Unearthed in 1847, because a no-name (then) hurricane the year before destroyed the mortal remains, no doubt Key Westers realized the big dig needed to be above sea level. Like New Orleans.
Mosey on down because the southernmost city only has about 30,000 living residents (and once had President Harry Truman who erected the Little White House there) the Key West Cemetery is at see-level.
Above-ground vaults hold 20th century remains, some stacked four high and that goes for down below, too. The impossibility of a dead head count is not to be blamed on oldness alone but the large number of unmarked graves and lost records.
Resting side-by-side (not denied) are Bahamian mariners, Civil War veterans (both Union and Confederate), Spanish-American war veterans and people of all races, faces, classes and religions.
Famous residents are buried there, like Florida's first millionaire, William Curry, who was a poor Bahamian who came to make his fortune (and did by being a shipwreck salvager). You can stay in his mansion while you explore vaults with humorous epitaphs like "I told you I was sick."
You'll find a bronze statue of a sailor overlooking the graves of 27 sailors, marked by white marble markers who were killed in the 1898 sinking of the U.S. Maine battleship in Havana harbor. That was a major reason for the Spanish-American warfare.
The Toppino family, whose forebears built the Overseas Highway, has some famous Miami residents; I knew Paul and Edna Toppino and their beautiful children. An active member of Young Patronesses of the Opera, Edna was involved in every charity do, as is this generation's family members, like gorgeous Ramona Busot, whose husband is Aldo Busot, a major player in business and society.
The late Marjorie Maxwell, a dedicated member of charity society (who started her own fashion firm in Miami, was born in the Bahamas and bred in Key West) and a no-nonsense member of society. For years we ate at the Coral Gables Country Club brunch with Mary McGowan, and millionaire Dale Arkell, whose demise affected all of us.
When Marjorie switched us to John Martin's Miracle Mile restaurant, she would pick up Esther Atkins, widow of the famous Judge Atkins; Betty Alexander, widow of a doctor whose twin was Dr. Julius Alexander, who married the socially significant Selma Alexander; they lived on South Miami Avenue. She put out a society monthly until she ran out of steam.
Because Betty Alexander admired my writing, she asked me to do her obit with her help so her only daughter who lived in Jacksonville wouldn't have that "bother." I wrote my heartfelt paean of praise to Betty, which she enjoyed reading very much. (I didn't charge her.) Talked about her life events. When the death knell sounded, her daughter arrived and called me on the telephone.
"Do you know what Mom's obit costs? Nine hundred dollars!" I wrote what Betty wanted. Even though she was inheriting milllions, the daughter told me, "Cut it down to $200." I took the meat and potatoes out of that loving essay, leaving just the facts, ma'am.
Betty wanted for me to make a nice living writing obituaries for people who have no time to spend. It was Betty's idea to use her obit as a kick-off for a stream of income from those who don't have the time and feel helpless and lacking the ability to pen praise.