passengers were offered three options for their optional clothing flights: the Quickie, which was $ 199 for 35 minutes, the Big Bone Islander, which was $ 299 for 55 minutes, and the Sunset Special, which was $ 349 . Oh, and all flights can be videotaped upon request.

On a fine August day, a Cuban couple booked a Fly Key West tour with pilot Thomas Hayashi. Fifty miles south of Key West International Airport, the couple drew a knife and requested to be taken to Cuba instead of taking off their pants. Hayashi tipped the plane to throw the hijackers off balance, but one of the hijackers fell on the plane’s throttle and landed the plane in Florida Straits. Hayashi managed to survive, but the couple couldn’t escape the sinking plane. Post-coital madness or aviation piracy? You decide.

¦ Count of Cosel’s unnatural obsession – German immigrant Georg Karl Tanzler first saw Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos in 1930 when he was working as an X-ray technician at the US Maritime Hospital in Key West. The poor girl had tuberculosis, but Cosel, old enough to be her grandfather, was convinced that she was the woman of his dreams. Count Carl, as he called himself, gave his time and money to Maria Elena’s medical expenses and when she died the following year he provided her body with an extravagant mausoleum in Key West Cemetery.

The catch?

Count von Cosel was the only one with the key to the mausoleum. And one night in 1933 he decided to bring Maria Elena’s body to his home. For the next seven years, von Cosel devoted himself to the art of conservation. He stuffed her chest cavity with material to keep it from collapsing, he connected her bones with wire ties, and he doused her with perfume and formaldehyde.

Key West has always been a small town, and in 1940 news of Cosel’s obsession traveled over the coconut telegraph to reach Maria Elena’s sister. She confronted von Cosel at his home, where she discovered her sister’s mummified body. Although he was charged with grave robbery, von Cosel was acquitted of all crimes – because the statute of limitations had expired.

After his trial, the count moved to Pasco County, where he died in 1952. Authorities found a life-size portrait of his beloved Maria Elena near his body.

¦ Robert the doll – In the early 1900s, the Bahamian maid of the Otto family gave a young Robert Eugene “Gene” Otto a doll filled with straw to play with. Gene loved his life-size doll and played it around all over the place, even naming it Robert after himself. It didn’t take long, however, for Robert’s mischievous nature to show itself to the Doll Gen’s family.

According to the legend of Robert the Doll, Otto’s genes would often be heard in his bedroom and conversed with two different voices. Occasionally the Otto’s would wake up in the middle of the night when Gene screamed, only to find the frightened boy in his room, surrounded by overturned furniture. Gene would blame Robert the Doll for the mess while the doll stared dead-eyed at Gene from the foot of the bed.

Every time a toy broke or something inexplicable happened in the house, Gene would say, “Robert did it!” Although the boy’s parents were suspicious of the doll’s responsibility, they reported that Robert giggled around the house. And passers-by of the Otto House, which is now the Hotel The Artist House on Eaton Street, even claimed to see the doll move up from window to window.

After Gene’s parents died, Gene returned home with his wife, Anne, and Robert the Doll took up permanent residence in Gene’s nursery on the second floor. Anne apparently had no love for dear old Robert and after Gene left this mortal shell, she locked the doll in a suitcase in the attic. Many years after her death, the doll was donated to the Key West Art & Historical Society.

Robert the Doll now lives in the Fort East Martello Museum, where he is still incredibly present. The walls around the glass case he sits in are covered with dozens of letters from previous visitors who took photos without permission asking for Robert’s forgiveness and asking him to remove any curse he cast on them.

¦ The dark story behind a legendary waterhole – Josie “Joe” Russell opened the original Sloppy Joe’s (yes, the one that Ernest Hemingway made famous) on Greene Street in 1933. When rent increased from $ 3 per week to $ 4 per week in 1937 – a change that now equates to about $ 18.35 per week in the market that will make many Key West residents cry – Russell moved to its current location on the Duval Street.

But before Sloppy Joe’s even twinkled in Joe Russell’s running Prohibition-defying eyes, the spot where Captain Tony’s Saloon now sits has an unexpected – and macabre – story. For example, the tree that stands in the middle of the bar wasn’t always an indoor tree. Instead, it was once the centerpiece of an open courtyard, better known as the open courtyard, as the tree served as a gallows from which pirates and other criminals were hung for their transgressions.

Originally built as an ice house in the 1850s, the building saw in its past both a morgue and a brothel. During renovations in the 1980s, the floorboards were torn open and the bones of at least a dozen people were exposed. Among them was a tombstone for a young woman named Elvira Drew. Drew was married to an abusive, alcoholic man and was hanged in 1822 for the murder of her husband – “Stand Your Ground” was apparently not a valid defense at the time. Her tombstone is now next to the pool table in the bar, along with the tombstone of Reba I. Sawyer.

Sawyer’s tombstone was not always found in Captain Tony’s, however. After Sawyer’s death, her husband found scandalous letters between his wife and another man describing the Trysts they were dealing with in Captain Tony’s saloon. The widower with the cuckold went to the Key West cemetery and dragged his deceitful partner’s tombstone into the bar, where it now lies beneath the many others.

¦ Where the hell is Bum Farto? – – The story of the disappearance of Key West Fire Chief Joseph “Bum” Farto is as thrilling as the real crime in Key West. In the 1970s, Farto was known as the island’s equivalent to Jimmy Hoffa. While awaiting a drug trafficking conviction in 1976 (the man was selling cocaine from a Key West fire station), Farto fell from the ground and there were many theories about his mysterious disappearance. There are people who believe he fled to Central America while others believe he was kidnapped and killed by members of a drug cartel. Hell, even Jimmy Buffett sang about his disappearance.

At that point, Farto would be 100 years old, so the chances are slim that he would be alive at all. But his desk and uniforms (and maybe even his ghost) are all on display in the Key West Firehouse Museum. Some stubbornly curious locals (I’m looking at you, Sloan and Perkins) are still actively searching for information about his whereabouts, but in the meantime, you can check out the puzzle at www.findbumfarto.com. ¦

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