Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Tours of city cemetery explore history
Guides wear period clothing for annual event

It wasn't often that business tycoon Henry Flagler heard the word "no." But then he met George Adderley.

In the early 1900s, the black Bahamian immigrant owned land in Marathon, in the area where Curry Hammock State Park is today. Adderley worked the land with his family, eking out a hardscrabble existence.

However, his plot was coveted by Flagler, who needed a whistle-stop location for his Overseas Railroad.

The famed oil, hotel and railroad magnate asked Adderley to sign away permission for Flagler to do what he wanted on the land -- for free.

Apparently unimpressed with Flagler's net worth, Adderley told him what he could do with his contract.

"Back then a black man having the gumption to stand up to a wealthy white businessman was unheard of," said City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, who first heard the Adderley tale from Key West City Cemetery archivist Jane Newhagen. "Coming from the Bahamas, I guess Mr. Adderley didn't have the fears of most African-Americans, and actually stood up to Mr. Flagler. He demanded to be paid for this incursion onto his property, and from what I understand he ended up capitalizing on the presence of the railroad by building a convenience stop, and a small village around the station. It's quite an amazing story."

The histories of George Adderley and his wife, Olivia, as well as a host of well-known folks buried in the cemetery, will be told on April 6, when the nonprofit Historic Florida Keys Foundation and the city of Key West present their annual cemetery stroll.

The tours will be guided by members of the Friends of the Key West Cemetery, and will include narrative contributions from people such as Lopez, who told the Adderley story during last year's stroll, and again in February during a Black History Month tour of the 19-acre boneyard.

"They encourage us to wear period costumes," Lopez said, "and my grandfather Roosevelt Sands actually worked on the Overseas Railroad. The last time I did this presentation, I wore a pair of his work overalls, so I think I'm going to do that again. This time I might even bring a picture of my grandfather in his work clothes."

Another presenter, Clinton Curry, is expected to again don his top hat and 19th century garb as he tells the story of his great-great uncle, William "Rich Bill" Curry, who became the first millionaire in Florida.

The cemetery stroll is a fundraiser for Historic Florida Keys Foundation, which is charged with "promoting historic preservation in the Florida Keys through education, advocacy, collaboration and stewardship."

Other gravesites to be visited are those of Mary and Rosa Navarro; Frank Booth; Los Martires de Cuba, Sen. John Maloney Spottswood, Jesse Porter Newton, William Curry, Piedad de Ayala, Thomas Romer and the U.S. Maine memorial.

"The cemetery is a vast repository of Key West and family history, and the cemetery strolls, which we revived last year, bring those stories to life," Jane Newhagen said. "The Adderley graves are a good example of how research and knowledge lead to action. Until last year, those graves were unmarked. After cemetery staff identified them and researched the family, the Historic Florida Keys Foundation funded gravestones, and [Adderley] ... is now memorialized."

The tours will take place at 9:30 and 10 a.m., and last about 90 minutes. A $10 donation to the foundation is requested.

Reservations are required. For more information, call Cynthia Edwards at 305-294-8503.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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