By their very nature and by intentional design, cemeteries are a place for quiet reflection. The larger ones especially allow you to lose the ambient noises of living people and walk quietly among rows of bones and stone.
Most cemeteries are visually appealing as well. Ornate and expensive marble and granite monuments bear solemn testimony to the deceased. The newer areas of most cemeteries still taking arrivals lack these old world monuments; if you die today most likely you'll get a plaque set in the ground with a small cup for flower stems. It makes these cemeteries easier to mow I guess, but it sure strips some of the visual appeal off of these places.
None of this is true for the one cemetery in Key West.
You can't walk six steps in Key West without being reminded that Ernest Hemingway spent a good deal of the 1930's there. It's blatant commercialization of a writer who gets a little bit too much praise in my opinion, and you simply can't miss it. If you're standing on a street corner, some local trying to sell you a shell necklace will probably walk up and remind you Hemingway once stood there too, sometime he's sure, for whatever reason you might need to know that.
Anyway, being the good obvious tourist that I can be when I visit certain places, I made a point to tour the Hemingway house. Somewhere on the property I came across something Hemingway had once said or written. I can't remember it exactly, and I can't find this quote on the internet, so I'll paraphrase it for you.
I'd rather eat monkey poop than die in Key West. I'm pretty sure that is a direct quote but I can't be certain.
I thought this was funny because I happened to be staying in a house directly across the street from the town cemetery.
If you've never been way, way down south (New Orleans certainly counts in this conversation), the idea of being buried above ground might seem a little odd. The reality of a high water table dictates this though, so a lot of cemeteries very close to the ocean are actually exposed warehouses of concrete and pitted rock. The Key West Cemetery is all this and then some.
The cemetery is a landmark of sorts. It covers approximately 20 acres and is the final resting place to anywhere from 60,000-100,000 souls. Inside its gates is a memorial to sailors killed in the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine, at least three vaults for beloved family pets and a grave for a man who fought in the War of 1812.
But the appearance of the place leaves something to be desired. Well, a lot to be desired.
For one thing, the last time anyone actually cared about the upkeep of the crypts appeared to occur sometime during the Eisenhower Administration. Gravestones are toppled over, knocked askew or broken apart in a disturbing pattern. Some of them are sinking into the ground, and about every other gravestone is unreadable, the elements having washed away all trace of the interred.
The place has the non-lethal charm of a third world country on a good day. Roosters crow restlessly in the numerous clusters of palm trees, the heat is oppressive and every once in a while a plane on final approach to the island's airport comes screaming directly overhead. Tours are given, and loitering is encouraged during daylight hours.
Most people seem to avoid the place altogether, and I don't blame them. Superficial glances through the gates gives one a nice impression, but a closer inspection reveals a place less than inviting and in fact downright hostile on a certain, vague level.
I didn't want to stay for more than half an hour. I couldn't imagine never leaving.
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