Monday, March 4, 2013

Famous Dead People

I got a map at the sexton's office and set of across the 19 acres of cemetery looking for a few select graves. The Key West cemetery is quite the popular tourist spot though some people find that odd. Indeed some readers call me "morbid" when I take pictures of the cemetery. However this place is a repository of Key West history, You can even get a docent of the Historical Society to give you a tour. I've done it and it's well worth it.
The cemetery is mostly above ground as the water table, even in this relatively high spot on the island, is not far below the surface. As a result you get a cemetery that has a look very similar to that of the more famous burial sites in New Orleans. Unlike New Orleans cemeteries which can be dangerously violent (thanks to roving gangs of the living) the Key West cemetery is no more dangerous than any other place on this island. Indeed this makes for a lovely park.
First up Mario Sanchez Key West's most well known home grown folk artist, who developed his own form of wood intaglio wherein he depicted scenes of island life from memory and recorded Key West from decades ago. He came to prominence during his life but ended his years alone and in utter poverty after he entrusted his wealth to a woman who, I am told, dId not have his best interests to heart. Which is reflected in the poverty and lack of style of his "tombstone."
"May the work I've done speak for me." As good an epitaph as any and I suppose the fact that he has no decent headstone and his grave is hidden among many and facing away from the well worn path is a reflection on those left behind and how they feel about the artist who lost his fortune to a gold digger.
Ironic it is that two retrospectives of his life's work, that does speak for him, are underway right now at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City Exhibitions, and also at the more modest Museum of Art and History here in Key West's Customs House. New York I shall skip, Key West I shall see.
It was only through study of the map I found the next grave often quoted in guidebooks yet never seen by myself in years of searching at random, this time in the Catholic Cemetery.
And a sweet one it is...
... famous beyond this city only for her epitaph:
Frequently I see the One Human Family stickers plastered around town after some wag has chopped the thing up to rework the phrase, more or less wittily. In this case the phrase struck me as appropriate for the next well known character whose passing is marked in the Key West cemetery.
This plinth is new, and dedicated to a financier who came to Key West and did what so may want to do, or so they say. He started painting, like Sanchez in a whimsical folkloric sort of way. They called him Captain Outrageous, and what he did with his life was outrageously cliché'd and I'm glad he's got his mark in the cemetery now.
And we close with what may be the most quoted epitaph in Key West's above ground cemetery, "I told you I was sick." Apparently she was a notorious hypochondriac in town and at the tender age of fifty, got the last laugh, as it were:
The Key West cemetery, worth a visit: