Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden in Florida - Atlas Obscura

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Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden

Recently celebrating its 25th anniversary, the garden opened in September 1997 to celebrate the men and women who have had the greatest impact on Key West.  

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Home to 36 bronze busts representing important and notable people from the history of Key West, the 4 by 2-mile size island at the end of the Florida Keys, this sculpture garden is located on the original shoreline in bustling Mallory Square (the popular tourist area where people go every dusk to applaud the sunset).

Recently celebrating its 25th anniversary, the garden was championed by the Friends of Mallory Square, and opened in September 1997 to celebrate the men and women who have had the greatest impact on Key West.

There are some familiar faces and names immortalized here like fisher/drinker/author Ernest Hemingway, former President Harry S. Trueman, and railway magnate Henry M. Flagler, but a glance at the others reveals the deep and often-unknown history of the island, which hosts around 1 million visitors a year.

The busts were all created by the late sculptor James Mastin, who created his various project pieces originally in clay or wax before casting them into bronze, stainless steel, polyester resins, or formed copper. His most impressive piece here is large, evocative sculpture The Wreckers, which measures 18 feet long and 25 feet high, and captures the early spirit of Key West as a rough-and-ready sea town out on the frontier of a young America.

The early wreckers shown here—and they weren’t what we know as “pirates,” because they were officially licensed (more or less)—are shown saving lives as well as the precious (but often unknown) cargo from one of the many hundreds of vessels that ran aground, were blown into danger, or washed ashore on the many reefs.

Wrecking made the island rich, and in the mid-1800s the city, per capita, was the richest in America: salvage fees made wrecking captains, crews, businessmen, lawyers, clerks, packers, dock hands, and insurance agents—plus many more—wealthy indeed.

The ground of the park is largely composed of sponsored bricks, known as the Walkway of History, and you can spot some famous names here, such as writer/director Hal Hartley, as well as many locals, visitors, and fans of Key Largo and “island life.”

Know Before You Go

Open from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can learn about wreckers at the Shipwreck Museum, while Truman’s “Little White House” and Hemingway’s House (with its famously expensive swimming pool) nearby too.

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June 15, 2023

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