Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is renowned for a picnic area shaded by Norfolk pines and cooled by ever-present breezes, and a long Atlantic-front beach that Key Westers call one of the island’s best-kept secrets. But it’s the Civil War-era fort itself, once nicknamed “Fort Forgotten,” that really makes the park unique.
As curator and historian at Islamorada’s Keys History & Discovery Center, Brad Bertelli is a storyteller who spins colorful tales with rich factual details about life in the Florida Keys. He has also authored several books — including two about snorkeling in Florida and the Keys, and one each about Key Largo and Islamorada.
When Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote in Key West during the 1930s, he spent much of his leisure time with friends at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. On Sept. 17, the beloved Key West watering hole reopened after being closed for six months because of the global COVID-19 crisis — and several Hemingway look-alikes were there.
For decades, Bishop Al Kee welcomed visitors to Key West’s Southernmost Point marker, acting as a smiling ambassador for the island. He sold fluted, pink-lined conch shells beside the iconic waterfront landmark, sliced open coconuts for those who wanted to drink the sweet coconut water inside, and cheerfully posed for innumerable visitor photos.
In the 1800s, the wrecking industry made Key West the richest city per capita in the United States. The Florida Keys wreckers were famed for their courage in salvaging crews and cargoes from sinking ships. Yet few people know they once salvaged a sea monster off Key Largo’s Carysford (today called Carysfort) Reef.
Legions of television viewers are obsessed with the adventurous reality show “The Amazing Race.” But most of them don’t realize that, in 1913, Key West was the site of one of the most amazing races in history — a competition between two aviators to make the first flight from Key West to Havana, Cuba.
The road unrolls like a long gray ribbon, with vast vistas of turquoise water and paler blue sky stretching endlessly on either side. Driving down the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, it’s clear why this roadway is sometimes called the Highway That Goes to Sea — and a “bucket list” drive that everyone should experience.
The buccaneering spirit of adventure and individuality is one of the most intriguing — and enduring — attributes that help define the Florida Keys island chain. The Keys’ renegade seafaring heritage is alive in museums and attractions, colorful shipwreck and treasure tales, dive and snorkel trips to wrecksites, and sailing cruises aboard historic tall ships.
Longtime Key Westers remember famed singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett when he lived on the island, savoring the lifestyle that helped inspire his songs. As the world slowly emerges from COVID-19 shutdowns and the Florida Keys prepare to reopen to visitors June 1, Buffett's music can evoke the spirit of Key West and memories of a more carefree time.
Many books about the Florida Keys are so well crafted that they seemingly transport readers to the island chain — portraying it so vividly that it’s almost possible to feel the humidity and smell the salt air. During this time of COVID-19 travel restrictions, what books provide the best “virtual visit” to the Keys?