Happy birthday, Dad! I had the dates screwed up (you may have noticed I had them wrong on this blog) so I called to wish Dad a happy belated birthday two days ago. Oops!
Today we took a trolley bus on a guided tour around the island. It’s got quite a history. It was named by Ponce de Leon back in the 1500s. Since then, its been a military base, most notably, a Union base during the Civil War. Even though Key West is the southernmost city in the United States, it refused to secede from the union.
From 1918 to the 1970s it was the main submarine base for the US. In the early 1900s one of the partners of Standard Oil sold out and sunk $50 million into building a railroad to Key West, which was only accessible by boat at that point. This project included about 40 bridges. He wanted to take advantage of the opening of the Panama Canal and he hoped Key West would be the place where all those ships docked and unloaded their cargo. That railroad later became the basis for the road, now known as Highway 1.
President Truman spent 11 vacations in Key West during his presidency. In fact, we toured the “Little White House” today. I thought it was interesting that Truman had a shot of bourbon every morning with his orange juice—it was on his doctor’s orders. Also interesting is the fact that most of those vacations (all but four) were without his wife. She stayed in Washington because she thought her husband should have a “guys” vacation where he could drink and play poker without her comments. Truman insisted that everyone who traveled with him get rid of their suits as soon as they arrived on the island. They adopted Hawaiian shirts and khakis as their uniform and I think it was the origin for “loud shirts” contests.
Another favorite story involves the U.S. Border Patrol. Apparently, they set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Keys on Highway 1 (I think this was in the 1980s) and they searched every car—coming and going—for illegal aliens. It meant anyone trying to enter or leave the Keys had to wait in a four hour line and everyone had to carry proof of citizenship with them. This policy killed tourism in the Keys so they asked the Border Patrol to stop. The Border Patrol refused. So, over some cold beverages, the citizens of Key West considered their options. They decided the US government was treating the Keys like a foreign country. After all, the government had established a border, complete with document checks. So, Key West seceded from the union and named themselves the Conch Republic. Then they declared war on the United States. After a minute, they surrendered and applied for a $billion in foreign aid and $100,000 in war reparations. Of course, this was all done in front of the national press and it embarrassed the Border Patrol into changing its policies (especially since they didn’t find one illegal alien the entire time the policy was in place.)
Tomorrow we plan to visit Hemingway’s House. I’ll get some pictures posted tomorrow, too. I’ve been distracted and my heart hasn’t been in touring or taking pictures. I’ll remedy that tomorrow.