Lily was curled in her crate and happy to be there. I had planned on leaving her behind and going the evening alone without her, but as soon as I got up, she started to whine. Whining leads to a small bark and then a loud one. Having no intentions of getting kicked out halfway through my stay, I took her with me.
We went to, what I thought was Mallory Square, but was actually the historic seaport, which is down the coast from Mallory. Most of the boats dock there for the day and sunset tours. I was told by my friend that called, to try the Conch Republic Seafood Company. It was actually on my agenda anyway. Lily and I headed through the wharf area, passing a few restaurants but not the one that I was aiming for. We also passed the brewery and shopping district I had passed through the last few times I was there on the conch train. The entire area looked familiar enough, but also confusing enough for me to not fully know where I was.
We passed through an opened area that could have been a cement park, as it was an opened aired space lacking any greens. From that vantage, we could see the restaurant clearly. Lily was walking on lead without complaint and I headed towards the many fixtures associated with the restaurant trying to find someone who worked there. They had two popup bars, an outside dining area, and interior seating. As I got to a place that looked bested suited to ask my typical question, “Are you pet-friendly?” I saw a sign that said NO PETS. Seeing that, I headed to another location without bothering to ask.
On the way in, I had passed the Schooner Warf Bar and was interested in going there. As I was distracted by the change in plans, and getting turned around in the back alleys, I was unable to find the destination I had as a second choice. After circling twice and seeing a man and his dog walk into the bar, Turtle Kraals, right in front of me, I figured, if he could do this, so can I. I sat in the last chair at the bar and made Lily sit. The bartender, Max, asked how I was and said he would be with me in a sec.
When Max returned, he informed me it was happy hour, showed me the menu, and commenced to compliment Lily. Initially, I wasn’t sure he saw her because she was under the bar and from his view, I didn’t think she was visible. Apparently, she was, and it was to my advantage. He raved about her through the course of the stay and we discussed my trip, but first, the drink order. I looked at the specials and asked for a beer recommendation. He brought me the list and I was not impressed. It was full of IPAs and I’m not a fan. I looked at the drink specials and was impressed but didn’t want something “girly.” Guy sitting alone at a bar in Key West with a fruity drink would not increase my prospects of meeting a woman. Not that I planned to, but I always get concerned. I am self-conscious after all.
After seeing all the rum options, I decided to go with the standard rum runner, but opted for a frozen one, as it was still too hot from what I was expecting. Max brought it out and asked about food. I have always been a fan of conch since my first trip to the Keys in the early 90s. Whenever I see conch fritters, I kind of feel obligated to get them. Seeing them on the menu, I knew they were in my future. I ordered them with the stipulating that if there were a red sauce, I would prefer to not have any sauce. Max informed me it was a lime mustard, so I was good with it. Eating conch, for those that do not know, is like a big, ass clam that is not as fishy tasting. When cooked properly, it is slightly chewy. My past experience when getting the fritters, when in other parts of the state, has been batter with very little meat. When the fritters from Turtle Kraals showed, and I bit into it, there was hardly any batter. The fritter was a half a fist of conch meat. The sauce that showed was more mustard than lime, with just a hint of the sour juice used to give it just enough flavor to call it an island condiment. Don’t get me wrong, I love lime (if you know me, you would have seen me drink lemonade all the time, and I like lime twice as much), but sometimes, a little is better than too much.
After the fritters arrived, and I had looked over the menu several times, I asked Max for some peel and eat shrimp, to which he retorted, “P&E?” It took me a second to realize what that meant. It was the local Key West pinks, so I was very interested in trying it. While waiting, Lily became the center of attention again. Between laying on the walkway and just looking like Lily, people either avoided her because they were afraid, or played with her. One person came by and asked about her and wolves and mentioned he knew someone that owned a wolf. I said it was a bit illegal and then he started getting a bit argumentative. I brought him down from his flustered state by discussing exotic animal permits and mentioned Michael Jackson. As soon as I mentioned MJ, he not only wanted to end the conversation but mentioned that he was in a class all by himself.
The other bar back asked if I put in an order for something else and mentioned Max did not put it in. That was fine, as I saw there was an item that included the shrimp and seemed more my style. They had an entire section on the menu for ceviche, but it usually had tomato in it, so I opted not to look at that selection, as tempted as I was. Max returned and I ordered the Best of the Bay, which consisted of shrimp, scallops, and lobster. It came with two sides, so I opted for corn with lime (I love my lime) and sweet plantains.
