Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Audubon House

It isn't really the Audubon House, it's the Geiger House, though even in Key West these days the name Geiger sparks no recognition where Audubon is still a well known name. Audubon the painter ( and killer) of birds lived in Key West for six months before the Civil War. He never lived here in this house that bears his name!
As far as can be established he lived nearby and admired the trees growing around the house and Audubon is said to have picked a branch to use in one of his paintings of American birds.
So what you see here, recreated in exquisite detail is the ante bellum (pre-Civil War) home of one of Key West's most successful merchants. He made his fortune by wrecking, that is working as a marine salvager and charging high rates for difficult jobs.  This is a tool used to feed infants apparently and very ornate it is too.
The house is  nicely air conditioned these days but a hundred and fifty years ago I don't  know how they managed. And they had mosquito netting over the beds.
 I hope these were tools to deal with hair and not something like surgery:
The docent advised us the restoration was done using original patterns. The house stayed in the Geiger family until the 1950s when it was allowed to fall into disrepair. Then it was bought by an amateur historian who had it restored.
 Audubon's prints are also on display:

 And you get a view onto Whitehead Street:
This short video is well worth watching with a descendant of Captain Geiger telling some great stories abut life in those days:

 Then there is the garden:
Which makes for a pleasant place to hang out.
My previous essay on the house: Audubon  2015 Link

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Museum of Art and History

The bright orange blob overlooking Clinton Square next to the former Westin Hotel, now the Margaritaville Resort ("where luxury meets paradise" squirm) is not supposed to be there. For years when Key West went through its latest and most likely last economic crisis the building almost collapsed under the weight of its own neglect. Not anymore, it is now moving from strength to strength as a source of information about the history of Key West with lots of exhibits laid out with a professionalism I never saw in the past.   They seem to be spending money to put on a  good show and it looks excellent.
The Custom House is one of those places in Key West whose name is frequently mispronounced. It is not actually the Customs House, though to hear it said so often you might think it was. Key Plaza is another one as the shopping center where Kmart lives is often called Keys Plaza. And that well known watering hole Schooner Wharf is often given an extra S by those that know no better. Just like the tourists I heard yesterday walking on Whitehead pondering the meaning of Konsh, whether it was a mollusc or a human resident. Or both and either way its still pronounced konk. Very confusing. 
Seward Johnson the noted sculptor of true to life art that some people hate and others don't, has changed up the displays around the exterior of the Museum. Inside there was an exhibit about the Navy in Key West outside they were kissing to celebrate the end of World War Two.
An Irishman by the name of William Kerr came to Key West in 1872 and designed some buildings around town culminating in this Federal Building in 1891. Much is made of the design which supposedly met Federal requirements fo border buildings next to Canada though I know nothing of that. AS to why the roof was pitched as it was I couldn't say but they don't get much snow in Texas if it really was a universal border building Federal design.
Inside there is a permanent Hemingway exhibit with photos of life in Key West and artifacts as merits the city's favorite macho author.

Tennessee Williams has an exhibit honoring his painting skills on display at the moment. Rather crude dare one say simplistic which seem to get traction owing to his reputation as a writer than these naive pieces of art showing off blonde haired very pink young men exhibiting their gentlemen's vegetables to the painter who was rather more interested in their truncheons than in Hemingway's more wholesome interest in killing fish. Here's a discreet depiction of similar that I found online:
Image result for tennessee williams nude art
Several demure cruise ship passengers came by the discreet exhibit in a closet-like room and backed away rapidly on seeing what was up for their inspection as it were. Apparently Williams' private art was an expression of his self loathing and despair at his homosexuality, according to those who over analyze stuff. More likely the loathing came from the outside:
      In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the McCarthy era, during which Williams wrote his best work, homosexuality branded one a traitor as well as a "degenerate." -from The Closet Professor.

