After seeing the familiar road I stayed on and realizing that, by chance, I was on one of the prime haunts of Key West, we moved to another block. Circling the street and passing one of the places I frequented when trying to get Lily to flush her insides, it was mentioned the old courthouse, jail, and gallows. I vaguely remember the story. It had something to do with the KKK and someone being hung. The person in question was pulled from their cell by members of the KKK, who were also local law enforcers, and hung at the gallows. He recognized them and placed a curse on them. Over the course of a few years, each died in mysterious ways. One of them was swept to sea by the early century hurricane and was never heard from again.
We moved on to the Hemmingway House that I did not bother to visit at all during my trip. In all the years that I have gone to Key West, I have never been inside the walls of the home. That being said, I also did not see any of the six-toed cats this trip. When we passed, they were not hanging outside. I’m not sure if it was because it was night and they were rounded up by the ghost of one of the cats that are reported to haunt there, or if they just don’t roam at night. This former residence of the famous writer is said to be haunted by his ex-wife and him. Not together, mind you, but at different times. For some reason, he did not interest me at all this trip. Guess I’m now officially a dog person and all the cats put me off.
As we headed to our next destination, someone yelled at us, “You are doomed!” And we replied, “—.” People seemed to have forgotten the response soon after we took off.
We stopped by the old lighthouse, as there is a new one built to replace the old very close to the old one’s location. Barbara Mabrity took over lighthouse duties after her husband, the former keeper, died from yellow fever. During the great hurricane of 1846, the old lighthouse was swept to sea and six of her children with it. This did not stop her from doing her job, as a new lighthouse was built, and she continued her duties until her death at age 82. It is said, at night, a light can be seen going up and down the 88 steps of the lighthouse and it is Barbara continuing her duties even in death.
On the way to our next destination, we passed the hotel I was supposed to stay at. I was not impressed. It would have been closer to the Southernmost point, but most of my destinations were on the other side of the island, so I lucked out by getting to stay in a haunted location on one of the most haunted streets in Key West, as well as the US.
The next place we passed, actually consisted of three different locations. It also seemed to be the one that gained the most reaction while we were on the trolley. I heard only part of the story as I was distracted by the people playing bocce in the middle of nowhere at night. It was a lit court and seemed very out of place. It also had children playing mixed with adults. As it was Key West, it was not surprising to see, anywhere else, I would have been shocked. Still, it was not what I expected. Speaking of children, the next story was about slave children brought over from Africa and freed to become refugees. This was such a sad story, but also hopeful as the Keys seemed to be one of the more tolerant areas of the country, then and now. The story, in general, can be read here, as I will not do it justice (https://www.fla-keys.com/news/article/8695/). I’m just impressed that we were able to take in 1400 people that were displaced from their country and build housing and feed them instead of being a bunch of xenophobic hate mongers like we are today in certain areas. It was nice to see we can all get along and be part of one human family, as I often saw stickers throughout Key West stating that. We should act like we are even now. I will mention that the memorial that stands there now is powerful to see at night. The African symbols on the posts were made with respect. The small outlines of the children were eerily marked on the ground where they lay reminding us of their hardships and how they did not survive it.
From there, we headed to the East Martello, where the highlight of the tour was located. I’ll be honest. I did not want to see him. I told my friend prior to going that I was not going in there. After discovering it was a part of the tour that included other information and I would miss that as well, I decided to go. I’ll admit, I’m a bit superstitious. I’m a fan of trying not to tempt fate. You never know what may or may not be real. I’m not a fan of the concept of ghosts and haunting because if they are real, and I am a fan of my privacy, something could potentially be watching me when I’m doing things no one else should see.
