Key West is home to many ghosts. Key Westers take the ghostly viewings amusingly but seriously.

One of the ghost stories involves the Gato House aka Casa Gato. Located at 1209 Virginia Street. People residing there.

What follows is my installment 12 derived based on a Key West Rotary history.

The Gato House ghost story begins for our purposes with the Key West Rotary luncheon June 2, 1932. The Rotary and Ladies of St. Paul’s Church were involved with the luncheon. The proceeds were donated to the Mercedes Hospital. The Mercedes hospital today the Gato House located at 1209 Virginia Street.

The Gato House was built by one of Key West’s early leading citizens. Eduardo H. Gato. A Cuban immigrant who made his fortune in the cigar business.

He built his Key West home at an end of the island facing the ocean. He purchased the lot in 1887.  Construction was completed in 1890. He brought carpenters from Cuba to build the house.

In 1911, Gato permitted a philanthropic group of Cuban residents to use the building as a hospital for indigents. Gato and his family no longer resided in the house.

Gato had one request. He wanted the hospital named in honor of his wife Mercedes. So done. The hospital was named Casa de la Pobre Mercedes Hospital. Referred to as Mercedes Hospital.

In 1919, Gato sold the property to the City of Key West. He retained title to the building itself. The property sold to the City later became Bayview Park.

The building was still being operated as the Mercedes Hospital. It was moved to its present location at 1209 Virginia Street. Same name, different address.

The Mercedes Hospital was run most of its years by Maria Valdez de Gustens. Addressed as Mother Gustens. Described by all as an angel and saint.

The Mercedes Hospital continued till some time around the beginning of World War II when it closed.

The former Mercedes Hospital  in due course became an apartment house. Commonly referred to as the Gato House. In the interim between being the Mercedes Hospital and an apartment house, the building was empty, windows broken. The rear of building became a popular place for cockfights to be held.

Since becoming an apartment house, it has acquired an additional description. A ghost house.

Jan Stefano was residing in one of the apartments. Night time. She was in bed sleeping with her boy friend. She felt someone touching her wrist. She woke immediately.

She observed a short stout woman at her bedside. Her hair in a bun. Wearing a gray dress with long sleeves and a high collar. Standing next to the woman was a man. The woman appeared to be in charge. Stefano thought the woman was taking her pulse. When she turned to wake her boyfriend, the ghosts disappeared.

Whether the ghosts have been sighted since, I have not been able to ascertain.

Most Conchs and long time Key Westers believe the event occurred and that Mother Gustens walks the house looking after its occupants.

My yesterday…..

Lazy. Some research and writing. Sloan back from Europe. We worked together in the afternoon.

The evening spent at Berlin’s with Liz. An enjoyable and interesting companion.

Bria her usual beautiful self.

I am still dieting. It will be one week tomorrow morning. No cheating yet. Ordered a 2 pound Maine lobster boiled. No vegetables. Only the lobster.

No drinking, either. It was water for me.

I had checked a calorie counter before going out for dinner. A 2 pound lobster has negligible calories.

One problem. I was hungry after consuming the lobster. Most of the 2 pounds is in the shell.

Berlin’s packed. Really packed. Waiting for tables inside A&B Lobster House. Monied people. Otherwise, they would not be able to afford the boats they race and the crews required to maintain them.

Today is the last day of the Powerboatboat races. If you have not seen, go! An experience!

This morning’s Key West Citizen listed voting figures. One impressed me. Monroe County consists  primarily of the Keys. 79.9 percent of registered voters cast ballots. A big number! Upstate New York my home for 70 years. Never anything near that percentage voted.

Syracuse beat yesterday by North Carolina State. 35-20. Not an excuse. Our star quarterback Eric Dungey could not play because of injuries. I suspect Syracuse would have won if he had.

The balance of the season does not look good. Even if Dungey is able to play. Our last two opponents are Florida State and Pittsburgh.

Next Sunday is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Several Key West transgenders died this past year. Some suicides. The reason the day is one of remembrance.

Enjoy your Sunday!



8 comments on “GATO HOUSE GHOSTS

  1. I haven’t found which candidate took the majority throughout the Keys and what percentage of each party voted. I have a suspicion though.

    • Patrick,does this confirm or conflict with your suspicions? From Gwen Filosa’s reportage in The Keynoter newspaper:

      “With a 79 percent voter turnout in Tuesday’s presidential election, Monroe County turned red for Donald J. Trump over Hillary Clinton with 54 percent backing the Republican nominee.

      Florida hasn’t gone to the GOP ticket since George W. Bush snapped up its electoral votes in 2004 by winning 52 percent of the vote over Democrat John Kerry.

      In the Keys, only Key West united to vote for Clinton/Kaine. The Democrats easily won each of the city’s 10 precincts with more than 53 percent of the vote. In the historic black neighborhood of Bahama Village, 79 percent went to Clinton over Trump.

      But north of Mile Marker 5 was Trump country, helping him collect 21,885 votes over Clinton’s 18,949. In Monroe, 42,932 of 54,749 registered voters took part in the presidential election.

      Overall, 43,310 voters cast ballots with more than half doing so before Nov. 8.”

    • Hello Key West Lou, are you from Syracuse, NY? I too grew up in Syracuse, now live in Boston and I’m writing a book about my time of living in Key West during the early 80’s. I just read your Ghost article on the Gato House, where I resided for awhile and became familiar with its ghost and related activity. I visit Key West periodically and would enjoy meeting you sometime to swap stories.

      • My home town Utica. Attended Syracuse Law School and spent much time involved with University activities in my adult years. Especially sports. I had a box at the Carrier Dome. I would enjoy meeting with you when you next visit Key West. A book about Key West in the 1980’s. Interesting! Formative years for the Key West of today.

  2. Louis, I saw a ghost once in my grandma’s house. And when my mom was dying in the hospital, all of a sudden she pointed to the ceiling and said “See those cobwebs”. The nurse told me that meant something related to death coming soon when patients see cobwebs. She died 2 days later.

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