We spent a couple hours at the cemetery the next afternoon. We never did find the funny epitaphs and I'm glad we didn't. What we did find was much more interesting.
The oldest gravesite here dates back to 1829. Several graves predate the cemetery itself. Dated 1829-1843, the oldest gravesites were relocated here after a hurricane destroyed the original cemetery.
The earliest birth dates we found dated back to the late 1700's. We were surprised to note the number of people that lived to a ripe old age, many were in their 80's! That seemed unusual to us considering the difficulties people surely experienced back then combined with the lack of medical knowledge & treatments available.
Infants & Children
It broke our hearts to see the number of infants & children interned here. Nowadays, we celebrate pregnancy with baby showers & gender reveal parties. We tend not to think about how dangerous pregnancy & childbirth can be for mothers and children. Before modern medicine, prenatal care & vaccines it was all too common to lose children. Almost half died before reaching adulthood.
"All true stories begin and end in a cemetery."
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron
Sandy Cornish's life story is truly amazing. An enslaved man who bought his freedom then maimed himself to keep it. Cornish & his wife purchased land to farm. Selling fruits & vegetables he eventually became one of the richest men in Key West. He was a leader in the community founding the Cornish Chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The South Florida Times published a short article in 2004 titled "Freed Slave Sandy Cornish Gets A Marker In Cemetery" that's also an interesting read.
I thought of the slave trade display we had just seen at Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and of the 3,000 residents of Key West that banded together in 1860 to shelter 1,432 Africans removed from 3 slave ships bound for Cuba that had been seized by our Navy. Residents gathered food, clothing & provisions to aid the suffering strangers. They provided medical care for the ill and gave proper burial to the 294 African refugees that died. Some 160 years later, the residents of Key West are still caring for strangers. It's heartwarming to see such kindness & compassion carry on.
Ellen Russell Mallory
William & Euphemia Curry
James "Jimmy" Mira, Jr.
USS Maine Monument
On February 15th, 1898 the Battleship USS Maine exploded & sank in Havana Harbor, an event that led to the Spanish-American War. Two dozen American sailors from the USS Maine are buried in plots to the left & right of the center monument. This section includes Spanish-American War Veterans and Veterans of other wars. Civil War Era Veterans are buried in plots along the perimeter of the fence. Also buried in this section are 2 British airmen, a Brazilian sailor, one woman & an infant.
The Jewish Cemetery is maintained by the B'nai Zion Synagogue. Graves in this section date from the 1890's to present day. Notice all the little stones in the photos. Mourners place stones on the gravesites as a sign of respect.
Beautiful Wrought Iron Fencing
The Lowe Family Plot
Alfred Lowe, 1840-1921, snuck out of Union held Key West to join the Confederate Army. He survived the Civil War and later became one of Key West's oldest surviving Confederate Veterans. Caroline Lowe, 1813-1887, flew a Confederate flag from her home on Duvall Street especially when Union Troops marched below.
The Key West Cemetery is full of history that's both heartwarming & sad. It's an odd mixture of old & new. Utilitarian & ornate. Gravesites have fallen into disrepair but are well-tended. There are people buried here representing all walks of life. They came to Key West at different times, for different reasons, from different states & countries. Although they came from different cultures & religious backgrounds, they now all share common ground.
Chickens roam freely throughout the cemetery. We watched several of them scratching around large holes. I'm not sure if they were excavating the holes or just picking around them for food. Whatever they're up to, it's destructive.
Maybe they were looking for iguana? There are plenty of those scurrying around too. Big ones! (I later learned that green iguana also dig holes to lay eggs and to bypass obstacles like walls & fencing.) To be honest, I wasn't keen on sharing space with either of them.
After we returned home, I went back to the Key West Travel Guide for follow-up research for this post & found their Key West Cemetery Map & Self-Guided Tour online. (Duh, Julie! It would have been nice to have that information when we visited.) Good thing we each took 100's of photos. We have learned so much just by matching our photos to online information. And the funny epitaphs? We walked right past the back side of those markers & never noticed.
Are you ready to roll? We're headed through the Everglades next!