National Geographic : 1950 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine Miami, an astonishing volume comes in and out by air (page 47). One Sunday I saw eight big freight planes glide in from the Isle of Pines, loaded with cucumbers. Back to Cuba they take live chickens, drugs, radios, dry goods, machinery, and occasionally cattle. Passenger planes of Cuban-owned Aerovias Q shuttle crowds of passengers daily between here and Habana, and National Airlines con nects with Miami. When aurora borealis cracks his frosty whip in northern skies sun hunters swarm down here to get tanned and hear the coconuts falling. Along swanky beach resorts retired Army and Navy officers build cosy winter homes with terraces overlooking the sea, from whence they watch the submarines at play. "Hardest job here," they say, "is trying to get a conch out of its shell. . . .That's why Key Westers are called 'Conchs'-it's so hard to get them off this island. Many have never been off it." But not all old families came as wreckers, or retired from the Navy and settled here and married Key West girls. New England sent its quota; so did Georgia and Mississippi, especially in early days when coastal sailing ships traded here. The Spottswood family, for example, has lived here six generations. At 322 Duval Street Mrs. Stephen William Douglass lives in what may be Key West's oldest house. It is one of six similar wooden houses built in New England in 1825 and shipped down here on a naval vessel. Mrs. Douglass's grandfather was a sea captain who bought one of these houses. One of his daughters, unmarried, lived in this house 82 years. In its rear is a detached kitchen, with a great oven, where once slave cooks presided. The "Winter White House" Every visitor wants to see President Harry S. Truman's "winter White House." His choice of this modest but satisfying spot for spending his cold-weather vacations pleased but did not astonish complacent Key Westers (page 61). This new part-time White House is a ram bling wooden structure inside the high wire fence that surrounds the Naval Station. If anyone wants to know first just what kind of fish he may catch, he can go to Key West's very good aquarium and see for himself. They're all there, along with a motley company of other wriggling, cold-eyed creatures too canny looking to be fooled by any colored feather or the whirling glitter of a nickel spoon (page 70). Navy took cameraman Roberts and me on the rescue vessel Chanticleer (page 51) for a trip to the Dry Tortugas, that group of flat islands 70 miles west of Key West. Ponce de Le6n passed this way in 1513 on his cruise around the Florida peninsula. Because of its strategic spot in the Gulf, Uncle Sam began in 1846 to build on Garden Key, in the Dry Tortugas, a mammoth hex agonal casemented fortification named Fort Jefferson.* Though 243 big guns were mounted, not one of them was ever fired in anger (pages 52, 53, and 71). In the Civil War the Federals used this as a military prison; many died of yellow fever. Noted among the inmates was Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who was wrongly charged with complicity in the assassination of President Lincoln. With consummate courage Dr. Mudd fought the fever epidemic and saved many lives. Finally he was pardoned and returned to his Maryland farm. In 1898 the Navy based here in the war with Spain, and from here the Maine sailed to that catastrophe in Habana harbor. Now Fort Jefferson is a National Monument, but few visitors ever see it, since there is no regular communication with Key West. All food except fish, and even fresh water, must be hauled out from Key West. Here is stationed an "official historian," though nothing has happened here to make history since the Maine sailed away in 1898. Time Out for Fishing and Diving Roberts and I took time out to wet a fish line. As long as fish kept their weight down, I got by. But when I hooked a 48-pound amberjack, which fought me for an hour, play turned to work. From the engine room the skipper, in mock kindness, brought a bunch of waste and wiped my perspiring brow. Roberts seemed to think that very funny! But his turn came. On the way back to the ship, divers on our small boat rigged him out with mask, air hose, life line, and spear, and said "Go down and kill one." In deep, clear water near an old wreck I watched. It was plain that taking pictures is one art, and fish spearing another. Roberts belched up air bubbles big as pumpkins, then dropped his spear and shinnied up that life line like a monkey on a grapevine. He claimed he got cold! * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPIC MAGAZINE: "Blizzard of Birds: The Tortugas Terns," by Alex ander Sprunt. Jr., February, 1947; and "Life on a Coral Reef (Dry Tortugas)," by W. H. Longley, Jan uary, 1927.