So, we disembarked and went to meet the spotlight of the evening. Lulu, our ghost hostess, and Rob, our driver, remained behind as we met another hostess (I did not get her name, and I regret that because, although she stayed in character, I spoke to her more than anyone else on the tour). She was gaunt, with makeup designed to thin her face even more. She wore pain clothes that looked masculine and covered her body, but they were oversized and baggy. She also wore a hat, giving her a shadow over what little of her eyes were visible. She warned us of what we were going to see and took us to a roll-up partition. She informed us of the rules. You see, the next sight had to be respected. We were meeting Robert the Doll. He needed to be greeted, politely. A photographer needed to ask his permission before taking a picture. As a final sign of respect, he needed to be thanked and seen off properly. After going on the other side of the partition, she rolled it up and presented us to Robert. She asked if we were all in and then told us about the people that did not follow the rules and how they sent letters that were on a looped video asking for his forgiveness. She pointed out their address so anyone there that didn’t follow the rules could write as well.
We all greeted Robert, politely, and were told more of his backstory. Again, I’m leaving details out so you should get them by visiting. There was a girl in our group that seemed about 14. She was so excited to see him. Said this was what she lived for and has been looking forward to all her life. I found that a bit odd, but I shouldn’t judge. She was not the first to take a picture though. Someone bravely pulled out their phone as they stood in front of his and asked Robert if she could take his picture. The fangirl had her father, a skeptic, take her picture from the side. I do not recall hearing her ask. Several people took selfies with Robert in the background. I stood off to the side with our ghost hostess and asked, “Do you recall hearing all of them ask permission?” I did not try to take a picture.
She responded, “We’ll get letters. We get at least one a day.”
The other point of note about Robert the Doll is that he was one of the influences on Chucky from the Child’s Play franchise.
We moved on to the other side of the room, where we were shown a very old-school hearse that was would be drawn by horse. We were told how funerals were celebrations and the wakes in Key West were very similar to New Orleans. We were also told they are still done like that today.
We moved to another room and I thanked Robert and said goodbye. Do not want to tempt fate. We saw gravestones that were from destroyed parts of the cemeteries. As there were several strong hurricanes in the past, the cemeteries got destroyed often. One of them took a large number of bodies out of the ground and no one knew who they were so mass graves were made and the old markers were no longer needed. We saw the coffin that once displayed Elena Milagro Hoyos Mesa for three days when she was shown to the public. We learned her story later.
We then moved out to the inside of the fort, as the East Martello was a fort back in the day. As we left, I said bye to Robert and thanked him again. Still no need to tempt fate. There were supposed sightings of soldiers that died of yellow fever in the courtyard and several locations were pointed out. We were told to take lots of pictures because apparitions could be seen in the photos. We stopped at one point and I decided to join in. I took a picture with no flash and another with. I then took a third, and there were people standing in front of me. I said I saw something and there were people showing in my picture. They laughed and moved out of my way. We then left to go back and passed Robert for the last time. I said goodbye and thanked him for the final time. I swear I do not want to tempt fate. I have enough bad luck. “If it weren’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.” We got back on the trolley and Lulu asked if people took pictures and were polite to Robert.
We headed back to the other side of the island and learned the story of Count Carl von Cosel. I had read of this guy in several books before I ever went to Key West. I did not realize this was the same person until the story unfolded. Georg Karl Tanzler was a German immigrant, who wanted to be known as Count Carl von Cosel when he came to Key West. He was a radiologist at a marine hospital when his story took a turn for the truly odd. He had visions earlier in life that he would meet a dark-haired beauty, and one day he did. Elena “Helen” Milagro Hoyos Mesa was a local Cuban-American who was brought to the hospital that Count Cosel worked at for treatment of tuberculosis. She was the one that was mentioned at the East Martello earlier. He professed his love to her and continued to give her gifts, all of which were declined, and his propositions were rejected. She eventually died of TB and he built a mausoleum for her in the Key West Cemetery. After she was placed in the mausoleum, he serenaded her and eventually took her home. As she decomposed, he kept putting her back together. He lived with her corpse for several years and even moved with her. He had a model airplane he built and kept her in there for some time. One day, her sister came over and she discovered that he was living with the remains. She called the authorities and he was arrested. He stood trial and was psychologically examined. They determined that he was sane and was let off because the statute of limitations for grave robbing passed. He eventually moved to another part of Florida, and after a couple of decades, died. His body was found with an effigy, which might have actually been what was left of “Helen.”