Those were the times he lived in and the way things are going seem likely to start recurring soon if we aren't careful. Another artist on display is the ever popular Mario Sanchez mentioned previously on this page. Here is his art of the arrival of the first train in Key West in 1912 and his allusion to the ride he took later to the mainland:
The train changed Key West's character forever. No longer did you need to take a couple of ferries to drive to the mainland, even though the road out of Key West still only went as far as the ferry terminal on No Name Key some 30 miles away. Hemingway himself came to Key West the first time to pick up a car in this island town. I see a lot of similarities  these days to the transformation the train brought to what was an isolated island. Money now comes in and drives the working class out. The train brought the outside world to a town where many people dreaded it's arrival and the transformation it would bring. But one is obliged to celebrate progress and they do at the Museum. 
Then there is the USS Maine another historical artifact from a  little remembered conflict with lessons for today. The battleship blew up in Havana Harbor said to have been by Spanish sabotage though today the evidence is viewed dispassionately and wet coal in the bunkers is blamed for the accidental explosion that started the Spanish-American war that gave the US Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines. The inquiry into the sinking took place in Key West where many sailors are still buried.
Key West was a Union town in the Civil War. The man on the left, Captain Brannan made it so by surreptitiously moving his artillery soldiers to Fort Zachary and flying Old Glory in defiance of the aficionados of slavery who ran the town. The middle figure, Stephen Mallory was the Confederate Secretary of War who came home to practice law after his side lost, such was reconciliation in those days. He got a square named for him. Tift on the right ran the Union blockade to supply the Confederacy. He made money and got a street named after him. Brannan who made a singular contribution to helping the good guys (if you oppose slavery) win got nothing. Think about that for a while.
Key West was a little village huddled around the port where you can see pleasure boats these days at Key West Bight and Mallory Square (Port Rodgers as was) which is seen below as a place to unload cargo. In the background (right side) Fort Zachary was an island connected by a causeway. It became integral to Key West by virtue of harbor dredging that threw up dirt around the fort over the decades.
In the picture below you can the pond that used to exist underneath where the main drinking section of town is, in the area of Duval, Greene and Caroline Streets. The oldest house on the 300 block of Duval used to be waterfront property in those days. The city filled the pond in before the Civil War. 
You can see the pond marked on a map of Key West at the Firehouse Museum on Virginia Street:
As for the stories of pirates in key West it's all rubbish I am sorry to say. The city was seen by the US government as an important military base and a rather obnoxious but efficient man David Porter was in charge of the fleet dedicated to protecting cargo in the Western Caribbean. He annoyed the locals so much he was removed in disgrace and went to organize fleets on the Barbary Coast of North Africa.
Lots to see and lots to ponder, especially the value of being nice in a small town. You get voted off the island all too easily, then and now.

Monday, February 6, 2017

To The Lighthouse

The city of Key West got its charter in 1828 but three years before that it got it's first lighthouse on the beach on the southeastern corner of the island.  20 years later a hurricane wiped out the lighthouse and the new one was built inland at the current location on Whitehead Street at Truman. It has been said that it is odd to put a lighthouse well inland but safety was paramount besides which in the 1840s the city itself wasn't that lit up at night so the light would have been clearly visible. You can still see it at sea made visible by revolving even though it is no longer an official navigation light. In the midst of a brightly lit city the flashing lighthouse light still stands out for those that are looking for it.
 From Wikipedia:
 The first Key West lighthouse was a 65-foot (20 m) tower completed in 1825. It had 15 lamps in 15-inch (380 mm) reflectors. The first keeper, Michael Mabrity, died in 1832, and his widow, Barbara, became the lighthouse keeper, serving for 32 years. The Great Havana Hurricane of 1846 destroyed the lighthouse; the USS Morris, which was wrecked during the storm, reported "a white sand beach covers the spot where Key West Lighthouse stood". Barbara Mabrity survived, but fourteen people who had sought refuge in the lighthouse tower died, including seven members of her family. (The same hurricane destroyed the Sand Key Lighthouse, eight miles (13 km) away, killing six people, including the keeper, Rebecca Flaherty, another widow of a previous keeper.) Barbara Mabrity continued to serve as keeper of the Key West Light until the early 1860s, when she was fired at age 82 for making statements against the Union (Key West remained under Union control throughout the Civil War).
I last checked out the lighthouse in distant 2008 so I was glad on the recent visit to Key West by my sister in law to show her the sights including this one. She was fascinated by the Seward Johnson statues that crops up around town: 
The lighthouse keepers light is a cool air conditioned museum dedicated to the life lived in 19th century Key West.
I took the picture of the spiral staircase in 2008 and nothing much has changed. I was much fitter this visit and bounded to the top in reasonable shape squeezing past the down bound visitors. Coming down is a bit more tricky as the steps are quite vertical and the unpleasant sensation of falling straight down can only be avoided by stepping with ridiculous attention to detail and daintiness.
The view has been enhanced by the removal of protective wires that used to be installed around the viewing platform.
 It used to look like this,and not very aesthetic:
Nowadays the views are unobstructed and my Lumix FZ300 telephoto made for a chance to get some pictures:
The camera has a fixed lense that copes from 25 to 600mm allowing for wide angled shots to quite powerful telephoto pictures. It's also compact and dust proof and rain proof. For a one and a half pound burden I get a camera that does all I want and fills in the shortcomings of the phone lense, which even on the iPhone 6 model is quite a remarkable camera considering it is "just" a smart phone. The twin spires of the Minor Catholic Basilica of  St Mary's on Truman Avenue:
 The Hemingway House is always a souvenir photo opportunity to take home:
Key West Harbor looking west to the Lakes, a shallow bowl of sea water surrounded by mangrove islands:
 The view south (Cuba is still not visible!)
That is Sand Key light, a tower about seven miles southwest of Key West and marks the entrance to the channel into the harbor between the reefs for smaller boats.
From Wikipedia:
As both lighthouses serving Key West had been destroyed in the 1846 hurricane, a ship, the Honey, was acquired and outfitted as a lightship to serve as the Sand Key Light until new lighthouses could be built. Due to efforts to reorganize the Lighthouse BoardCongress was slow to appropriate funds for the new lighthouses. The new tower for the Key West Light was completed in 1848. It was 50 feet (15 m) tall with 13 lamps in 21-inch (530 mm) reflectors, and stood on ground about 15 feet (4.6 m) above sea level. In 1858 the light received a third order Fresnel lens. In 1873 the lantern was replaced (it had been damaged by a hurricane in 1866), adding three feet to the height of the tower. The growth of trees and taller buildings in Key West began to obscure the light, and in 1894 the tower was raised twenty feet, placing the light about 100 feet (30 m) above sea level.
 This contraption if original would have been used to lift freight to the top of the tower:
 From this height the homes below look like dolls houses:
After we struggled back down the tight spiral stair case we paid a visit to the Lighthouse Keeper's home on the property:
A worthwhile tour of a property that offers great views and insight into historical living.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Friday Sunrise

