Stream All Speakers

The Distinguished Speaker Series is funded in part by the Helmerich Trust.

Recording of the Distinguished Speaker Series is generously supported by Aloys and Carol Metty and John and Marilyn Rintamaki.

Fred Borch: Key West and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

On October 14, 1962, US Air Force spy planes flying over Cuba discovered that the Soviet Union was assembling medium range ballistic missiles on the island—missiles that could reach most of the United States in minutes and, if armed with nuclear warheads, posed a grave threat to Americans. In the days and weeks that followed, the Cuban Missile Crisis took the world to the brink of nuclear war. Given its proximity to Cuba, Key West was in the thick of the Crisis. On Thursday, February 13th, Military historian Fred Borch will talk about Key West during this event and how its beaches played a key role protecting the United States in October and November 1962. 

Robert J. Woltz: Grand Army Women: The Loyal Women of the North

Robert J. Woltz discusses the lack of preparation on the part of all combatants to the role of women as army nurses and the civilian response. Then the organization of the Grand army of the republic (the union veterans and the Civil War) and eight organizations that formed as auxiliaries to support the widows, orphans, disabled and destitute army nurses. They literally raised millions of dollars to meet their need. 

Today 7 of these organizations still survive and continue to care for veterans, preserve historic sites and offer programs in schools. Robert’s book, Grand Army Women: The GAR and Its Female Organizations features the history of each order and offers a collectors guide to their membership and officers badges. His book features 500 full color images of these badges as well as 150 black and white images of their organizations, highlighting the importance of women during this time.

Seth Bramson: The Florida East Coast Railway

Seth Bramson, Florida East Coast Railway Company Historian, Barry University Adjunct Professor of History and Historian in Residence and Nova Southeastern University Lifelong Learning Institute Adjunct Professor of History, presents on the history of the Florida East Coast Railway.

Fred Borch: Key West in WWII

Military historian Fred Borch will talk about Key West’s role during World War II. When the war began, the Navy in Key West occupied just 50 acres on the edge of the island. By 1945, Navy operations sprawled across more than 3,200 acres. The Navy spent $70 million in building Key West into what some called “America’s Gibraltar” (after the British outpost in the Mediterranean), and more than 14,000 ships passed through Key West’s Harbor between 1942 and 1945. The Army also had hundreds of soldiers stationed in Key West. Finally, the population of Key West doubled and sometimes tripled the prewar population during this period. Come hear about this dizzying and incredible time in the history of Key West.

Willie Drye: Storm of the Century – Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

Author and National Geographic News Contributing Editor Willie Drye unraveled the fascinating story of the most powerful hurricane in U.S. history in his highly praised book, Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. The work of narrative non-fiction, which reads like a novel, has been hailed as the definitive account of this event. Drye’s riveting yet meticulously accurate portrayal of the horrific power of this long-ago monster storm also was praised by some of the nation’s most respected meteorologists.  Drye explains how he compiled the story of this American tragedy, the people he met and interviewed along the way, and the many remarkable sidebars he uncovered that made Storm of the Century an unforgettable read. Diagrams and period photos will help the audience understand the impact of this incalculably intense hurricane.

Jeff Stotts: Mid-19th Century Key West African-American Community

The community of Key West in the nineteenth century evolved from many cultural contributions. Most African descendants already living in mainland Florida had escaped prior servitude. Some were multi-generational descendants of freeman from the era of Spanish Florida, who had migrated into Key West. Many generations being mostly catholic, recently Americanized from Spanish rule, were never enslaved. These Afro-American merchants, businessmen, multi-skilled workers from St. Augustine, came south to Key West. Black Bahamians whose vast majorities are seafarers and skilled laborers were leaving behind a shattered economy in the Bahamas, represented many initial colonizers of Key West. Various settlers in transition of African descent, hailing from the far corners of the new world, were carving out a unique social and economic existence in the southernmost city, Key West.