We then passed a large opened field with one headstone and a large tree. This was the Key West military burial ground. It did not contain all of the dead bodies that should have been there, as one of the hurricanes lifted more bodies from there, but this was the memorial for them. The tree that stood in the center was split in two by a bolt of lightning.
Circling back to a more inhabited area, we were informed of Haint blue. Houses in Key West were painted blue on the porches to ward off spirits. The color was like the blue of water and, as spirits cannot cross water, this protected the dwellers of the homes. It was pointed out; the back doors were not painted and that could be why some places were still home to restless spirits.
We passed the new cemetery but did not stop in. We were told we could go there on our own during daylight hours, as they were closed for the night. We then learned about sailors, hookers, and Red Door Inn. Not too different from today, Key West had its share of sailors that were long on money, but short on supplies. They would come to shore with their wallets full of cash and be looking for a good time. There were more fights in that general area than there was peace and because of this, the Red Door Inn provided weapons to the people going in. They gave them knives rather than taking them and there was at least a murder that occurred a night. When people were not getting killed, they would sleep with the women of the night and get robbed blind. The women would take the wallets, empty them, and dump them between the walls. It is rumored that the walls were lined with wallets if they were ever to be opened.
We passed by the Porter Mansion, which I do not recall the story to, on our way to the Shipwrecker Museum. On my last trip to Key West, I made it a point to visit the Ship Wreckers. It was as close to a pirate museum as they have in Key West. We disembarked the trolley again, and as I waited for the people next to me to get out of their seats, the kids in the seats behind me cut me off without a glance. I wanted to say something but was pleasantly surprised by the next group of young passengers that let me out after seeing what the first group did.
We entered the museum at Mallory Square and was presented with the tale of a suicide off the widow’s tower. The establishment was darkened and mainly blocked from us going anywhere but the main building, so we could not climb the town that night. I had done so the last time I was there, and it was an interesting view. It seems someone climbed the tower and committed suicide. They haunt the place yearly on the day. We were told of the one-year anniversary that brought the police out to investigate, but they did not find a living soul there. They had a flashing light that stopped flashing as I walked out after we had time to take pictures. I asked Lulu if the flashing was intentional, as the light might be broken. She said it was, so I informed her that it was broken as it stopped flashing and just became a light.
Finally, we went past Captain Tony’s, the original location of Sloppy Joe’s. There is a ghost that haunts the bar, as she was buried underneath the foundation. They also have a tree going through the center of the bar that used to be a hanging tree. Both have caused sightings of several haunts. Lulu mentioned that the women’s bathroom had a ghost in it that can be seen in the mirror. The story she told reminded me of Ashley’s in Rockledge, FL where a ghost could be seen in the women’s bathroom. If you are ever in Rockledge, I recommend going. I have been with people that think they saw things.
Once the tour was over, I slinked out of the way and headed back to the room as quickly as possible, darting in between people. As this was the first time I left Lily on her own, and I wasn’t sure how she would react, I was quite concerned. I came back to a quiet room with a sleeping pup. She did not soil her crate, as she had done in the past when left to her own devices. Everything was just as it should be. I took her out and for a walk, she didn’t do her thing, but that was fine as we moved on. We both fell asleep shortly after. I did not dream of dolls or ghosts. I did not have sightings but do recall there being noises through the night. Looking back, I wonder if it was a ghost. I can check my sleep monitor and see there were times in the middle of the nights I was there that I was much more restless than I should have been or even felt. There was still one more day of adventure to go before I headed back home to my own bed.