Florida Keys Columns

By Mark Howell

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The city's cemetery sexton, Russell Brittain, with his archivist, Jane Newhagen, recently came upon five unmarked burial vaults in a row at the Key West cemetery.

An old graveyard map provided the names: Palmira RodriguezBetancourt, Olga Hernandez Rodriguez, Ricardo Guerrero de la Torre, Esther Guerrero Hernandez and Olga Esperanza Guerrero. The burial cards showed they were all buried on the same day: May 17, 1980.

A visit with the county historian, Tom Hambright, revealed that the five were among 14 Cuban nationals who drowned on that day during the Mariel boatlift. Fourteen-year-old IvisGuerrero was the only member of her family to survive the capsizing of the Olo Yumi. Her parents, two sisters, and a grandmother all drowned.

Ivis left Key West and her fate is not known.

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Pat Boone, former teen heartthrob for squares, has come out in support of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-18th), citing the congresswoman's support for repealing the death tax and calling her a "fighter for the elderly" who "knows a bad tax when she sees one."

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Mimi McDonald of the Red Barn tells us the theater has hired Rebecca Tomlinson to be its company manager. She will help in the day-to-day running of the Red Barn. "She is so qualified," said Mimi, "and will be a fine match for our growing needs."

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Reinstated as the Susan Solares Toys for Tots program by Chief Donie Lee at the Key West Police Department, this is the first year the program bears the name of the chief's late executive assistant who was instrumental in the annual toy collections.

Applications for local families will be available at the police department and the Salvation Army beginning Monday, Oct. 27, and ending Monday, Nov. 24. The applications help organizers with the number of kids in a family, their age and their needs, and serves as a shopping list for the distribution of the toys.

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Many trees in Key West have been impacted by hurricanes and other problems facing the city since 1998.

Now, thanks to the combined efforts of Cynthia Coogle, urban forestry program manager for the city's Landscape Division of Parks and Recreation Dept., and a $3,000 donation by the Trophia Butterfly Foundation, 26 flowering trees have been planted along the length of Duval Street.

They include eight varieties ranging from bulnesia to gumbos and tabebuia. Many are butterfly host plants with weeping foliage and colorful flowers. Four different species of cassias (pink, rainbow, coral and golden) were planted, some not commonly found in Key West, as well as a few Lysiloma sabicu native to Cuba.

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The ghosts of Fort Zachary Taylor are awakening (see the clouds in the print above) in anticipation of the 7th annual haunting at the fort.

Thirty scenes of terror await visitors between Sunday, Oct. 26, to Friday, Oct. 31, from 8 to 11 p.m. (midnight on Halloween). Adults $12, kids 10 and under, $8.

"Our ghosts are real," says ghostmeister and magic maestro Frank Everhart Jr.

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Russian submarines are currently equipped with the underwater rocket VA-111 Shkval (the Squall), which is fired from standard torpedo tubes and reaches a speed of 230 mph. There is no effective countermeasure to the Squall.

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The number of deaths in Florida attributed to illegal drugs last year was 946.

The number of deaths in Florida attributed to pharmaceutical drugs last year was 2,002.

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The reigning Miss Amer-ica, Kirsten Haglund, will attend the Princess Ball at the Gardens Hotel, 526 Angela St., on Thursday, Nov. 13.

She performed in the inaugural 2005 production of Joyce Stahl's "Nutcracker Key West."

The Paradise Ballet Theatre, producer of "Nutcracker Key West 2008," is putting on the spectacular gala from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Gardens, catered by Square One Restaurant and featuring cameo appearances by professional dancers from the production (including a live water ballet) to help raise funds to support the development of a year-round dance education program.

Tickets are $75, available at keystix.com and at the door, limited to 200 guests. Courtly Key West attire is encouraged.

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Quilt by Margo Ellis.

Margo Ellis began quilting in 1975, "after making most of my clothes, a tent, jackets, curtains and other home décor," she recalls. She began teaching quilting in 1988 and has exhibited and won awards nationally. (She also won best-of-show for her quilt submission to the SoDu Gallery's Woman's Show.) In her day job, Margo works for the Monroe County School District as an elementary teacher of students with emotional and behavioral disorders.

