Key West Florida: A World of it’s Own

photo of Siesta Key beach

A photo story of the sunshine state, Florida

Photography by Gary Wonning

For more beautiful photos of Florida, please click on the photos below.

Aside from the beauty of the Florida Keys, they have a unique history. Many have forgotten they actually tried to seceded form the union in the 80s. 

Back in the early ’80s, the U.S. Border Patrol set up shop at the top of Highway 1, roadblocking all traffic leaving the Keys and checking cars for illegal drugs and immigrants. This negatively impacted tourism to the area and locals felt it cast an ugly shadow on the free-spirited islands. They demanded this roadblock be removed, and when it wasn’t, they took matters into their own hands. Then-mayor Dennis Wardlow declared war on the U.S. by throwing up a Conch Republic flag in Key West’s Mallory Square and hitting a local Navy officer over the head with a loaf of stale Cuban bread. But within one minute of the tongue-in-cheek bread beating, he surrendered and demanded one billion dollars in foreign aid. While they never received the aid, the roadblocks were soon removed. Each year, Key West still celebrates the anniversary of the Conch Republic independence. What’s more, the Conch Republic adopted the motto, “We seceded where others failed.” 


Secession plaque

As you can imagine, the Keys are an important port city. However, you may not know that they used their southernmost positioning differently during the Civil War. Unlike other southern U.S. states, including Florida, Key West rebelled against the Confederacy and remained part of the Union. In fact, it was the only southern city to remain in Union hands during the Civil War. The heavy number of Union supporters at the military base of Fort Zachary Taylor were enough to extinguish any naysayers, and eventually, they held celebrations for the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Fort East Malatto

Robert Eugene Otto – or Gene, as his family called him – was just a young boy in the early 1900s when his family’s maid gave him a strange, straw-filled doll to play with. Gene loved his life-sized doll and brought it along everywhere, even naming it “Robert” after himself. It wasn’t long, however, before people began noticing signs of Robert the Doll’s evil and mischievous nature

As rumor has it, the Ottos and their servants would often hear Gene in his bedroom, having conversations with himself in two entirely different voices. Furthermore, the Ottos would wake up in the middle of the night to Gene’s screaming, only to find the frightened boy in bed, surrounded by overturned furniture. Gene would blame Robert the Doll for messing up the bedroom, while Robert would glare at Gene from the foot of the bed.

Soon after, mutilated toys and mysterious happenings would appear in the home, only to have Gene proclaim each time: “Robert did it!”. Though the Ottos didn’t quite believe Gene, it was reported that they could hear the eerie sound of Robert giggling around the house, and passersby even claimed to see a small doll moving from window to window. Robert was eventually moved to the attic, where he remained for a number of years.

Robert the Doll

Robert the Doll now lives at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, where some believe his hair color – and soul – are both slowly fading. Visitor beware, though, as Robert’s current favorite mischievous act involves casting curses on those who take his photo without first asking permission. To date, the walls near his glass case are covered in numerous letters from previous visitors and naysayers, begging for Robert’s forgiveness and asking him to remove any hex he has cast.


For a period in the 19th century, Key West was the country’s most prosperous city, per capita. During this time, the island collected their riches from the numerous shipwrecks off their coast.

During the time when fires were built on the coast to guide the ships away from the reefs, there were some unscrupulous entrepreneurs who would build the fires in the wrong places so the ships would crash on the reefs, thus creating a cash flow for the scoundrels. 

And while all the treasure may be gone, you can still snorkel and dive several of the shipwreck sights. There’s even a Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail, maintained by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Here, you’ll find nine historic underwater shipwrecks and artificial reefs extending from Key Largo to Key West.

Ship wreck Museum

The Florida Keys collectively make up a chain of more than 800 islands, though a road trip is fairly convenient thanks to a 113-mile, 42-bridge Overseas Highway that connects all the major Keys. There used to be an Overseas Railroad that connected all above-ground Keys, but it was destroyed by a powerful hurricane in 1935. 

Ship Wreck Museum

The Keys hold the title for the highest year-round average temperature. At a balmy 77.8-degree average, you can almost always count on packing a suitcase full of shorts and dresses. 

Growing up on a dairy farm in southeastern Indiana, Gary traveled very little until midlife, when the opportunity became available to him.

Grabbing his camera and a bag full of equipment, he began his vision quest traveling to most areas of the United States and several countries abroad.

Along the way he collected several thousand photographs that he wants to share with everyone.

Gary decided the best way to accomplish his goal was to publish photo documentaries on the various areas of the world he has visited.

What will follow will be several photography books, who knows how many will wind up in his collection.

To contact Gary:



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