I long ago realized that no matter how much I have learned about Key West, there is always more. Yesterday, a new discovery!
Captain Tony’s was once a morgue. In fact, bodies may still be lying around under and in the walls of the building. For real!
The building was erected in 1851. It was an ice house and the Key West City morgue. Makes sense that in that time a morgue would be located as part of or very near an ice house.
There is a tree inside Captain Tony’s known as the hanging tree. So named because executions took place by hanging from the tree. I am not certain, but probably because the tree was located within steps of the morgue. Seventy five people were hung from the tree.
Ice found its way to the building from New York City. Sailboats loaded with bananas would travel to New York. The return trip found the boats loaded with ice for Key West. The ice had been removed from frozen lakes north of the City.
Key West got hit with a pretty bad hurricane in 1865. Corpses stored at the morgue went flying. All over Key West and the ocean. Only one body was returned. It is claimed that body lies buried in the pool room area of present day Captain Tony’s. The body was buried with bottles of holy water which were built into the wall.
At some point in time, a new foundation was being layed. The bodies of 16 pirates and one woman were found. How they were determined to to be the remains of pirates, I do not know. It is claimed the woman resides in the building to this day. She is a ghost. Generally remains in the ladies room. She has occasionally been seen floating around the bar area.
Sometime in the 1980s, repair work was being done. The old plywood flooring was ripped up. The skeletal remains of 8-15 people were discovered. Plus a grave marker with the name Elvira on it.
Hanging behind the bar today are the skeletal remains of a body. The bones are very aged. Brown in color. It is assumed the skeleton was one of those found during the 1980s renovation work. The grave marker is now incorporated into and exposed in cement in the room where the pool tables are located.
The number of bodies discovered over the years amazes me. I always thought a morgue was an in and out place. Apparently the morgue staff was burying the bodies within and around the building itself.
Over the years, the ice house and morgue went. Other businesses moved it. The present day Captain Tony’s was home to a wireless telegraph office, a cigar factory, a house of ill repute that also provided gambling and bootleg rum. Sloppy Joe’s Joe began operating his first bar out of the building in the 1930s. During the time he and Hemingway were friends. In 1958, Captain Tony bought the building and opened Captain Tony’s Saloon.
For additional and perhaps more accurate information, I suggest you take a Ghost Tour. Captain Tony’s is one of the stops.
I became aware of what is contained herein yesterday for the first time. I was researching something else involving Key West on the internet and found some information which led me to the morgue story.
To verify my findings, I went to Captain Tony’s last night. I occasionally stop. Never paid attention to bodies or anything of that nature.
I saw the skeleton behind the bar for the first time. I probably saw it before, but it never registered. I walked the pool room looking for the Elvira grave marker and the place where one of the hurricane bodies was buried. I found neither. I looked through the room next to the pool room. Nothing. The ladies room was off limits so I could not check for the ghost.
I wanted to ask a bartender about the things I could not find.. However, the place was packed and I was lucky to even get a drink. Another time.
Enjoy your day!
Key West certainly has its share of bizarre history. I’ve always heard 68 people were hung in that tree, but, who really knows. Its rumored because of its history and the burials that it can never be cut down. I always liked Tony and it was a sad day when passed, he led quite a life. Why not tell the story of what happened there in 1937 or of the Grouper.