Florida Keys News
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Island celebrates one of its favorite icons
Captain Tony Days start Thursday with documentary

Captain Tony came to Key West hitchhiking on a milk truck, according to local lore. He fell in love with the town and decided never to leave.

"I didn't fall in love with the birds, flowers, or beaches, but the people," the late Key West icon says in a documentary produced by Key West High School students, "Capt. Tony's Key West."

"It's the only place in the world where you can walk around with two heads and nobody bothers you."

Captain Tony Days, which run Thursday through Saturday, celebrate late mayor, fisherman, bar owner and self-proclaimed gunrunner Anthony "Captain Tony" Tarracino.

Tarracino became one of the Southernmost City's best known characters, sharing barroom tales of old Key West and expounding on his bawdy personal philosophy and rough-hewn world view. He was good friends with Jimmy Buffett, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Shel Silverstein.

"I fought development; I fought to save Mallory Square -- all different things that happened over the years," he says in the Key West High documentary.

Captain Tony Days coordinator and former Citizen editor Wendy Tucker became friends with Tarracino in the 1970s.

"He is the first to own a fishing boat, then own a bar, then become a movie star," Tucker said. "He traveled to Haiti and Cuba. He was mayor and is responsible for the fame of our island, alongside Mel Fisher and Jimmy Buffett."

Captain Tony Days get underway Thursday with a showing of a new documentary, "Captain Tony Years," 7 p.m. at Tropic Cinema, followed by an after-movie party at the Smokin' Tuna Saloon, 4 Charles St.

"Captain Tony Years" was filmed by Jeremy P. Hyatt, a Key West High School and Full Sail University graduate. Hyatt's condo was burglarized midway through production, and all his equipment stolen. He had to obtain new equipment and restart the project. Thursday will be the second showing of the documentary, which premiered at the Tropic in April.

Michigan-based musician and frequent Key West visitor Don Middlebrook wrote much of the film's soundtrack, including a song in Tarracino's memory called "Goodbye Captain Tony."

"Captain Tony had this wonderful ability to make the world stop," said Middlebrook. "He treated everyone that came into his saloon as neighbors and shared legendary stories he had with great legends. ... He loved how people from all walks of life came here and walked together. He would be wearing his slacks and a white button-down like he still lived in Jersey."

"The film is an intimate look at Tony," said Hyatt. "The audience will laugh and cry with him. If you knew Tony, go to the bar and enjoy a drink with him during the showing."

On Friday, locals will get their chance to share stories about Key West history and Tarracino at 7 p.m. at the Key West Firehouse Museum, 1026 Grinnell St., in an event billed as Tattletales of Old Key West. Meals of firehouse chili and cornbread will be sold to benefit the museum.

On Saturday, there will be a celebration of Tarracino's birthday at Captain Tony's Saloon, 428 Greene St.

DVDs of the Key West High documentary, "Capt. Tony's Key West," will be for sale at the after-movie party Friday and the Key West Firehouse Museum. Proceeds will go to the high school's video production department.

For more information on the event, or a free download of "Goodbye Captain Tony," visit captaintonydays.com.

apress@keysnews.com

Alex Press, an intern with The Citizen, is a recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

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