Friday, July 19, 2013

Chuckie Lives!

Well...sort of...
I'm sure most of you are familiar with the movies about Chucky the Haunted Doll.  They were inspired by a true story from right here in Key West. Why don't you lean back for a minute and let ole Mark tell you about it.

Robert Eugene "Gene" Otto was the son of a wealthy family on the island in the early days of the 20th century.  They lived in a gorgeous house near Duval Street. (Now knwn as "The Artist's House," it's part of the various Ghost of Key West Tours.)

The family wasn't always kind to it's servants, including a lady of Bahamian descent who was rumored to have background in voodoo.  Robert didn't have a lot of friends so the maid crafted a 3-foot doll to keep him company.  Gene named him Robert, after himself, and they were immediately inseparable.  Gene carried Robert everywhere. They could be seen throughout town dressed in matching sailors suits.

After an episode where Robert's mother, reportedly, locked her in her room for three days, the maid quit - cursing the family as she huffed off.  Go figure! The early 1900s were a time when superstition was common and the neighbors and family took due notice of this unfortunate circumstance.  Soon after, people began claiming to see the doll moving around through the windows or watching the kids play in the street.

Eventually, the youngster realized that it was quite convenient to blame Robert whenever he got into trouble.  His parents and the neighbors would casually accept that explanation but insist that he make Robert behave better. The idea of Robert as a living being got so far advanced that Robert even had a chair at the dinner table. Even after he got into his late teens and early 20's Gene carried Robert with him around town and continued to use him as a scapegoat.  (I guess the town just rolled with it.)
Eventually, his family thought it wise to send him to Europe for awhile to develop his artistic skills.  When he returned with a fiancee, Anne, they were thrilled.  Clearly Gene was growing up. The couple was soon married and the family gave them the house as a wedding gift. In short order, Anne and Gene announced they would be parents.  Certainly fatherhood would push Eugene to become a fully mature man.

Soon, he was disappearing into the upper floors of the house with wood and tools and he could be distinctly heard building furniture.  Anne waited anxiously for Eugene to ask her upstairs to unveil his surprise nursery.  When she finally couldn't stand the suspense, she snuck upstairs for a peak.  Shockingly, Gene wasn't in the baby's room - but she could still hear hammering.  She followed the noise into the attic and found her husband feverishly building a room for the doll, instead - complete with miniature furniture.

When Robert Eugene Otto, died in 1974, the doll was left in the house until it was purchased by a new family with a 10-year old girl.  She began to wake up screaming in the night claiming the doll was attacking her.  The donated the doll to the Key West Art and Historical Society and Robert now resides at East Martello Museum, near the airport.  It's said that, if you take his picture without asking permission first, bad things will happen.  Robert is forgiving, though.  You can always write a letter ans ask him to lift the hex.  They say it works.

Here is a picture of Robert today.  His life is a lot more casual now but he's about 100 years old so that was to be expected. These days he just sits in his chair and poses for tourists.

You gotta be impressed with the workmanship. That maid stitched him by hand.

It's said, that if you take Robert's picture without asking his permission, bad things will happen.  Melissa made me ask.  :)

Take a few minutes and go see him for yourself.  He likes visitors.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Most Interesting Bar in Key West

Your long distance, but faithful correspondent, Mark is back.  This post is a bit long but I think you'll understand.

With apologies to Sloppy Joe's and every other place near Duval Street, for pure character, I think Capt Tony's is the unquestioned leader of the pack. Where else do you get pirates, hangings, tombstones, Jimmy Buffet and Hemingway on one package?  It bills itself as the "Original Location of Sloppy Joe's" but it's way more than that.

It's easy to find.  It's a big yellow building just a half block west of Sloppy Joe's on Greene Street and barely off Duval.  There is a big ole Goliath Grouper out front as part of it's sign. Definitely hard to miss.  After you've had some Pirate Punch, go outside, stand with your back to the fish and try to throw a coin in it's mouth.

This building truly was the original location for Sloppy Joe's and where Hemingway spent much of his time from 1933-1937. But all good things must get screwed up. In 1937, in a dispute over the rent, Joe Russell moved his place just down the street to it's current location.  In 1958, this old bar was bought by a Key West icon, Tony Tarracino. He was a boat captain, gun runner and former Mayor.  Hence, the current name.  Tony ran for office on the platform that he intended to drink, gamble and chase women until the day he died.  He also declared himself the most honest politician in America.  He was elected.  Classic Key West.

When you first enter the door closest to Duval, you'll immediately notice a large tree growing through the floor.  Back in the day, it was deemed perfect for hanging pirates.

Unfortunately, when they began to construct the building, they found that dead pirates didn't get much of a burial.  They apparently dragged them a short distance away and dropped them in shallow graves.
Today, beneath the pool tables lie the remains of a whole bunch of them.  Don't worry, if you look around the base of the wall, you'll see the bottles of holy water that keep their spirits quiet. Go ahead and enjoy your game.

By now, you have certainly noticed that the ceiling is covered in signed bras, dollar bills and business cards.  If you want to add yours, just ask the bar tender for the staple gun.

 The bar stools are painted with the names of famous people who have sat on them and, in many cases, were frequent patrons.  The biggest names, are actually on stools now hanging from the pool room ceiling.

If you come in the door just a little farther east of Duval, there is, almost always, a singer playing guitar for the folks. On this day, it was a talented fellow named, Gary. That is exactly where Jimmy Buffet got his start.  As a matter of fact, if you go into the Men's Room, you can see where he penned the chorus to "Last Mango in Paris." I wonder what he was doing at the time?

Yes, Ladies, women go in there all the time.  Guys, if it's a late Friday or Saturday, they don't always knock.

If you thought this was enough, you are sooo wrong.  It's time to tell you about the two tombstones you'll find.  Over near the pool tables, there is a tombstone in the floor (hell, it's apart of the floor) that belongs to a girl named Elvira.
She once worked in the kitchen and was married to an older guy who drank wildly and elevated carousing and philandering to new heights, even while she was in back.  One day, she had enough and came out and slit his throat. Although they didn't see any recourse to hanging her (especially after she killed her kids, too), they liked her well enough to keep her close.  I guess, true friends are forever. Today, she haunts the place as "the Lady in Blue."

The second stone is at the base of the tree but no one is buried under it. (Didn't expect that, did you?) The stone belongs to an old girlfriend of Tony's. Supposedly, when she passed away, her husband found old love letters between her and Tony.  He got angry, ripped up the stone, drove it to Key West and threw it down outside the bar. He yelled in the door, "If you want her so bad, you can have her!"  Unfazed, Tony had the stone brought in and protected in case the husband changed his mind but he never came back.

Now, there is no way you will ever go to Key West and not visit Tony's, is there?

“All you need in this life is a tremendous sex drive and a great ego, brains don’t mean a shit,”  Capt Tony.