Vacationing in Key West Florida brings to mind warm sunshine, palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze, delicious seafood and a fun local atmosphere. But with a fascinating history dating back to Civil War times, and the reputation as one of America’s most haunted cities, there is another side of Key West unknown to many visitors. It’s the one that is best seen after dark, once the sun has set and the performers in Mallory Square have packed up for the night. Consider the Ghosts & Gravestones Tour the perfect family night, especially when you are vacationing with 3 teenagers! It’s recommended for kids 13 and up.
Taking a ghost tour has always been on my travel bucket list, so I was excited to find out we were visiting one of the top haunted cities in America during our recent vacation in Key West. Visitors will find numerous tours to choose from, but I think you will find that the Ghosts & Gravestones Tour provides the perfect mix of ghostly tales along with a dose of history and humor. Being in Key West in June, we really appreciated riding on a trolley versus walking, as even the nighttime temperatures can be rather steamy. Plus it allowed us to visit sites out of walking distance of the old town. So after watching another magnificent Key West sunset in Mallory Square, it was time for our big adventure.
It started with “Good Evening - You’re Doomed” as we hopped on the 9 p.m. trolley to begin our 90 minute tour through this history-filled island. Our guide was animated and filled with local lore, taking on the role of Private O’Brien, a Union soldier who was sent to Key West during the Civil War. Throughout our ride, he shared stories of tragic deaths and ghostly tales, pointing out residences, cemeteries and other establishments where many of the stories took place. Without giving too much away, I can say that over the years, and for many reasons, there were plenty of bodies buried on Key West!
At the beginning of our ride, Private O’Brien told us there would be several opportunities to explore on foot along the way. But first we drove through the old town, listening to stories and viewing establishments that played a part in the haunting history of Key West. When we reached East Martello Fort, built in the 1860’s and abandoned after the Civil War, it was time to leave the safety of our trolley and take our fears into the darkened fort.
Entering after hours, and knowing it was home to Robert the Doll was definitely a creepy experience. As we walked into the darkened building, each group was given an EMF (electromagnetic field detector) device that we could carry around with us. For my daughter, who enjoys watching Ghost Hunters on television, it was very cool to see the detector light up as we moved around the empty fort! We soon saw Robert, a large, handmade doll who was given to artist Gene Otto when he was a boy. Over the years, there were reports of the doll speaking, moving, changing facial expressions and doing other unexplainable things. I’m too superstitious to post pictures of Robert here, but if you are feeling brave, you can read more of his story and learn how he has been haunting Key West for many years. The tour also led us around the outside of the fort, where we were encouraged to take pictures and look for orbs (white balls of light that often appear in haunted places).
Once we were sufficiently spooked, it was time to jump back on our trolley to continue the tour. On the way back to old town, we heard tales of Count Karl Von Cosel and his deceased lover, along with eerie happenings at Captain Tony’s Saloon. The final stop was the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum, which houses artifacts and treasures from ships wrecked off the reef-filled coast. As we roamed around with our EMF device, you had to wonder, does the museum house more than treasure? Guess you’ll have to take the tour to find out!
Disclaimer: A special thanks to Historic Tours of America for hosting our family on the Ghosts & Gravestones Tour. However, all opinions are my own.