Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Audubon House and Tropical Gardens

Key West, FL


We were off to Florida's Gulf coast but ducked into the Audubon House as we passed by on a walk.  Happy we did!

The home was never owned by John Jay Audubon, the acclaimed ornithologist and naturalist, but is known for him because he stayed with the owner of the home, Captain John H Geiger, when he visited Key West in 1832. During his visit Audubon identified 18 new birds found in the Key's for his "Birds of America" folio.  Some of his most famous drawings were done at the home and the Geiger tree, appearing in Audubon's painting of the white-crowned pigeon, was in the front yard of the home. The second floor of the home displays original hand watercolored lithographs and engravings that are available for purchase.

The other interesting story link here is Captain John Geiger who was a prosperous  Key West harbor pilot and master wrecker.   I quickly caught onto the meaning of harbor pilot but what's a master wrecker?  Google's first choice was auto towing but not far behind came maritime towing and salvage.

In a blog post on June 1, 2010 the author, Cate Masters, listed her top 10 interesting facts about wreckers. I thought they were pretty interesting too.   http://harveyle.blogspot.com/2010/06/apa-cate-masters.html

1. Wreckers plied their trade not only in Key West, but in the Bahamas, and as far away as the United Kingdom. 

2. Because so little diving equipment had been invented, wreckers salvaged ships’ cargoes from the bottom of the sea the hard way – holding their breath for several looong minutes. 

3. Though some claim wreckers set traps for wayward ships, no evidence backs this up. 

4. In the mid 1800s, nearly one ship a week wrecked off the coast of Florida. 

5. Wreckers known as Conchs came from the Bahamas, but were of English descent. 

6. Some wreckers lived to ripe old ages, but many perished from drowning, shark attacks, boating accidents or, in the earliest days, at the hands of pirates or Seminole Indian massacres. 

7. Because Key West men outnumbered women by ten to one, many wreckers married the women they saved from watery graves. One ship became known as the Ship of Brides, its German passengers marrying wreckers, including a widow and her daughters. 

8. Average shares earned by individual wreckers amounted to hundreds of dollars per shipwreck. Imagine how much money that translates to in current dollars! 

9. Wreckers followed 13 rules of their trade, but the unwritten rule was to rescue a ship’s passengers first, then its cargo. 

10. The Florida wrecking industry continued until the early 1900s. 

The Audubon house is another home that was slated for demolition but saved.  In 1958 the Wolfson Family Foundation spearheaded the drive to save and restore the home.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Harry S Truman Little White House

Key West, FL

It doesn't look like a house from the outside.  Maybe that's because it was built in 1890 by the U.S. Navy to house the base commander and paymaster.   Yet inside with the aid of an engaging and well informed tour guide the house certainly felt like a Presidential retreat.

Truman spent 175 days in residence from 1946 to 1952 using it both as a retreat and functioning White House.  John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell also either stayed in the home or used it for meetings.  And during World War I Thomas Edison lived there while conducting experiments and developing weapons for the Navy.

Don't miss the official website www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.com.  Among other things there's a list of 11 logs chronically Truman's visits to Key West.  I chose to read "Log of President Truman's Fifth Trip to Key West : Nov 7-21,1948.  Log No. 5. " It's a detailed view of exactly how he spent his time on this two week trip.  Here's a few highlights:

* The President lost his eyeglasses while swimming in heavy surf.  They were recovered later when he noticed them at the water's edge.

* Mrs Truman and Margaret left for Havana aboard the Williamsburg at 8:30 A.M.  The Ambassador and Mrs Butler first greeted them aboard the ship and then escorted them on a sightseeing tour of Havana.  The Trumans rested on the ship in the afternoon and returned to shore to an afternoon tea at the American Embassy.  At 11 P.M. the Williamsburg began the return trip to Key West.

* The fishing parties were often quite successful, catching barracuda and grouper.

* The president rarely watched the movies that were shown nightly in the living room.   However on the first night of his wife and daughter's stay he joined them to watch "Apartment for Peggy" starring Jeanne Crain.  He did often watch newsreels especially those reporting on his recent reelection.

* The morning of his wife and daughter's arrival the President shaved his vacation stubble.

There's a chart at the end of the tour showing the results of an historians' evaluation of Presidential leadership.  Fascinating to see that Truman's star has risen over time to now place him near the top at #5.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hemingway #2

Family room couch, CT

This post is a little late and perhaps a bit early.  Just after posting about the Hemingway House and Museum in Key West, FL we watched the HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn on demand T.V.    And wow is the home accurately portrayed in the movie.  Remember the antelope head on the wall in my blog photo?  There it was on the living room wall in the movie.  And those enormous green shutters, and the cats?  All there.  The home came alive in the movie. When I visited the totally distracting actor / guide and crowds made that impossible.

Watching the movie I was sorry to see Ernest leave his wife Pauline in Key West to go off to the Spanish Civil War - no more views of the house!  Well perhaps that's not true.  We haven't yet finished the movie.  Maybe they'll go back to the Key West home at the end of the movie.  Better keep watching.