Jim's sister Grace and her husband Steve invited us down for their
annual January escape to Key West. We enjoyed a relaxing few days with them
and also doing some sight-seeing.
One day we rose before dawn for a catamaran trip to
Fort Jefferson in the
Dry Tortugas National Park. There were several options, but Grace &
Steve recommended the "Yankee Freedom" because of the entertaining
and informative guide, Cap'n Rick.
The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of islands about 70 miles west of
Key West. They are called "Dry" because there is no fresh
water to be found. "Tortugas" because of the once-abundant
The trip out was lovely -- blue skies (once the sun came up) and
crystal clear water.
fort was started in 1847, but never completely finished. It was designed
to control the vital shipping lanes between the Atlantic and the Gulf
of Mexico, but masonry forts such as this one were made obsolete by
the development of rifled cannon. After the Civil War it was converted
to a prison and used as such until 1874. Its most famous prisoner was
Dr. Samuel Mudd
, who was convicted
for his role in the assassination of President Lincoln. He was pardoned
in 1869 at least in part due to his assistance in treating those affected
by a yellow fever epidemic at this fort in 1867.
A moat and breakwaterfort encircled the fort. The lighthouse
is no longer in operation.
A newer one is located on a nearby key.
The low pyramids on the right are ammunition storage for the upper
The brick rectangles in the foreground are part of an ingenious,
but ultimately unsuccessful, design for the capture and storage of fresh
water. Rainwater captured by these "chimneys" funneled
into large cisterns. Due to settling and other factors,
the cisterns began to leak and allow salt water in.
ports on all sides of the fort look out over the moat and breakwater.
Campers and day-trippers hike in the area.
were cannon emplacements planned for all three levels of the fort, but
it was never fully armed. The structure on the upper level held ammunition.
Brackets supported a wooden walkway leading to the ammo storage
area. In theory those who were getting more ammunition were sheltered
from fire. The fort was never attacked, however, so it is unknown how
well this would have worked in practice.
The arches on the two lower
levels are quite graceful.
foundation ruins are all that is left of the officers' quarters.
Each officer had his own house. A few buildings have been restored
for the use of Park Service personnel and may be seen in the background.
The barracks for the enlisted men were even less visible.
were fascinated by this "hot shot furnace." Non-exploding
cannon balls went in the far end and were red hot by the time they
got to the exit. Their
intended use was to set fire to enemy warships. I would not have wanted
to be responsible for taking the hot cannon balls to the batteries,
which were not especially nearby -- especially if an attack happened in
the blistering heat of a Florida summer!
Hinged, wrought-iron shutters designed
were another of the many innovations used in Ft. Jefferson that didn't quite
pan out. They opened automatically when a cannon was
fired and immediately closed to protect the soldiers as they reloaded.
The iron, when exposed to the salt air, rusted and expanded,
pushing out the exterior bricks.
Restoration efforts, ongoing at this site, are removing the original
shutters and replacing them with materials that are both historically
accurate and resistant to the elements.
restored gun emplacement shows how the cannon would be mounted on a
carriage that allowed it to recoil when fired. It was then
reloaded and pushed into position for another shot.
The iron shutters
discussed above covered the gun port to protect the artillery personnel.
the Dry Tortugas are so far west of Key West, they are the closest US
landfall to Cuba. This was brought home to us at Ft. Jefferson.
party of Cuban refugees had successfully made the passage and landed
on one of the nearby small islands. The Coast Guard fetched them to
Ft. Jefferson where they would wait until they could be transported
to an induction center elsewhere.
The policy vis a vis Cuban refugees is that if they have
dry feet, or have successfully reached US soil, they may remain.
Those who are intercepted at sea (wet feet) are returned to Cuba.
They saw my camera and insisted that I take their picture!
Dry Tortugas expedition took the entire day. The next day we visited
on the Key West "mainland." It was
constructed as a sister fort to Ft. Jefferson, but was heavily modified
for the Spanish American war in the late 19th century.
The black structures
were part of the modification. Ironically the newer parts of the
fort are condemned as unsafe whereas the older sections are still sound.
newer batteries were added onto the existing fort, old Civil War vintage
cannon, now obsolete and too heavy to move easily, were used
as fill in the concrete extensions. As a result the fort has one of
the largest collections of old cannon. A bit hard to get at, however.
clever idea that didn't work was latrines flushed by tidal forces. The tides
weren't strong enough to do the job and the latrines became breeding
grounds for mosquitoes that carried yellow fever.
Also located at
the "Fort Zach" park is a very popular beach. Neither Jim
nor I are particularly fond of sun and surf, but we did spend a lovely
morning there with Grace and Steve. It was a short bike ride from their
rental house in the
Also nearby is the
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. We spent a good bit of time there
fascinated by the ecology of the area.
of the annual January events at Key West is
. It was the week after our stay there, but we enjoyed
watching the racers gather with their boats. Some trailer in; some sail
in. Competitors come from all over the world to race in the various
In addition jet-setters cruise in on their mega-yachts
to be a part of the action. We saw several luxury ships docked nearby.
day we took a walking tour of Key West with Grace and her family. The
We toured the Hemingway house
across the street. I didn't get good pictures
of the house or grounds, so check out the link if you want to see what
it looked like. It is preserved with the same furnishings that the Hemingways
used. I couldn't resist, however, a picture of one of the famous
polydactyl cats. She clearly doesn't mind the parade of tourists.
of Hemingway... At one point we were walking along and a group of ladies
came running up to Jim full of giggles! "He's perfect!"
they exclaimed. It turns out that they were participating in a "scavenger
hunt" and one of the items was to locate someone who looked like
What do you think? Does Jim qualify? Personally
I think Jim is better looking!
(Hemingway image from americanlegends.com.)
Another spot we visited was the "buoy" at the so-called Southernmost
Point in the contiguous USA. There was a queue of tourists waiting
to take each other's pictures. We are (L-R), Matt & Ben Janus,
Grace's sons, Steve & Winnie, Jim, and Grace.
The insignia of the
Republic can be see at the top of the buoy. Grace & Steve have
Conch Republic passports.
There are numerous "southernmost" sites in Key West.
A little Presbyterian Church
that I attend when there is the southernmost in the continental
what is a visit to Key West without a bit of bar crawling? Our favorite
. The picture
doesn't do it justice!
Another favorite was the
Turtle Kraals. Every evening
featured a turtle race.
And then there was the Green Parrot.
You get the picture!
we are at Happy Hour at some dive or the other down by the docks. L-R
are Jim, Matt, Steve, Winnie, Grace & Ben.
the time of this visit Key West was pretty dog-friendly. Winnie could
go just about anywhere that we could. In the intervening years (I'm
finally getting these pictures online in 2012), that has been less so.
And lest PETA or some other such organization get on our case, no we
didn't ply Winnie with beer or other intoxicating beverages!
there is the iconic sunset view from Mallory Square. We enjoyed our
Key West visit, but mostly we enjoyed spending time with Grace and her