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About Key West

Discover Key West!ey West can boast of the most unusual and eclectic population of any American city. "Key West isn't Florida," says a young boy in Joy Williams' short story, "The Blue Men." And it's true. With its cosmopolitan and well-educated population, its something of a cultural Noah's Ark adrift in the Gulf of Mexico-sending out white doves which always seem to loop back and nest in the branches of its own sturdy banyan trees. Visitors always seem amazed at how many Key Westers they encounter who inform them, "I came down for a weekend six years ago..... and I'm still here." Something indefinable - a balance of exotic remoteness, cultural marginality, and artistic intellect - beckons many to Key West, where, until recently, the Sunday New York Times often arrived on Monday and local phone numbers contained only five digits.

The native population, those born on the island, refer to themselves as "Conchs" and represent a unique mix of Bahamian, Cuban, and New England seafaring heritage. Many well-known Conch families have been here for seven or more generations. Some confess to having never been off the island.

It has also attracted generations of artists and writers who popularized the mythology of the island. Key West has been home to Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, John Ciardi, John Hersey, Richard Wilbur, Philip Caputo, Alison Lurie, James Merrill, and Thomas McGuane, among many others. More Pulitzer Prize winners have lived in Key West per capita than in any other city.

Island mythology also crosses into popular culture. Novels, movies and television programs set in Key West have introduced many to the island indirectly. Pop star Jimmy Buffett's lament of being "Wasted away again Margaritaville," has become a landmark goal of many visitors.

Key West is also known for its sizable, accepted, and openly gay population which has contributed greatly to the island's burgeoning tourism and business community.

Despite its reputation for being "laid-back," Key Westers are hard-working people. They have to be. Virtually everything on the island has to be imported on a one-way truck. Add to that the desirability of island property and it is easy to understand why the cost of living is the highest in the state. With tourism as its only true economic base, and relatively low-paying tourism related jobs as the most common denominator, it is clear why many members of the working population hold two or more jobs in order to live in, what they consider paradise.

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Jimmy Buffett ... Photo by Rob O'Neal

 

Mel Fisher ... Photo by Rob O'Neal
Captain Tony ... Photo by Rob O'Neal
Hemingway House ... Photo by Rob O'Neal

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