The island was first named Cayo Heuso, or island of bones, by the early Spanish explorers. They found it quite a mystery that the island had nothing but human remains scattered all about it upon their arrival.
No one to this day knows for sure how to explain the presence of so many remains, here, but some speculate it was once an indian burial ground, or that some great, yet unknown, historic regional battle took place here. Whatever the reason, what is known for sure, is that many have died upon this tiny, remote island; many the result of horrific circumstances, but all never allowed to rest in peace!
Key West was first settled in the early 1800's by pirates wanting to settle down, ship-wrecked victims along the reef lucky to have survived , and sick sailors routinely dropped off here to die. They were a tough, lawless lot, who came to make their living from the sea: mainly by pilaging shipwrecks (wrecking) and by fishing and shrimping. The inhabitants then, numbered roughly 300 and were mostly men.
As the island began to build up, the richest of the island inhabitants constructed grand victorian homes, many of which still stand today ~ an attempt at civility on a very uncivilized island!
Below is the home of Commodore Porter, a naval officer credited with ridding the Keys of pirates. The Commodore became a very wealthy resident of Key West, and at one time owned a sizable chunk of the island.
Since those early days, the residents of Key West continued to be stricken with tragedy and disaster. At least two major hurricanes have devastated the island: one in the 1800's and another in 1935. A great fire in the late 1800's practically leveled the town, while residents fled to the sea in boats for safety, and watched helplessly as many of their homes burned to the ground.
As if this was not enough, with each summer came another bout of the "Stranger's Disease." Each year, the island was ravaged by another bout of yellow fever, which claimed up to 50 lives each time, mostly children.
Below is the mansion of Dr. Joseph Yates Porter (kin to the Commodore), Florida's first Health Officer and local medical hero. The doctor was born, and died 80 years later in the same upstairs room in this home. He battled yellow fever over his entire career. Often he would place a dime on the eyes of patients who died of the disease under his care. Today, visitors staying at the mansion report finding dimes on the floor of the upstairs room, and often experience a sudden, unexplainable cold breeze through the room.
But, right across the street from the doctor's mansion is now the Bull and Whistle Bar, with the clothing optional Garden of Eden on its rooftop. Loud music blasts from the bars each day at all hours. Rowdy, rambunctious tourists frolic and party day and night, giving the spirit of the good doctor no rest!
Because it is said that spirits cannot travel over water, and with Key West being surrounded by water, it stands to reason that there would be an unusually high spirtual presence here. In fact, there is!
Key West is known to be the fourth most haunted place in the United States. Many spirits still roam in search of rest. Hauntings have continued to be recorded in many of the old Victorian homes on the island even to this day.
Many of these homes have become Bed and Breakfasts to accommmodate the huge tourist industry. The descendants of the early settlers still own the homes, but no longer live in them ~ after all, they are haunted! But, they don't mind letting you rent a room in them during your stay in Key West. It's a thriving industry, one which has come to replace the wealth once accumulated through "wrecking."
In fact, one such Bed and Breakfast ~ the Marerro House ~ reports so many hauntings, it encourages its guests to log them in a Guest Ghost Log Book!
The Artist House was once the home of artist Eugene Otto, and his possessed doll Robert. Robert doesn't live there anymore, but has now taken up residence in the East Martello Fort, today a museum.
Robert is known to be the single most possessed child's toy in America. He's been featured on MTV's Real World Key West, the Travel Channel, CBS News, and recently on the History Channel. His former home is also now a Bed and Breakfast.
The Curry House is another Bed and Breakfast that is still haunted by Noseby, the handyman servent of Ms Grace Kemp. Residents frequently find their room doors deadbolted from the inside when they leave to use the restroom.
The ghost of young Elvira Edmunds, hanged at the Hanging Tree at age 19 for hacking her husband and child to death with an axe, still haunts her gravesite and the place of death ~ Captain Tony's Saloon on Green Street!
Capt. Tony expanded his saloon to encompass the courtyard. He was going to cut the huge tree down when he learned that it was the island's Hanging Tree. He built around it to give his bar character.
In what is now the pool room, lay the remains of Elvira beneath a tombstone that few bar revelers ever notice as they trample upon it while guzzling beer and shooting pool. The apparition of a young girl in a blurry blue nightgown has frequently been seen, mostly by women visiting the Ladies Room.
At any given time, there are five times more spirits on Key West than tourists and residents. Many of these spirits have unfinished business and still roam the Island of Bones. Many are like the spirits of Dr. Joseph Porter and Elvira Edmund, disturbed by the non-stop pounding of guitars and drums, the drunken laughter of droves of tourists, the constant roar of motorcycles, scooters, taxis, and cars.
For now, there is no rest to be had by the spirits still roaming Key West. The party goes on. Few who visit this tiny tropical island will ever know its true history. While they peacefully sleep off hangovers in their comfy Bed and Breakfast beds, little will they know that they are not alone!