Travel Series: Key West's Spirituality.
Key West’s Spirituality
Key West is considered one of the most haunted places in America. I don’t know about that and won’t pass judgement or provide an opinion, people see what they see. There are a number of creepy stories, the most infamous Elena Hoyos, who died young and beautiful…only to have her body exhumed and preserved by Karl von Cosel who engaged in necrophilia until it was discovered seven years later by Elena’s horrified sister. There is Robert the Doll, the inspiration for the “Chucky” series of horror films, a doll that residents swore moved between windows. There are regular ghost tours conducted by the true believers.
The cemetery is a different matter. The cemetery is one of Key West’s most prominent tourist attractions, not like La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, but it is special in how it captures the spirit of Key West. The cemetery is located at the highest point in Key West, 10 feet above sea level; and has been moved several times, the most recent was after the 1864 hurricane exposed the dead in their previous resting place. The cemetery contains Catholic and Jewish sections, but all are buried in the same cemetery, after all, this is Key West, the home of tolerance and acceptance. Its gravestones are famous for some quotes, “I told you I was sick,” and one of my favorites which is about a pet dog, Sonny, from the prominent Otto family, “His Beautiful Spirit was a Challenge to Love.” Due to pranksters it is closed after dark…but I like to ride around it at night and feel the warm, positive energy especially at the corner of Windsor and Olivia.
There is also an African cemetery on Higgs Beach near the White Street Pier. This was the cemetery for slaves that were rescued in 1860 from horrific conditions on slave ships bound for Cuba. The U.S. Navy rescued them and Key West welcomed them (despite many Key Wester’s confederate leanings) by providing kindness, medical care, food and shelter, still some died in Key West (mostly children) succumbing to their weakened state. Key Westers honored them by burying them in their own cemetery. What makes the cemetery such a spiritual place are the inscriptions that reflect African wisdom. Here are some that resonated with me:
Sankofa. "Go back to fetch it. This is a reminder that the past must be a guide for the future. We must ‘return to the source’ in order to know who we are, to make wise decisions, and be spiritually fulfilled."
Wawa Aba. Seeds of the Wawa tree symbolize toughness and endurance.
Nkonsonkonson. Link of Chain which symbolizes that all of our ancestors are with us today.
Mate Masie. Symbol of Knowledge, Wisdom and Prudence. I have listened and I have learned and includes an African proverb “when the fool speaks, the wise man listens.”
Osram. The moon symbolizes steadiness, peace and patience. “The moon does not hasten on its way around the world or this, too, shall pass.”
Nyame Biribi Wo Soro. Symbol of hope and faith. “God, I know there is something in the heavens. A Brazilian proverb ‘Don’t tell God that you have a great problem. Tell your problem that you have a great God.’”
I hope that you have enjoyed the tour of the island. Now, I invite you to visit Key West and choose the Key West that you wish to see. It is a shape shifter that is flexible enough to accept and welcome us all.
Learn more about Key West in these posts from Angela:
Key West's Spirituality (this one)