Friday, June 25, 2021

Pez Garden

I call it the Pez Garden because that's what people used to call it but I'm not sure if I'm showing my age by describing the Key West Memorial Sculpture Garden that way. 
You can see why: they do look like giant Pez dispensers.  If you live in the garden I suppose it's possible to find the newspaper more interesting but I like wandering in here from time to time.
Lena Johnson was born at 830 Division Street (Truman Avenue) in 1870 and lived there until she died in 1832. Her father came from the Bahamas and worked as a pharmacist in Key West. She worked as a candy maker, never got married and was the first woman member of the city commission. A life encapsulated though I suspect there was more to it than that. Speculate at will.
Norberg Thompson is remembered for creating the waterfront fishing industry and you can see his name on the monument at Elizabeth and Green Streets.  The problem with the Pez Garden is that there are too many heads and too many stories. I have no idea how the various faces were selected and who was left out though I do wonder about that.
There was one artist who sculpted the heads apparently called James Mastin who died in 2017 so I suppose the garden will not be growing any more. 
Julius Stone, the man who saved Key West from the Depression, invented tropical tourism in the Keys before fleeing in disgrace after some questionable business deals and dying in obscurity in Australia. I'd think he would be one worth listening to if you got the chance to hear his stories. They probably would be cheerful untruths but entertaining.
I read the biographies because I enjoy history but the short version here is she came to key West from Germany, married repeatedly in an era when death and disease went hand in hand with life, and left a bunch of descendants.
When people talk of the good old days these are the lives I think about, struggles just like ours, less science, less medicine more isolation and less travel and so forth. Pretty much just life lived. 
The next one is the stand out African American who manages to make it into the history books about Key West. Born a slave then freed, then a house fire burned his emancipation papers so to prevent himself being enslaved again he cut himself up to render himself worthless. That's how much people enjoyed being enslaved lest you believe the propaganda, and he went on to live a full respectable life in Key West.
I think there were more of these remarkable lives than we remember  but Sandy Cornish has to carry the load largely by himself. He was remarkable, exceptional even but not unique. 
Here's the man who caused chaos by integrating the Armed Forces, and as usual the integration caused not a ripple and it's something we don't even give two thoughts to nowadays. I remember the same arguments about integrating gays and now the target is transgendered. Apparently there is no end to the list of people who threaten our way of life. Harry Truman was pretty mild mannered for such a revolutionary and of course he loved spending time in Key West.
The playwright Tennessee Williams lived on Duncan Street ina house not even marked by his passing though he was a writer known throughout the world. I have read that Hemingway gets more mileage than Williams thanks to his manliness, chasing women, the outdoors and war. By contrast Williams was gay and came to town in search of lonely sailors and discovered a tropical Paradise. There are so many more and you can take your pick of names of artists touched by Key West.
The wreckers statue in the middle of the garden is evocative to me. Wrecking is often conflated with piracy which it was not. It was hard dangerous work in recovering ships possibly and certainly their cargoes from dangerous spots where the ground had risen up and met the hulls. As expressed:
Fortunes were made in Key West which was an important port for traffic between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Fashions landed here first and wreckers pulled ashore valuable modern furniture and house furnishings not seen elsewhere in Florida. Key West luxuriated.
You may have heard of the Curry Mansion. Here's why:
One of my favorite misunderstood characters is David Porter who ended up patrolling North African waters after his successful anti-piracy campaign in the Keys annoyed well connected people. 
When people try to tell me there were pirates in Key West I nod solemnly not to burst their balloons but I think of this man and silently thank him for his good work making the seas safe for commerce. 
Among all his other preoccupations the King of Spain laid claim to Key West and gave a concession to a man called Juan Salas who promptly sold the island to four other men, one of them shown below:
He doesn't look special but he started the whole ball of wax rolling. In the right place at the right time. 
The list goes on.  As you can tell I spend quite a few happy times communing with the dead in the Pez Garden. You can even buy a brick for a thousand bucks and memorialize a name here. You can unless your wife thinks its a waste of money.