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Monday, March 18, 2013

Slave Trade Remembered at African Cemetery in Key West

Viva Florida 500: Slave Trade Remembered at African Cemetery in Key West

March 18th, 2013

image-african cemetery key west with water by corey malcom
African Cemetery Memorial
For such a small island, Key West has been a part of many pivotal moments in American history, including the end of the Transatlantic slave trade in 1808. Since the island was so close to Cuba and its sugar plantations, Navy warships were positioned nearby and intercepted three slave ships in 1860. They rescued 1,432 Africans, who were being transported in deplorable conditions, and brought them to Key West. The 3,000 citizens of the island were so appalled at the inhumane treatment of the human cargo, many of whom were children, that they worked together to build housing, donate clothing and provide food and medical attention.
Despite the town’s best efforts, 295 of the Africans died, and a cemetery was established for them on a sand ridge along the southern shore of the island. The location of the cemetery soon became lost to time, only to be rediscovered by a team of archaeologists from the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society in 2002. A memorial has now been created marking the African Cemetery on Higgs Beach, and the city plans to redevelop the area to further preserve the graves with a dedicated green space. At 4:00 p.m. on March 24, visit the cemetery for a ceremony to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
This event is part of Visit Florida's Viva 500 commemoration, honoring the anniversary of Ponce de Leon's landing in Florida. Find more events around Florida at Florida Travel + Life's events calendar.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Key Largo Plays Host to Bogart Film Fest

Key Largo plays host to Bogart Film Fest

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L'Attitudes Contributor

Posted - Friday, March 08, 2013 11:01 AM EST

Key Largo plays host to Bogart Film Fest

The 'African Queen,' released in 1951, starred Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. The original vessel used in that film has been restored and now carries passengers from a dock at the Key Largo Holiday Inn.
When the movie "Key Largo" first hit theaters in 1948, the Bogie-Bacall classic drew an influx of visitors to the namesake island. Sixty-five years later, the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce and the Bogart Family Estate hope to repeat history with the first annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival Thursday, May 2 through Sunday, May 5.

Hosted by Stephen Humphrey Bogart, the son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, the festival will feature a cocktail party, 38 film screenings, workshops with movie professionals, a memorabilia exhibit, rides on the original African Queen and the formal Bogart Ball.
Well-known film critic, Leonard Maltin, will appear as a special guest.
While the idea of a Bogart-themed event has been explored in the past by the Key Largo Chamber, licensing issues proved to be a challenge. Two years ago, the possibility was revisited--this time as a film festival. Local attorney and chamber board member, Russ Yagel, offered to reach out again to the Bogart Family Estate. Partnering with the estate, the chamber created a joint entity, Bogart Film Festival LLC, to produce the event.
"Truly what changed was the dynamics of the individuals representing the estate," Yagel said. "There's an organic connection between the film Key Largo and the island. When you throw the African Queen into the mix, it makes Key Largo a pretty good place to have a Bogart film festival."
Bogart agreed that timing was a huge factor in getting the festival off the ground. "The sun and the stars just kind of came together," he said. "The chamber was in a position to really come on board and be involved, and Key Largo is the obvious place because of my mother and father's movie."
He added that social media activity--35,500 followers on Twitter and 222,800 likes on Facebook--showed that fans around the world were still passionate about the film icon.
The festival opens on Thursday, May 2 with a cocktail reception and an outdoor screening of Key Largo at the bayfront Murray Nelson Center. Bogart and Maltin will be on hand for the opening remarks.
"Stephen and Leonard couldn't be more supportive," said Craig Cope, president of the Key Largo Chamber. "Stephen wants to maintain the legacy of his father and introduce that to new generations. Leonard has a personal connection and is a fan of Bogart's movies."
Bogart said that he looks forward to giving the events a personal touch, introducing films and participating in question-and-answer sessions with the fans.
"I enjoy meeting the people," he said. "I'm doing an autograph signing on Saturday (May 4), and people bring all sorts of stuff. It's kind of neat to see what they have."
More outdoor screenings are scheduled throughout the weekend at the Murray Nelson Center and Founders Amphitheater in Islamorada. Event coordinator Suzanne Holmquist said that the Bogart Family Estate pushed for the outdoor screenings in order to highlight the tropical beauty that makes Key Largo a unique destination.
"You can go to film festivals anywhere, but what's so special about Key Largo is our beautiful scenery and water," Holmquist said.
Other venues for screenings include B&B Theaters Tavernier Cinema 5, Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo Bay Marriot Beach Resort and Hilton Key Largo Resort.
The overall festival theme is film noir, a genre in which Bogart excelled during Hollywood's classic film noir period of the 1940s and 1950s. Movie screenings will include 10 Bogart films and 10 other iconic films within the genre. Maltin will give a presentation at the festival's signature event, the Bogart Ball, on the actor's trademark persona-the hard-boiled cynic with a noble side.
A Casablanca-themed formal event, the ball will be on Saturday, May 4, at the Hilton Key Largo Resort, overlooking Florida Bay. The evening will start with a red carpet cocktail reception in a casino setting, followed by a Moroccan-themed dinner and dancing.
In 1951, Bogart gave an Oscar-winning performance as the captain of a steamer called the African Queen. The boat was recently restored, and festivalgoers will be able to book trips on it throughout the weekend at the Holiday Inn. This will also be the festival headquarters and site of a free Bogie memorabilia exhibit.
Yagel said that so far people from 26 states and five different countries have purchased tickets to the festival. He added that they anticipate attracting an affluent crowd that has a taste for the classics.
Cope noted tickets to the larger events like the kick-off reception and the Bogart Ball were already selling very quickly.
"Outdoor events are also very popular," he added. "They start at 9 p.m. when it's nice and cool. They offer that kind of drive-in theater experience many people like me had growing up. Enjoying these movie classics in the open air right by the water, I don't think you could ask more." Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Snorkeling at the Dry Tortugas

