Founders Park in Key West is a great place to visit, it’s neither a park to picnic nor a place to spend the entire day. It measures a mere 30′ x 60′ in the middle of the busiest section of town called Mallory Square just 3 blocks southwest of Duval Streets northern end.
Also called Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden, it opened in September 1997 and is located on the original shoreline in front of the Waterfront Playhouse. As you enter through the wrought iron gates, a magnificent 18′ long and 25′ high sculpture entitled “The Wreckers” captures your attention and takes you back to the days when brave men would yell “Wreck Ashore” and risked their lives saving vessels and passengers in distress.
The pioneering spirit of Key West and its island people will dominate your experience as you wander along the shaded brick pathways. The Garden features 36 bronze busts depicting men and women who made Key West such a vibrant and important outpost of American culture and folklore. The entire $700,000 price tag to fund this park was raised by selling individual names engraved on bricks called the Walkway thru History.
I’ve personally looked at all 36 busts trying to find any link to either side of my family tree… no such luck. Though my father was Monroe County’s & Key West’s first Eagle Scout and one time honorary Mayor of Key West (for a day, true)… it wasn’t enough to get a bronze bust. Oh well, our family did however own prosperous businesses that helped spawn the island growth and well-being including restaurants and a number of gas stations. Founders Park or Sculpture Garden is worth a FREE 30-minute visit to check out Key West’s beginnings and prominent people throughout history.
Sponge Bob No Pants
Everyone’s heard of Sponge Bob Square Pants, but I bet you’ve never seen his long-lost cousin from Memphis… Sponge Bob No Pants! There are in fact two of these creature features in Key West, the one pictured here at the largest gift shop at Mallory Square and the other at one at the Turtle Kraals area of town on Harbor Walk.
Kids galore flock to get their photos taken with this life-size behemoth of glued together sponges while smiling big & wide as if it were Sponge Bob Square Pants himself!
To get here just follow the crowds, Mallory Square is the #1 tourist trap area of town besides Duval Street. Go to the northwest end of Duval and turn south 2 blocks and you’ll run right into him… I mean Mallory Square. Go ahead, I’ll turn my head while you pose with him, It’s for big kids too!
Almost every tourist when coming to Key West ends up visiting Mallory Square at least once. Their reasons may vary from watching a sunset from Key West’s #1 most popular location, seeing street performers displaying their talents during dusk or just visiting the many shops that populate its square. No matter the choice most end up here and yet 99% of them have no clue who Mallory was or why it’s called Mallory Square. Here’s your answer!
His name was Stephen Russell Mallory (1812-1873). His home stood near this site from 1839-1895 when it became U.S. Navy property. He was a U.S. Senator from Florida from 1851-1861 and chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee in 1853. As Secretary of the Navy for the Confederate State Cabinet (1861-1865) he pioneered the use of submarines and ironclad warships in naval warfare. A son Stephen R. Mallory Jr. grew up in and later owned the house. He too represented Florida in the U.S. Senate (1897-1908).
There, now you can boast about knowing the naming of Mallory Square. You can find this historic marker for the Mallory Homesite just 50′ from its namesake Mallory Square here in Key West. Just look for an Egyptian granite obelisk within feet of it located in the middle of a median dividing the intersection of three roads.
In the 19th Century shipwreckers along the treacherous Florida reef were numerous. Fishermen and spongers (the sponge trade) turned to wrecking as a means of livelihood, almost every seaworthy vessel in Key West quickly responded to the exciting cry “Wreck Ashore” to earn whatever share they could in the great wealth that the golden age of wrecking brought to the island city.
Seen here is a replica of the Sloop Mary wrecking / work boat owned by Charles & Asa Tift successful wrecking brothers. To find out more about the wrecking industry and its history, the Sloop Mary is located only 50′ away from the Shipwreck History Museum to its right here in Mallory Square. To see Key West’s Sloop Mary is FREE and is centrally located in the heart of ‘Old Town’ Key West.
The term ‘Living Statue’ refers to a mime artist who poses like a statue or mannequin, usually with realistic statue-like makeup, sometimes for hours at a time.
Living statue performers can fool passers-by and have been used by a number of hidden camera TV shows like ‘Candid Camera’ to startle people. These are not limited to individuals either, at times groups enacting a scene would be mounted on an elaborate stand decorated to look like a monument. Believe it or not, there’s a World Championship of Living Statues held annually at Arnhem, Netherlands (better known to Americans as Holland).
Living statue performers can be found in Key West at either Mallory Square before sunset or on Duval Street during the day. This one stands motionless with a bucket at his feet and shouts out loud ‘SEMPER FI’ upon receiving a donation from passers-by. Semper Fidelis is Latin for “Always Faithful” known as the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps (shortened to Semper Fi). If this is not there don’t be too bummed, there’s others!
Key West has long been known as an artists haven of all types including literature, poetry & painting dating way back to Ernest Hemingway & Tennessee Williams. Here we’ll focus on the canvas connoisseurs, the purveyors of paint and the tainters of tint.
I’m sure the reference “Starving Artist” doesn’t apply fully to all of Key West’s street vendors. I’ve noticed a lot of these maintain a brisk business and constantly have crowds gathered around as seen in the photo to the left. I’ve been amazed at the speed, quality & ability that these so-called starving artists possess.
Seen here is one of the MANY artist that can be found throughout the “Old Town” area with a heavy concentration setting up shop on Duval Street or Mallory Square. These Picasso wannabes are happiest when selling their wares and are always excited when passers-by show interest in their work asking related questions. I’ve seen these finished ‘street-side brush strokes upon canvas’ run anywhere from $10 to the upper hundreds. Who knows, you just might purchase a future Rembrandt… then again, PROBABLY NOT! 🙂
Remember the Hollywood blockbuster movie from 1982 called Porky’s about a group of teenagers out for a good time with names like “Pee Wee”, “Meat” and a bar owner named “Porky”… well, this blog has absolutely nothing to do with that besides its ultra famous name! 🙂
From the outside you’d never be able to tell this is a local hot spot by the inconspicuous dilapidated wood-framed windowless hangout, but it is. Welcome to Porky’s Bayside known for its good food and friendly island atmosphere. Their unique location has hosted famous Florida Keys visitors since the 1950’s – including such notables as Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Taylor & Jimmy Hoffa. Jimmy Hoffa loved his meal and the Keys so much that he faked his own death and moved to the Keys and is reportedly working there cooking fries… known simply as James “The Fry King” Hoffmiester… well, that’s the rumor! 🙂 Since Porky’s inception its been the local place to be in the Keys and still is! So belly on up to a bench and order some of the sweetest swine you’ll ever stuff in your smiling stomach.
You can find Jimmy H. and his fellow compadres just before the 7-Mile bridge heading south at Mile Marker 47.4 bayside awaiting your arrival… just look for the pig butts (seen above) at the entrance… hmmm, let me think about this… ok I got! The asinine entrance, 9 pork butts, count them up there’s actually nine… ASS OF NINE! 🙂