While waiting this time, a family came into the restaurant and sat at a table adjacent to me. Lily, being the ham that she was, wagged her tail as the young women came up to her. They asked if they could pet her and proceeded to tell me about their German Shepard. One was enamored with Lily a little more than usual and she let her climb all over her. At some point, I have realized, it was not worth getting Lily down when the person was happy about it. That was the case this time.
My food came out, and Max asked if I wanted another drink. This time I opted for a Goombay Smash. I called it a Goombah Smash and he quickly corrected me. It was another rum drink, a bit more rummy this time. The scallops were not anything of note, other than they were cooked perfectly. Good scallops just exist. The shrimp were sweet and grilled, and the lobster was great. Overall, there was nothing to say about the seafood, as it was exactly the way it should be. I can’t call it average because I have been to so many places that didn’t cook each item correctly, but there was nothing to make it stand out. I highly recommend it if going there, but again, nothing stood out other than it was cooked the way it should be. Nothing against Red Lobster, if that is your thing, but the two are miles apart. As for the corn, I did not taste the lime, and eating it while getting questioned and attention pulled because Lily was playing with the girls at the next table, made for a disappointing side. The plantains, on the other hand, were a refreshing change of pace between the seafood bites. Slightly crisp, but very sweet. When it comes to vegetables, opt for a fruit, And a plantain, when sweet and crispy, will top my list almost every time.
The meal was finished, as Lily started to get antsy again. I paid for the meal and drinks and said goodbye to the family at the table near me. The woman that Lily was climbing over, wanted to say bye to her, and Lily climbed over her again. After Lily said bye to her new friend, we headed back to the room instead of going to Mallory Square for the sunset celebration. I felt Lily being sick earlier in the day was probably chancing it and she needed to be alone later as I went on the ghost tour without her.
When we returned to the room, I fed her. Tried walking her and she didn’t do anything. We walked some more and still nothing. I crated her without issue and headed off to the tour. Alone. On my own. This was the first time I was by myself in Key West. For most people that is not a big deal, but I don’t do very many things on my own. I used to try very hard to pick people up rather than meeting at places, so I didn’t get to my destinations on my own. Within the last year and a half, it changed so I was meeting and usually waiting. I hate to wait. I have done activities on my own, but not often, and all in familiar locations. This was the first time it was just me, in the middle of a city that I was not completely familiar with. So, as I tend to do, I darted from the hotel to my destination, weaving between people to get there as soon as possible.
I was told to meet for the tour a half hour early. I got there a bit earlier than that. When I asked if they were ready to board, they said they lined up at a quarter to, and it was only half past. That gave me time to dwell. Dwelling is when I get anxious. I had plans on getting the decal for my car, indicating I was at the Southernmost Point and the tour trolley meets at a gift shop. I went in and started looking at anything that would grab my attention. I saw the book section. There were a few True Crime books centered on Key West and I wasn’t sure if I got them all for my sister on the trips I was there. I took a picture and sent them to her. She responded that I had gotten them all for her in the past and I could borrow them. I turned around and saw the car decals. I was torn between the Mile Marker 0 and one with the Southernmost Point. I found a third one that had both and a third icon on it and opted for that. Realizing I might want to put several decals of my travels on my car, I got the smallest one they offered.
Continuing my shopping, I found the Key Lime food section. They sold items I can find at home with a very few exceptions. The one I cared most about was Key Lime-infused honey. I had some from my last trip over two years earlier. I grabbed a bottle and continued to look around. Going to places like this often makes me feel like I’m in an upper scale flea market that is generally filled with cheap knock-offs. There really wasn’t anything that I needed or even wanted. Their pirate section was filled with cheap toys that I had no use for and their stuffed animal section was lacking anything I had interest in (meaning no sharks or rays, although both were at the aquarium).
After paying, I headed to the line that just started forming for the tour. I saw the ghost hostess giving instructions to the driver in the trolley I was going to eventually board. Walking up to the coffin-shaped podium, I handed my ticket to the ticket taker and was told to hold it as it would be taken later, but I should wear a sticker they gave me indicating I was with the group. I stood in line, the fifth one back, and listened to the conversation of the two couples in front of me. One was from Canada and said they usually go to Sarasota Beach this time of year, but it was too cold. They were also complaining that is was cold that night. Don’t get me wrong, it was a bit chilly, being in the mid-60s and dropping, but they were from CANADA! I was comfortable in the weather and when we did finally board and the tour started, the hostess, Lulu, asked if we wanted the windows up or down because of the temp. I was perfectly happy with the way it was and hoped no one in my general area asked for the window to be put down. Luckily, no one did.
