Key West Florida’s historic Cemetery is located in the center of Old Town, bounded by Angela, Margaret, Passover Lane, Frances and Olivia. Moved to higher ground after the 1847 hurricane disinterred bodies from the first burial ground near the Southernmost Point, the whitewashed above-ground tombs and statues are a notable attraction.
It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people are buried there, many more than the 30,000 residents who currently live on the island. Several of the older graves that date back to the mid-1800s and are weathered, broken and or illegible. Many of the newer graves are now put in above-ground vaults, as space for below-ground burials is becoming increasingly limited.
The main entry gates open at the corner of Margaret and Angela streets. By walking straight to the first corner of Palm and Magnolia, you will see the historic U.S.S. Maine Plat surrounded by an ornate wrought iron fence, painted silver. This scrolled grillwork encircles a solitary bronze sailor, dedicated on March 15, 1900, who overlooks the plain, white marble markers commemorating the victims of the 1898 sinking of the battleship U.S.S.Maine in Havana Harbor.
Turn right along First Avenue, you’ll see a beautifully carved winged angel, a reminder of a young child’s early death. Twin red-barked gumbo limbo trees flank an unusually pedimented brick monument to the Mitchell family. Continue past the plot of General Abraham Lincoln Sawyer, a 40″ midget whose final wish was to be buried in a man-size tomb, to the tall, decorated gray marble shaft that marks William Curry’s resting place. Curry was reputedly Florida’s first millionaire. Behind the monument is a fallen obelisk etched with Ellen Mallory’s name. She was the mother of Stephen Mallory, a U.S. Senator and Confederate Navy Secretary.
Pass by the purple hedge of bougainvillaea to where Duncan Cameron, supervisor of the lighthouse construction in 1847, was laid to rest in 1855. Next along the path is a tiny arched stone that commemorates 22-year old Reverend J. Van Duzen, the first missionary to Cuba. Along 4th Avenue, there is the life-size statue of Earl Saunders Johnson, (those are his own shoes enclosed in plaster), who has become the central, intriguing focus of the Watlington Plot. Captain Francis Watlington, a mariner and Confederate blockade runner who lived from 1804 to 1887, owned “the Oldest House,” and Johnson was the last family heir.
Further along you’ll see the decaying ornate fence surrounding the four-generation Porter clan. Joseph Yates Porter was the founder of public health in Florida. To the right, are two classic angels posed at the Navarro family plot. Still further on 4th Avenue you’ll see the white marble stone marking the grave of Thomas Romer, a black Bahamian, a privateersman and “good citizen for 65 of his 108 years. It’s signed by Gallagher, a nineteenth century stone cutter. Turn right on Violet Street and look for the tomb of Sloppy Joe Russell, hidden behind the crypt marked by a hand painted “eternal flame.
As you walk along Seventh Avenue, look for the black archway with the letters “B’nai Zion” marking the Jewish Cemetery entry. To the immediate left is a large white crypt with a facing tablet inscribed “I Told You I was Sick.” Cross the cemetery toward Angela Street along Laurel and note the uplifted marble casket of a tiny Cuban woman whose grandfather penned the national anthem of Cuba. An expansive bricked lot to the left features the pink granite gravestones for three Yorkshire terriers and Elfina, a pet deer, along with members of the prominent Otto family. Dr. Otto was a Prussian-born medical officer at Fort Jefferson who fought the yellow fever epidemic. On the right is the Catholic Cemetery, founded in 1868. The large gray mausoleum marks the burials of the Toppino family, the makers of Keys’ concrete and constructors of the Overseas bridges. Look for the inscription, “devoted fan of Julio Iglesias” near here.
Walk back toward the entry along Palm Avenue, and looking towards Angela Street, you may spot the unusual carved statue of a naked “bound woman,” at the 1966 tomb of Archibald Yates. A metal archway along Palm, bearing the inscription “A Los Martires de Cuba” (To the Cuban Martyrs), denotes a symbolic 1892 memorial to heroes of the 1868 Cuban revolution, and the tomb of Cuban Consul Antonio Diaz Carrasco, buried here in 1915. And lastly, look to your left for the “God Was Good to Me” epitaph, carved in wood and mounted on an above-ground crypt.
An African Memorial Cemetery was dedicated beside the West Martello Tower in 2009. Slaves, ill from the sea voyage to slavery in “The New World,” were buried there prior to the US Civil War.
Here is an amateur video tour of Key West Cemetery: