- Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2012 12:04
- Written by Patti Lavell
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Construction on Key West’s Fort Zachary Taylor began in 1845, shortly after Florida was named a state. During the 1850’s construction was painfully slow due in part to limited supplies. What slowed construction even more than the lack of supplies were the massive and deadly outbreaks of yellow fever. At one time, as many as fifteen people died each day inside the fort from yellow fever.
Yellow fever or Yellow Jack as it was sometimes called, was transmitted by mosquitoes and came on its victims very quickly causing a high fever. The fever caused damage to cells in the liver and turned its victims a very unhealthy shade of yellow. Hence the name.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, union officers seized control of the fort to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands. The fort was used heavily during the 1898 Spanish-American War but didn’t see a lot of action afterwards. In 1947, the Army decided it no longer had any use for the fort and handed it over to the Navy. In the late 1960’s a large number of Civil War relics were excavated on the grounds of the fort, uncovering the largest collection of Civil War cannons in the United States.
President Harry Truman liked the location and the view from the fort so much that he used it as his winter White House. He visited the fort eleven different times during his term, spending almost 180 days there in total. Although the Secret Service built a private beach on the fort’s property to ensure his safety, Truman only used it once. It seems that Truman much preferred Key West’s public beaches and spent quite a bit of time at them.
Unfortunately, the fort’s history is not made up of only interesting stories with happy endings. Countless people have died within those walls and many people believe that some of them are still around.
Visitors to the fort often see soldiers line up in formation amid the sounds of whistles and gunshots that can’t be explained. Staff members have learned to ignore the odd sights and sounds out of self preservation. There is no reasonable explanation and nothing they say or do can make them cease.
The fort was the sight of several executions. Almost every day at noon, the sound of the trap door is heard opening and banging shut; evidence of an unseen hanging.
Although located in the tropical heat of Key West, cold spots occur in several areas of the fort. The temperatures of these cold spots are simply not possible in this climate and have been blamed on a ghostly presence. Some of these temperature fluctuations occur in the jail area from which staff and visitors hear screams and pleas for mercy.
Many believe that the fort covers mass burials of those who died from yellow fever. A visit to the hospital wing of the fort may afford you a look at a young girl who has been seen there. You can’t miss her. She’s the one with severe burns covering her body who seems unwilling to leave the hospital area.
Like so many other historic landmarks on this island, Fort Zachary Taylor has a long past dripping with death. Almost everywhere you go in the fort there seem to be unearthly spirits waiting for you. The question is do they want to give you a harmless tour of their fort or do they want to make you join them?