As I was waiting to board, I took a snap of the station I was at. It had “World Famous Conch Tour Train Depot” on it. Being a fan of Shel Silverstein, and thinking my sister was as much as I was as well, I sent her a picture. She didn’t get it. Shel used to live in Key West and did so until he passed. He knew how to point out the absurdity in life and he made no exception to that which was around him in Key West. He wrote a song about the Conch Train and shrimper Sam, Key West Jessie James, called The Great Conch Train Robbery (1979). Although the song was written in the late 70s, it could have been written when I was there. I highly recommend listening. It describes Key West accurately and every time I go to that depot, I think of that song and Shel. I had intended to ride that train on this visit but am glad I didn’t. I had other experiences instead.
I boarded the trolley, as my ticket was taken, and sat in the middle of the vehicle. This was my first ghost tour in America. I say that because I figure my entire trip to Romania was a ghost tour. We were introduced to Lulu, a medium and ghost from the 20s, and Rob, the driver. We were told that we would be safe on our trip, on the Trolley of the Doomed, after Lulu cast a spell of protection and ran her bell. She reminded me of Madam Leota from the Haunted Mansion, on in the respect that we would see regions beyond by ringing a bell. Before departing, we were told people from outside the trolley would call us doomed and we were to respond, “We are doomed!” We were also told safety instructions. As Lulu started to tell us what we needed to do in case of emergency, a truck pulled next to us in the street and was playing music very loud and revved his engine. I assume he because the large truck was only missing the color red to be the biggest overcompensation tag, I have seen in some time. None of the people on the trolley near me heard the instructions. Luckily, we didn’t need them, or surely, we would be doomed.
As we started on the tour, I didn’t pay too much attention to the stories, but rather looked at the island and realized I was at Mallory Square, on the other side of the same coast from where I was earlier that evening. Now I knew where I needed to go if I were to do the sunset celebration.
As a service to the people that run the ghost tour, I will only mention the stories in passing and am intentionally leaving out details so when you go to Key West, you take the tour yourself. I was impressed and entertained and feel others will be as well.
It was mentioned that there were four types of ghosts. It was also mentioned that two of the three things that keep ghosts in a place where salt and water. As Key West was surrounded by salt water, the spirits never leave. That helps make Key West one of the top five haunted cities in America. The first place of interest was the Audubon House. Originally called the Geiger house, because Captain John H. Geiger lived there. He was a wrecker of renown and was also a pirate. From the top floor, it is said, his ghost could be seen searching for his next wreck to salvage.
We then went past Martero’s Mansion. It was owned by famous cigar maker Francisco Marrero and his love Enriquetta. When Francisco died, on a business trip, his first wife came to claim the house. As they were never officially divorced she got the house and kicked Enriquetta and their eight children out. They were homeless and starved to death, but being a Cuban practitioner of Santeria, she cursed the house first saying she would never leave. It is said she and the children can be seen in several of the rooms.
On my walks with Lily, down the block from where I stayed, was the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery. John William Charles Fleming, one of the original owners of Key West, was buried underneath the church at the request of his wife. She gave the land to the church, as long as his remains were never moved. He is still there to this day.
Since this was the street I stayed on, I was most interested. We continued up Eaton and stopped in front of the Old Manor House, where I was staying. Across the street and two buildings away, Lulu pointed out the Artist House. It was home to Robert “Gene” Otto. Robert had a nurse as a child and she pissed off Robert’s mother pretty bad. She fired her, but before leaving, the nurse gave Robert a gift of a life-sized doll. Robert named the doll, Robert, while the child started going by the name Gene instead. Whenever something went wrong, Gene would say, “Robert did it.” When I heard this story years ago, it reminded me of Family Circus and “Not Me”. This was a little odder. Items would move on their own. Things would fall. Laughter came from nowhere. All of these were given the same response, “Robert did it!” Gene grew up, his parents died, and he got the house. He made it a studio and was a professional artist but was still attached to his doll. The doll continued to cause issues and after Gene died, the new owners of the house inherited the doll and the troubles. Eventually, the doll was taken from the house and placed in another location I visited later in the evening.
So, while I was staying at the Old Manor House, I didn’t realize that it too was haunted. The house was not part of the tour, but while I was fact checking, mainly for spelling purposes, I discovered that my residence is listed in several haunted sites. Guess any of the odd sounds I heard, I just attributed to Lily.
There were fourteen more stops we made that evening. I will mention them in the next post.