image-ftl0411 great outdoors snorkeling main 060211
The sun casts a soft glow on a crisp, clear morning in Key West’s historic seaport as I board Yankee Freedom II, the ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park, a collection of seven remote islands 70 miles to the west. a suntanned Deb Hess, our biologist guide, happily pronounces it a “chamber-of-com- merce day” with calm seas and temperatures in the high 70s, adding with caution that the ocean passage, Rebecca Channel, could get choppy. I nab a bowl of cereal and cofee at the continental breakfast in the main cabin and settle into a comfy booth next to Daniel, a 30-something outdoors type from Orlando. Being of much heartier stock than I, he tells me that he’s camping on the island for three days. “I feel sorry for you that you only get to spend one day there,” he quips.

As we set off on our 2½-hour journey, Hess begins a historic narrative, and when we pass the Marquesas Keys, site of the 1622 sinking of the Spanish ship Atocha, she ominously notes that it will be the last land until our destination. Upstairs in the wheel room, I visit with Capt. Cory Gauron, who’s holding court, smoothly steering the 100-foot Gladding-Hearns vessel at 26 knots while explaining navigation and lobster-trap buoys with an old salt’s sense of humor. I wander back down to the refreshing breeze on the bow, where the occasional shout of “dolphin” goes up in a “thar she blows!” rally, and I take pictures of Uri and Alena, a young, windswept Russian couple, as they pose a la Titanic by the railing. Soon Fort Jefferson on Garden Key begins to take shape, like an ocean mirage on an endless vista of turquoise water.

Once docked, I eagerly head to the south beach to snorkel, stopping short at the stunning sight of clear, lazy waves lapping the bright-white sand below the towering 45-foot red-brick walls — America’s largest 19th-century coastal fort. After donning my wetsuit (70-degree water is brisk) and snorkel gear (bring your own), I follow the moat wall, where horizontal purple sea fans and brown sea fingers grow. Feeling like an underwater archaeologist exploring ancient ruins, I find mounds of old brick and concrete slabs, now reclaimed by living creatures.

Imagine my delight when I have my first-ever sighting of not one but a dozen live queen conch, an orange striped flatworm and purple squid. I swim with silver porgies, their black false eyes winking, and float by yellow angelfish, blue-headed wrasse and three spiny black sea urchins hiding in a coral head. A small school of yellowtail snapper leads me to the pilings of a 100-year-old coaling dock and into a magical glittering sphere, where thousands of 2-inch silversides move together in elegant curves and loops like a choreographed dance troupe.

Next, I set my sights on a variety of corals — brain, golf ball and mustard hill — mushrooming from the rusted X-shaped supports. Nearby, purple sea fans and brown finger coral, branching like petals from a long stem, catch my eye. Larger game fish — mangrove snapper, Bermuda chub and barracuda — linger in the shade below, while a grand pelican floats on the surface above, all waiting for an easy lunch. My rumbling stomach signals my lunchtime as well, and as I walk back, I meet my Russian friends along the way. They are delightedly watching a slowmoving conch cross the interior of the moat. Alena looks up at me with the wide eyes of a child and asks, “But what is it?”

Afer a quick picnic, Hess leads the group into the fort’s grassy parade grounds, shaded by ancient gnarled buttonwood trees. Drawing on her 11 years of experience, she explains the need in the 1800s to protect this vital shipping channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. We pass ruined barracks and a looming black iron lighthouse before entering the architectural splendor of 300 arches that form the outer walls. With a haunted feeling, I note the grooves in the floors from soldiers long gone as we pass rusted cannons and crumbling windows. The chapel ceiling bears the hand-carved mark of the master bricklayer: “JNONOLAN 1859.”

We gingerly climb a dark spiral staircase to the open-air top and find the fort’s largest cannons, weighing 25 tons apiece, still readied for enemy attack. I’m lingering as close to the disintegrating edge as I dare, admiring the sweeping 360-degree views, when I spot Daniel, shirtless and smiling, paddling his yellow kayak toward neighboring Bush Key. A flock of pelicans flies by as hundreds of frigate birds, with wingspans reaching 7 feet, circle above. I wave goodbye to Daniel with a pang of regret, even though I know he won’t see me. He was right; one day just isn’t enough.

