Exploring the History and Elegance of Key West Cemetery

Key West, Florida, is known for its vibrant culture, beautiful beaches, and historical landmarks. Among the lesser-known but fascinating attractions in this tropical paradise is the Key West Cemetery. This unique burial ground has been in use for over 170 years and offers an intriguing blend of history, art, and local lore. In this article, we’ll take you on a comprehensive journey through the Key West Cemetery, providing insights into its history, notable graves, unique features, and tips for visiting.

A Brief History of the Key West Cemetery

Key West Cemetery, established in 1847, holds a special place in the island’s history. The need for a dedicated burial ground arose when the growing population faced issues with overcrowding and a lack of proper grave sites. Today, the cemetery is a testament to the diverse and eclectic history of Key West.

The cemetery’s layout is a combination of traditional graves, mausoleums, and above-ground crypts, which is a reflection of Key West’s distinct cultural influences. As you explore the cemetery, you’ll encounter graves of early settlers, prominent figures, veterans, and colorful characters who played significant roles in the island’s history.

Notable Graves and Key Figures

  1. The USS Maine Memorial: One of the most significant monuments in the cemetery is dedicated to the USS Maine, a U.S. Navy ship that exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898, leading to the Spanish-American War. The memorial pays tribute to those who lost their lives, and it’s a somber reminder of the historical events that unfolded.
  2. Sloppy Joe’s Bar Founder: Captain Tony Tarracino, the founder of the world-famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar, has a distinctive grave in the cemetery. His colorful personality and contributions to Key West’s nightlife make his resting place a popular stop for visitors.
  3. Historic Figures: The cemetery is also the final resting place for many notable historic figures, including doctors, politicians, and military personnel who played crucial roles in Key West’s development.

Unique Features of Key West Cemetery

  1. Above-Ground Tombs: Many graves in Key West Cemetery are above-ground tombs, a tradition stemming from the island’s high water table. These elaborate structures, with intricate carvings and personalized inscriptions, add to the cemetery’s unique character.
  2. Family Plot Gardens: Some families have dedicated sections in the cemetery, where multiple generations are buried. These areas often feature lush gardens and intricate headstones, providing a peaceful and serene ambiance.
  3. Whimsical and Unique Headstones: The cemetery is known for its creative and eccentric headstones. You’ll find headstones shaped like fish, anchors, and even a large typewriter to commemorate a writer’s life. These artistic and imaginative elements add a touch of whimsy to the solemn atmosphere.

Visiting Key West Cemetery

  1. Hours of Operation: Key West Cemetery is open daily from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. It’s recommended to visit during daylight hours for a better experience.
  2. Self-Guided Tour: While there are guided tours available, many visitors choose to explore the cemetery independently. Grab a map at the entrance, and take your time to discover the graves and their stories.
  3. Respect and Etiquette: Key West Cemetery is a place of remembrance and reflection. Visitors should be respectful, maintaining a quiet and solemn demeanor. Avoid touching or defacing any graves or headstones.
  4. Sun Protection: The cemetery offers minimal shade, so it’s advisable to bring sunscreen, a hat, and water, especially on sunny days.


Key West Cemetery is a hidden gem that showcases the rich history, culture, and unique character of this island paradise. As you explore the winding pathways, you’ll encounter not only the final resting places of historical figures but also a sense of the vibrant and eclectic spirit that defines Key West. Whether you’re interested in history, art, or simply want a tranquil space to contemplate, a visit to the Key West Cemetery is a rewarding experience that allows you to connect with the heart and soul of this extraordinary destination.

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