Hemingway Days: Voices, Places, Inspirations

Moderator: Carol Shaughnessy

“Papa’s Poems” Read by Members of the Key West Poetry Guild and facilitated by Nance Boylan

Novelists & Short Story Authors Kirk Curnutt, Kristina Neihouse, Edgardo Alvarado-Vazquez

Hemingway Days: Voices, Places, Inspirations

Moderator: Carol Shaughnessy

“Papa’s Poems” Read by Members of the Key West Poetry Guild and facilitated by Nance Boylan

Novelists & Short Story Authors Kirk Curnutt, Kristina Neihouse, Edgardo Alvarado-Vazquez

Hemingway Days: Mini-Symposium

Moderator: Kirk Curnutt

Speakers: Brewster Chamberlin, Ph. D, Robert K. Elder, and Kirk Curnutt

Brian Magrane: Merchant Ship of 1622 Fleet

Dr. Brian Magrane will take the audience back in time to 1622 when the Spanish ruled Florida waters. He will tell the story of the Atocha’s lesser known sister ship, the Buen Jesus y Nuestra Senora del Rosario. Learn about life onboard a small Spanish merchant ship and what was found on the wreck site. Brian will discuss the coins and treasures recovered and how the Atocha and Rosario differed.

Chip Kasper & Sandy Delgado: The 1919 Hurricane and its Impact in Key West

The 1919 Hurricane was the fourth in a series of deadly hurricanes affecting the Florida Keys during the early 20th Century. The 1919 hurricane, which led to the sinking of the passenger ship Valbanera, resulted in perhaps the worst maritime disaster in the history of the Florida Keys. The hurricane also inspired Sister Louis Gabriel to design and build the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea in Key West.

Bob Bernreuter: A History of the Basilica St. Mary Star of the Sea

We will explore how small seeds of faith planted by 16th century missionaries on a small island in a new world were nurtured into a parish, survived the storms of nature and war, and ultimately would earn the attention of Rome and be honored with the distinguished title of a Minor Basilica.

Alex Vega: Fires that Forged Key West

Alex Vega is the Executive Director of the Key West Firehouse Museum, which is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and interpretation and exhibition of artifacts about fire fighting in Key West. Participants learned about the fires that forged Key West, including the Great Fire of 1886.

Laura Albritton & Jerry Wilkinson: Hidden History of the Florida Keys

What if the Overseas Railroad had never reached Key West? In their presentation the “Great Key West Extension Scare,” Florida Keys historian Jerry Wilkinson and writer Laura Albritton dive into the hidden history of Flagler’s railroad that went to sea. Uncovering a stash of records and newspaper articles, they will recount the dispute that might have led to the vital railroad line stopping in the Middle Keys. Who was involved, and why the Key West Extension was in doubt are two of the topics explored in this slideshow and lecture. The third book that Jerry and Laura have collaborated on, Hidden History of the Florida Keys, will be available for signing after the presentation.

Stephan Kitaskos: Eroticism & Experimentation in the Later Works of Tennessee Williams

A discussion that illuminates the playwright’s later one-act plays. In the canon of American dramatic literature, Williams is one of the leading writers of plays, short stories and poetry. Influenced by the socio-cultural underpinnings of American society, both pre-and-post WWII, he captured a realism and exposed a harsh brutality expressed in his characters: women and men searching for love and acceptance in a world that was relentingly hostile.

Panel Discussion: Bahama Village

Renowned historians (Jeff Stotts, Corey Malcolm, Carmen Turner and Roosevelt Sands) discuss the history of Bahama Village, moderated by Commissioner Clayton Lopez.

Steve King: The Art of Parades

Like Stanley Papio, the parade’s namesake, Steve King is an outsider artist that has left his mark on the Key’s community through his social commentary. Over the past 15 years, his creations have featured in the annual Fantasy Fest Parade, often placing or winning the event.

Tom Hambright: The Rest of the Story

You have heard the official history of Key West, now in the tradition of the late Paul Harvey, Tom Hambright is going to present the Rest of The Story for some major events in Key West History.

