What happens in Key West…by Cate Masters
Ever wonder who thought up the slogan, What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas? I think it originated long ago, in mid-1800s Key West. But the tiny island didn’t need marketing geniuses to bring visitors. Ships wrecking along the reef brought enough. Some people came to Key West by choice. Like Sam Langhorne, the protagonist in my historical romance, Angels, Sinners and Madmen, soon to be released by Freya’s Bower. He longed for the carefree and reckless lifestyle of the wreckers.
What? You’ve never heard of a wrecker? Neither had I, until our family vacationed at Key West in 2003. While visiting a maritime museum, I not only learned the history of the wreckers but became so fascinated with them, I spent the next few days in the Key West library, visiting another wrecker museum and buying up as many local books as I could. I didn’t even mind that my family was out parasailing and snorkeling without me. Finding those articles, letters and wrecker documents, I felt like a pirate unearthing buried treasure! Arrrrr!! (Cough). Sorry, I get carried away sometimes.
Hare are ten little-known facts about wreckers:
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.
History’s ingrained in the streets of Key West. Walking down Duval Street, I could almost imagine myself walking in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, John James Audubon, Tennessee Williams or U.S. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Carter and Kennedy who’d stayed there. Not to mention Jimmy Buffet, whose Margaritaville restaurant we had to try. (To tell the truth, I’ve had better margaritas elsewhere!)
Though there’s not much of a beach at Key West, the crystal aquamarine ocean surrounding the island is perfect for snorkeling, sailing in a glass-bottom boat and other water sports. While we were there, the temperature of our hotel’s pool water rose to 105 degrees. Not exactly refreshing! The hotel brought in three tons of ice to cool it, but that only lasted a few hours.
The Key West night life is still pretty wild, with many clubs having “rear” entrances. I think it’s safe to say the slogan applies: What happens in Key West, stays in Key West.
Contest Rules: Must be 18 to enter - No Purchase Necessary
Contest Ends: 11/16/2009