Key West, Way Back When

This is a photo taken from the City Hall Tower in Key West, Florida, USA back in 1907. Also from the archive of the United States Library of Congress.  Cruise ship travelers take notice. Things were different then.

If you click on the photo and open it in a separate window, you’ll see there is an amazing amount of detail. This must have been a holiday of some kind, perhaps the 4th of July. There is a parade going on. There is bunting on some of the building. But you can also make out several ships, including a schooner sailing through the narrows on the right.

I’ve been to Key West several times. I stayed at a bed and breakfast called The Mermaid and The Alligator. Fantastic place to stay, great atmosphere, walking distance to the center of town, but away from all the noise. Key West is loaded with so many good restaurants and fun things to do. No wonder so many people are repeat visitors.

I need to work Key West into a story. At the moment the way to do that isn’t in my head. Sooner or later, I’ll figure out. I know that Pan American Airways started here with a flight to Cuba. That may be the hook. Now I only need the line and the sinker.


A View of the Lusitania

Since my novel, An Island Away, has a shipwreck scene in it, I was looking through various databases for information on such incidents. Here is one of those fantastic panoramic photos courtesy of the United States Library of Congress, perhaps one of the ultimate databases of all time. It is not of a shipwreck, but it is of a famous ship that sank in record time, 18 minutes according to some accounts. You cruise ship passengers might enjoy a view of the Lusitania, that famous liner that sank under mysterious circumstances. The incident helped move America into the First World War.

I’m not sure where this waterfront is. It may be New York or somewhere in England. I’m trying to find out, and when I do, I’ll update this post with the correct info. The only data I have is that the photo was taken at the “end of a record voyage.”

On the left side of the frame, in the corner of the slip, you’ll see a steam tug. This must have been quite a vessel, an actual wooden-hulled steam tug. Many of them went to the bottom with all hands after a boiler explosion. Hard work that was. Dangerous, too. I worked with a tugboat captain in Philadelphia. He told me both his uncle and his father were engineers back in the days of steam. He added that he became a captain because they died in explosions because as engineers they were below deck when disaster struck. Wise move on his part, eh? He was a skilled operator, knew all the old tricks and had some hand-made instruments for plotting speed against the tide for a given boat and barge combination. I adapted his methods and made one of my own, a sort of slide rule device. It was accurate enough to save me many hours and plenty of money. All this without a computer. Amazing.

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Island Away, Excerpt 2

The second excerpt from my novel, An Island Away, posted here for those who would like a peek. A synopsis and more info is available at my website. The book is available at

Chapter 5: Captain Nathan Beck has been adrift for more than five days. At last he has come ashore in Aruba…

Finally, he was head and shoulders out of the ocean. Only a few inches of water skirted the sand. The place he wanted to go was amidst a grove of low trees. He took another rest. It felt wonderful to be on solid ground. Looking at his bare feet, he wondered what the other parts of his body looked like. He had to be a fright for whoever was going to see him first.

He sat up and stared in the direction of the music. Between the trees he saw shapes dancing. A man leaned over a bar. Beer bottles clanked as two guys toasted one another. Just a few more feet and he would be there among them. He would be safe, alive to tell the tale.

Forgetting his previous failure at walking, he tried to get up again. He heard voices, a man and a woman, very close. He looked up and there they were, a couple dancing on the beach. They stopped and the man turned the young lady to face him. He kissed her. They were so close Beck could hear their lips smack. Why couldn’t they see him?

He wanted to find out. He struggled against the all-powerful force of exhaustion that pressed down on his shoulders. His vision blurred as he wobbled upright. A screeching roar filled his ears. The distorted view before him tilted one way, then the other. He went light-headed, dizzy to the point of retching. He put his arms out to break the coming fall.

He collapsed on the beach with his feet in the water. He caught a glimpse of the moon before it went black and took all the stars with it.

“I didn’t drown,” he whispered into the darkness.

An Island Away, Excerpt 1

Chapter 1: Charlie and his cat, Screwball, are on his balcony, looking over the town of San Nicolaas, Aruba, the principal setting for my novel, An Island Away.

Charlie lived in a place where the illegal was legal, where the immoral was moral, and where some people’s fantasies were other people’s realities. So, he lived every day in anticipation of the fantastic. And why not? It was the night before his birthday, the start of another year in a place where anything could happen.

…a little further on….

A car rolled beneath his balcony, flashed its signal, and turned right. Charlie watched his lifelong friend Sam park at the end of the block. He couldn’t help but smile at the man’s reliability and persistence. No one but Sam took the time to make his birthday a grand affair. Unfortunately, and despite Charlie’s constant warnings, Sam fell prey to indomitable emotions with regard to the girls working in San Nicolaas and frequently found himself miserably heartbroken, a condition Charlie studiously avoided.

“Thanks to Sam, we’re in for a nice time,” Charlie said to Screwball. “Unless something else comes up. You never know. Eh? Let’s hope we have a party and something else.”

The cat shifted on the parapet, licked his forepaw, and once again put his head upon it.

Something else? Charlie asked himself. What could it be? Well, this town was named San Nicolaas and not for the Jolly Old Saint Nicolas the Americans called Santa Claus. Nonetheless, the town gave its gifts (such as they were) to one and all, Charlie included. Christmas was every night of the week, every day of the year, with the exception of the actual Christmas Day, New Year’s, Carnival Saturday, and Easter Sunday. And on those days, too, an enterprising man need only walk the lane known as Rembrandtstraat, peek into the caged halls leading to the rooms upstaris, and call out. Someone would unlock the door, lead the man ¬†inside, and provide the service of the oldest profession. The experience could be another meaningless act, or it might change somebody’s life. As he knew, the outcome depended on the man, the woman, and the people in between.

Charlie stubbed out his cigarette and looked over the street one more time. “Welcome to San Nicolaas,” he said, “We’re open for business.”