Frederic Borch III: The Spanish American War

Key West played a prominent role in the War with Spain, given its proximity to Cuba, and its important military and naval facilities. Military historian Fred Borch will talk about the Spanish American War, the USS Maine, and Key West.

Rafael Penalver: The History of the San Carlos Institute

The San Carlos Institute is one of Key West’s most beautiful and historic landmarks. Founded in 1871 as a Cuban patriotic and educational center, the San Carlos stands as a symbol of freedom and hope for the Cuban people. Jose Marti, Cuba’s legendary patriot, and poet, united the exile community at the San Carlos in 1892.

Theresa Schober: Bringing the Mound Key Story to Life – The Making of Escambia: The Kingdom of Carlos

Remnants of elevated mounds and ridges, sculpted canals and water courts remain a visible yet subtle reminder of the once thriving Calusa chiefdom that controlled the southern third of the Florida peninsula by 16th century Spanish contact.

Leslie K. Pooler, Ph.D.: Saving Florida – Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century

Florida is renowned for its beautiful beaches, natural springs, and subtropical wilderness. However, dredge-and-fill projects, air pollution, and pesticides spread so uncontrollably during the twentieth century that they sparked an environmental movement. Those who engaged in and led the fight were often women.

Jeff Stotts: Sandy Cornish’s War Garden

Jeff Stotts interest in horticultural practices throughout the Florida Keys has led to extensive research on Sandy Cornish, freed slave and civil war gardener. Cornish’s garden, formerly located at the site of The Basilica of St Mary Star of the Sea, was regarded as the “the best fruit grove and garden on the island” enjoyed by malnourished soldiers and visited by dignitaries such as Salmon P. Chase.

Frank Conlan: Kinetic Sculptures: From Theory to Reality

Frank Conlan, a self-professed tinkerer, and building contractor by trade, entered the Kinetic world on Roller skates as a Kinetic Cop. Inspired by Hobart Brown, the founder of the Kinetic Sculpture Race, Frank made his foray into the Kinetic Sculpture Race in Baltimore, with a sculpture titled D-Vine – the Grape Stompers, a tribute to filmmaker John Waters.

Tom Hambright: The Navy in Key West

Join us for a memorable presentation by retired Lieutenant Commander and Monroe County Historian Hambright, a living repository of Key West history. Having overseen the archives of the Monroe County Library for the past 30 years Tom’s passion for history and curiosity has led to the revelation of intriguing stories.

John Hemingway: Pamplona Posse

Imagine running with a herd of half-ton stampeding bulls down the narrow, cobbled streets of Pamplona, hoping to God you don’t get gored.  Every year, thousands do, including the grandson of the world’s most famous writer, John Hemingway.

John Blades: Henry Flagler’s Yacht, A Banana King, and the Founding of the State of Israel

Willie Drye: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

Author and National Geographic News Contributing Editor Willie Drye unraveled the fascinating story of the most powerful hurricane in U.S. history in his highly praised book, Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

Henry Schvey: The Plastic Theater of Tennessee Williams

Henry I. Schvey, Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis—the same institution where Williams was enrolled as a student during 1936-37—will examine how Williams’s lifelong preoccupation with painting provides a crucial key to understanding his plays. Beginning with the breakthrough success, The Glass Menagerie (1944), Williams developed a style he termed “Plastic Theatre,” concluding that his theatrical work should be seen almost as a kind of visual art, in which “The printed script of a play is hardly more than an architect’s blueprint of a house not yet built…its message lies in those abstract beauties of form and color and line.”

Moderated Panel: The Key West/Bahamas Connection

Early settlers in the Florida Keys came from a variety of places, including Cuba, New England, the mid-Atlantic and Europe. Perhaps the most influential of the initial settlers were the Bahamians. During the first two decades 18th century, Bahamians visited the region, being attracted to the wealth obtained through salvaging wrecked ships, fishing, and logging tropical hardwoods. After Key West was purchased by John Simonton in 1822, Bahamians moved to the Florida Keys in large numbers. Families settled along the length of the island chain, driven by the poor economic situation in the Bahamas, and the ability to start afresh in an area that provided a number of opportunities.