Starting on Monday, Oct. 27, The Studios of Key West is presenting its first-ever quilting class, with Margo offering a multi-session class that includes machine and hand quilting demonstrations. Meant for all skill levels, the processes of layout, color placement, cutting, piecing and assembling of the quilt top and unique borders will be learned. Over four evening sessions, quilts will be completed and new fabric projects discussed and planned.

Participation is limited to 12 students. Bullseye Quilt-making with Margo Ellis will be held at the Armory building at 600 White St. on Monday evenings from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 27, Nov. 3, 17, and 24 (no class on Monday, Nov. 10).

All-inclusive cost is $100 for studio members, $120 for non-members.

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Wesley House Family Services is holding its 2nd annual Lazy Pig Roast on Sunday, Nov. 2, from 2 to 6 p.m. at Sugarloaf Lodge Beachside on Sugarloaf Key.

The new barbecue restaurant Eat N Grinn is doing the pig barbecue. All proceeds benefit the Building for Children Campaign.

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This year is the 100th birthday of Ex-Lax, invented by a Hungarian immigrant living in Brooklyn named Max Kiss.

The laxative qualities of phenolphthalein, which relaxes the intestines, were discovered accidentally in Hungary when it was tried out as an additive for wine. Kiss combined phenolphthalein with chocolate and called the tablets Bo-Bos.

But while browsing a Hungarian-language newspaper, Kiss noted a story that used the Hungarian abbreviation "ex-lax" for parliamentary deadlock. He decided it sounded like "excellent laxative" and launched Ex-Lax in 1906.

Today's manufacturer of Ex-Lax, Novartis, has reformulated the product using natural senna pods instead of phenolphthalein.

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Big-band singer Connie Haines died recently in Clearwater at the age of 87. She left behind her mother, 109.

This reminds Warren Abbey of a Key West news story a couple of decades ago about a son who ran away from home but eventually was reunited with his mom; he was 70, she was 90.

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"Almost" is the longest word in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order.

The longest word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is "uncopyrightable."

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In last week's Soundings we wrote that the word "schemozzle" means a "confused state of affairs; a mess (Yiddish)."

An alert reader who was unfamiliar with the word turned to "The New Joys of Yiddish" by Leo Rosten, which explores words and phrases from Yiddish and also Yinglish (words used in colloquial English such as kibitzer, mish-mash, bagel, etc).

Under the heading "shemozzl" and "schemozzel," principally meaning "an uproar, a fight, a confusion, a rhubarb" and rhyming with "den nozzle," Rosten states that these words are neither Yiddish nor Yinglish, but slang from the racetrack touts and bookmakers of London. "I include them because they are often spelled and pronounced like the Yiddish 'shlimazl,' to which they bear not the slightest resemblance."

In other words, "schemozzle" is not "schlimazel," sometimes spelled "schlimazel" or "shlemazl" and pronounced shli-moz-zl to rhyme with "thin nozzle," which means a chronically unlucky person and is derived from the German "schlimm" (bad) and the Hebrew "mazel" (luck).

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A vestal virgin served for 30 years as a "daughter of Rome" and most of them chose not to retire into marriage. Their first 10 years were spent as a student; the next 10 in service, often as consultant to the Emperor; and 10 years as a teacher.

Vestal referred to Vesta, goddess of the hearth and custodian of the sacred fire. To keep that sacred fire alive, the vestal virgins were required to take a vow of chastity that had fatal consequences if broken.

The advantage to being a vestal virgin, which prompted so many parents to offer up their daughters to the service of Vesta, was that they were not subject to either a father or a husband and were therefore more independent than other women in Rome, being able to own property and being able to vote.

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Next week: Bald eagles aren't bald, so how did they get the name?

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Quote for the Week:

Hotel Clerk: "You are two days early for your booking, sir."

Mr. Dingle: "Now see here, young man. If everyone was two days early, wouldn't this world be a better place?"

-- from "The More

the Merrier"


Charles Coburn,

written by

Garson Kanin

Published Friday, October 24, 2008
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