The Key West Cemetery is a popular place to stroll, read headstones, and immerse yourself in Key West’s storied history. The gravestones in the 19-acre plot represent Key West’s dynamic and diverse stories. As you stroll, you’ll find the graves of Bahamian privateers, Cuban revolutionaries, heroes, villains, and even pets.
Key West Cemetery History
While it might seem irreverent to some, the Key West Cemetery is a popular tourist stop. Visitors can read cheeky headstones, find historic graves, and enjoy a different pace by strolling through the cemetery. There are 100,000 graves in the cemetery, while Key West’s living population is around 30,000 souls.
Key West Cemetery was founded in 1847 after a hurricane damaged the previous cemetery. Due to the high water table, many of cemetery’s graves are above ground. Many graves were relocated to the newer cemetery, so some headstones have dates from between 1829 and 1843.
Key West Cemetery Famous Headstones
Key West Cemetery is known for its memorable headstones with unusual and unexpected epitaphs.
One popular gravestone references Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
B.P. Roberts was a well-known hypochondriac. Her gravestone reads, “I told you I was sick.”
Other memorable inscriptions include “I always dreamed of a small place in Key West,” “If you’re reading this, you desperately need a hobby,” “I’m just resting my eyes,” and “Jesus Christ, these people are horrible.”
Along with fascinating headstone inscriptions, the cemetery has interesting memorial sculptures.
Is Anyone Famous Buried in the Key West cemetery?
Key West Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous citizens. For example, visitors can find the grave of “Sloppy” Joe Russell, the famous Key West fishing guide and bar owner known for his friendship with Ernest Hemingway.
The cemetery also has a section of graves for those who died during the 1868 Cuban Revolution. There’s also a memorial section for Battleship Maine. The USS Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor in 1898, killing 260 American sailors. Two dozen of the sailors are buried in Key West Cemetery. There’s also an area for Confederate sailors’ graves from the US Civil War.
Another grave memorializes Thomas Romer, who was born in Nassau in 1783. He was a privateer during the War of 1812 and died at the age of 108. His gravestone indicates that he was a good citizen for 65 of his 108 years.
Twisted Tales From the Key West Cemetery
After Elena Milagro Hoyos died and was buried in the cemetery, her husband, Count Carl Von Cosel, dug up her body and preserved it. He put makeup on the corpse, dressed the body in her wedding dress, and kept the corpse in his bed for seven years. When Elena’s family found out, they were horrified and had her body re-buried in a secret location.
Key West Cemetery Intrigue and Statues
There are many statues and interesting grave markers in the cemetery. Visitors will see the expected markers, such as sweet cherubs and markers with stories to tell.
Piedad de Ayala was afraid of drowning. So when she died, her family had her crypt tilted to ensure rainwater drained away from the grave.
The grave of Gladys Bates is decorated with an impressively carved angel. Other interesting graves include the grave of a pet Key Deer named Elfina, marked with a statue of the Key Deer. There are also graves for three Yorkshire Terriers marked with statues of the beloved pets.
The Key West Cemetery’s Bound Woman
One of the gravesites is decorated not with an angelic cherub or religious cross but with a small, nude woman whose hands are tied behind her back. While many Key West residents have naturally been curious about this marker, no one has ever discovered the story behind this unusual grave sculpture.
How to Explore Key West Cemetery
The cemetery is an intriguing place to stroll through. A self-guided tour offers a glimpse of Key West’s unique, colorful, and dramatic history.
Key West Cemetery is located in Old Town’s center and is an easy walk, bike ride, or drive from most hotels. The cemetery is open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm in the summer, and 7:00 am to 6:00 pm in the winter.
The cemetery has several entrances, but Angela Street and Passover Lane entrance has an office with free walking tour guides. You can also arrange guided tours. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Call 305-809-3986 for information or after-hours appointments.