I keep telling myself that I don't really need to be lugging the handful of camera that is the Lumix FZ300 because I've been here before, on this island at this time of day. Yet when I leave it at home or in the car I miss something that I can't capture with my iPhone. And the iPhone 6 camera is very good. I got the Panasonic because I wanted a telephoto lense and I got it in a camera that is weatherproof and has built in Wi-fi to download the pictures to my phone very easily. I am not interested in paper prints or getting paid to take pictures so for digital posting here and on Instagram the Panasonic Lumix FZ300 is ideal I find. 
When I was younger I had a Single Lense Reflex camera, a Minolta, with a huge telephoto lense a doubler and a tripod etc...Nowadays with the electronic gimcrackery of 21st century digital not only do I not need a dark room I rarely miss a tripod as the camera is beautifully stabilized.  I carry a spare battery but the power pack lasts for hundreds of pictures and I bought the refurbished camera for $350 which gives me a photo package with iPhone processing in one amazing gadget. 
 So while Rusty walks I test what I can do with my camera, learning how to use a handful of buttons for a variety of functions to mess with aperture, shutter speed, ISO and all combined into Full Manual Mode. Phew! I look up and Rusty is sitting patiently watching me peer down the hole of the camera's view finder.
West Summerland Key is known as Scout Key these days thanks to the presence of a camp on the island. I prefer to call it West Summerland as I enjoy the serendipity of its name considering the main Summerland Key is 12 miles to the west....of West Summerland. In any event it is an island that offers photographers opportunities to see clear sunrises, a s[spectacular old bridge to photograph or an iconic palm waving over water...been there done that I have:
So faced with a bunch of tripods and cameras and earnestly debating nerds Rusty and wandered off to see what new view might strike us. I found a bunch of sponges pushed up onto the seaweed high tide line:
 Rusty hunted for iguana:
We walked past the massed tripods at sea level over the hill that was created to give road access to the top of the Bahia Honda Bridge in 1938. On the other side I looked across the "deep bay" (= Bahia Honda) at the state park on the other side. Another spot another palm!
Using the telephoto and mixing in some lighting effects in the camera I took one more picture of the old bridge and liked what I got.
Behind me I made the coral rock wall of the old pump house glow in the rising sun. Photographers are advised sometimes to see what effect the light phenomenon is having. So instead of the sun coming up I tried to see how the low angle light affected the structures behind me. Like this:
It was an exceptional low tide so I figured to take advantage of that fact and captured some sand ripples, the sort of beach at low tide effect not often seen in these rocky islands:
Rusty was resting in the grass and I was downloading the pictures into my phone and deleting the ones I didn't like when a voice called "Rusty" and wasn't I surprised when a body descended from the camper and it was a guy I met here a month ago worried about Rusty being off leash. He and his girlfriend were leaving the Keys headed to New Orleans to make money doing magic with their two new dogs partly trained and doing much better he said. He was surprised how relaxed his dogs were off leash compared to how tense they are when leashed which I don't find surprising.His plans are to go south from New Orleans and find his way to South America. We exchanged pictures he mysteriously covered as shown I smiling gormlessly into his phone with Rusty behind me and we went our separate ways.
Walking the dog is an excellent way to relax after spending all night answering 911 calls.