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.

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