More Snorkeling Adventures
  • Northwest - St. Andrews State Park
    Find easy snorkeling in the emerald cove at St. Andrews State Park, near Panama City. Warmweather months are prime time for yellow and blue tangs, blue-headed wrasses and sergeant majors.
  • Southwest - Delnor Wiggins Pass State Park
    Delnor Wiggins Pass State Park is hidden from Naples by mangrove swamps and tidal creeks. A 150-foot offshore swim finds you floating over hard and soft corals, sea anemones, lobsters, tangs and barracuda. Visibility is best in winter.
  • South - Biscayne National Park
    Snag a Keys-style snorkel sans crowds in Biscayne National Park, about one hour south of Miami. A favorite spot is Bache Shoal, part of the barrier reef off Elliott Key, considered the first true Florida Key. See brain and star corals and some 200 species of fish.
  • South - John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
    Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park runs three trips a day. Visit the underwater statue, Christ of the Abyss, and view slews of tropical fish, lobsters and
Originally published in Florida Travel + Life magazine

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Top Chef: Key West's Brendan Orr

image-ftl0611 chat chew tastes key west
Sporting short, spiky blond-gray hair, a trim goatee and a boyish smile, chef Brendan Orr kicks back under the mahogany canopy that gives the Roof Top Café in Key West its elegant treehouse ambience. The chef who’s called Key West home for the last 13 years recently snagged his sixth consecutive win at the Key West Food & Wine Festival’s Master Chef’s Classic with his New Island cuisine — a unique style that combines fresh local ingredients with Caribbean spices, Asian influences and French technique. Orr admits he’s spoiled by the bounty available in the Keys. He gets his pick of tuna, hogfish, mutton snapper and lobster, not to mention passion fruit, pineapple, avocado, mango and even black mangrove honey. The most requested fish is yellowtail snapper, delivered daily from a Stock Island fish market a few miles up the road. “I serve that with a Key West pink shrimp gravy, which is rue-based — think a lighter, gumbo-style sauce,” he explains. Swiss chard and garlic mashed potatoes complete the dish.

Other fine produce, like heirloom tomatoes, sweet watermelon and crisp cucumbers, is sourced from Homestead, “the breadbasket of South Florida, only a hop, skip and jump away.” Orr turns these items into a tasty salad with goat’s milk feta cheese and a roasted garlic vinaigrette. Buying fresh daily is a habit Orr cultivated while working in France. “In Paris you shop every day, so I appreciated buying gorgeous ingredients and letting them speak for themselves.”
When he returned to the States, he was drawn to Key West. “This was as far away from being in the United States as I could imagine,” he says. “It’s an international city. It reminds me of the European mentality where you actually take the time to sit down and appreciate your food — and that sense of excitement is always here.” 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Adventure: Florida Keys Kayaking

image-florida keys kayaking journey 072211
A tiny baby manatee in Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park sticks his whiskered nose out of the clear waters as naturalist John Davis takes the first paddle strokes of what will become a 4,500-mile environmental odyssey. His journey, called TrekEast, is designed to raise awareness about the need to preserve wilderness corridors along the East Coast of the United States (view trail map).

Somewhat of an ambassador for all the endangered creatures, Davis will be advocating as he kayaks, bikes and hikes from the Florida Keys all the way north to Canada. With the tanned muscular arms of a seasoned triathlete, he navigates a blue, sea-weathered kayak into the dark mangrove tunnels, leading a caravan of seven eco-enthusiasts in their own candy-colored crafts. In tighter spots, the paddlers play mangrove limbo, pulling themselves along low-hanging branches, with only the cicadas’ song breaking the silence, as small schools of snapper, hogfish and baitfish flit just below the surface.

The day’s sun filters through the green leaves like stained glass, while Davis, sponsored by conservation organization Wildlands Network, educates the group about connecting Florida’s diverse wildlife and 54 endangered species to the rest of the country.

“Florida has done a remarkably good job, but isolated areas cannot sustain themselves. It’s not too late, but as Bruce Springsteen said, ‘The door’s open, but the ride ain’t free,’” explains the passionate Davis. Asked what animal he most hopes to spot during his trip through Florida’s waterways, he immediately responds “the Florida panther.” And then, as if that’s too much to ask, he looks off wistfully and says with a smile, “I’d be happy just to see a paw print.”

You can track Davis’ progress as he departs from Key Largo paddling into the Everglades National Park, through the Ocala National Forest and into North Florida backcountry, sharing all of his adventures and discoveries at

One Hot Night in Key West: Local-Style

First-time visitors to Key West flood the bars on Duval Street, but we chose to seek out the insider spots where island breezes are abundant, seafood is perfectly prepared, Key-lime martinis are authentic and colorful locals will drink with you till dawn.  Here’s our guide to a great night off the beaten track.