Saturday, November 12, 2016

HGB Ep. 163 - Capt. Tony's Saloon

Moment in Oddity - Magnetic Strip on Autobahn

 A section of the Autobahn in Germany between Bremen and Bremerhaven was opened in 1929 and in its first year of operation, one hundred cars crashed. That would be weird enough all on its own, but what makes this even more bizarre is that all the crashes happened in the same place near kilometer marker 239. On September 7, 1930, nine separate accidents occurred. All of the cars were totaled. Authorities were puzzled because the patch of road was not particularly hazardous. There was no tight turn. The road was straight and flat. Then they started comparing stories of accident survivors. Many claimed feeling a sensation as though a strange force had taken over the steering wheel and thrown the car off the road. A local water diviner named Carl Wehrs heard about the issue and went to the police offering his services. He walked with a steel diving rod around the marker. He was looking for an underground stream causing some kind of magnetic force. While he was walking, the rod was ripped from his grasp and his body was spun around 360 degrees. Wehr suggested that a box of copper be buried next to the marker. The accidents stopped. They tested the theory by digging up the box and three cars immediately crashed. They buried the box again and sprinkled holy water. No more accidents happened. An unseen magnetic strip along or under a road that causes accidents, certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Polar Explorer Robert Falcon Scott's Body Found

On this day, November 12th, in 1912, the body of British polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott is found frozen to death in Antarctica. Scott headed two expeditions to the South Pole. The first took place in 1901 and lasted through to 1904. The second expedition was the Terra Nova Expedition that launched November 1, 1911 and had a couple of goals.The first was to conduct more research, but the ultimate goal was to be the first to reach the South Pole. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen beat him to it by a month. Scott had a 38 man team that set off with him initially, but only five men were with him at the time of his death. That entire team died on the return trip. Inside Scott's tent were found fossils, rolls of film, meteorological logs and scores of notes. The weather took a turn they were not prepared for and Captain Scott wrote, "No-one in the world would have expected the temperatures and surfaces which we have encountered at this time of the year. It is clear that these circumstances come on very suddenly, and our wreck is certainly due to this sudden advent of severe weather."

Capt. Tony's Saloon (Suggested by Maryann Barcomb)

Key West, Florida is the southernmost part of the United States. The city features man-made beaches, resorts, shopping, eateries and lots of history. One of the historical bars here is Capt. Tony's Saloon. The building has a long and diverse history that includes brothels, speakeasies, morgues and much more. One of the former bars here was a favorite watering hole of Ernest Hemingway. The current saloon, Capt. Tony's is a favorite gathering place for locals. It also seems to be a gathering place for customers from beyond the veil. Could it be because a former hanging tree once stood here? Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Capt. Tony's Saloon!

Visitors to Key West, Florida will not find any non-man-made beaches because the island is made from coral. This coral was once below the sea as a type of coral forest millions of years ago. The first settlers to come here were Native Americans. Spanish explorers gave the island the name "Cayo Hueso," which means little island bone. Explorers used Key West as a pit stop for water and other items. Bahamians were thought to have settled here before the 1800s, but it wouldn't be until Florida became a territory in 1821, that settlers came here permanently. Ownership of Key West was really confusing at this time and almost came across as a land scam. Juan Pablo Salas bought Key West as part of a Spanish Land Grant in 1815 from Don Juan de Estrata. A man named John Simonton bought the land from Salas, but he didn't really have a deed. Little did Simonton know, but Salas sold it twice. Once to him and once to a man named John Strong. Strong sold it twice as well and Simonton partnered with three other men with whom he split the land. In the end, Congress declared Simonton the owner. The city of Key West was incorporated on January 8, 1828. Key West also became a port of entry at that time. Wrecking, which is taking shipwrecks to a port of entry and selling off the goods, and salt mining became major forces of economy.

Anyone visiting Key West will hear about something called the Conch Republic. The story behind this is one that many do not know, but there was a time when a part of Florida, Key West to be exact, seceded from the United States and this was after the Civil War. In 1982, the Border Patrol set up a roadblock at Florida City's "Skeeter's Last Chance Saloon" to search for illegal immigrants. This effectively cut off the Florida Keys and inconvenienced residents and tourists. The Key West City Council complained to the federal government and pushed for an injunction against the roadblock. When they got no satisfaction, the council, along with the mayor of Key West, declared independence on April 23, 1982 and seceded. They lowered the American flag and raised the flag of the Conch Republic. Some Key Westers protested and the American flag was raised above the Conch Republic flag. The media brought attention to the plight of the Keys and the roadblock was dismantled. The American government never responded to the secession. Today, Key West continues to observe the event and celebrates their Conch Republic tongue-in-cheek and this has spread to the entirety of the Keys.

Capt. Tony's Saloon is located at 428 Greene Street and this location has a rich and varied history. The building was built in 1851 to serve as an ice house. Ice was necessary to keep food cold in the 1800s, but it was also very useful for keeping something else preserved and that was bodies. Before electric refrigeration, the ice house was used as Key West's first city morgue. There was a large oak tree beside the building that came to be known as Key West’s ‘Hanging Tree.’ Piracy was a huge problem in the waters around Key West and sixteen of those pirates would meet there end on this hanging tree. A seventeenth person hanged here was a woman who stabbed to death her family that included her husband and two small children.

In the 1890s, the building became a wireless telegraph station and some of the major news that came through there was about the sinking of the battleship Maine in 1898. The news went out from here to all over the world. A cigar factory moved into the space in 1912. A series of speakeasies moved in with various names including The Blind Pig and they featured the typical gambling, liquor and brothels. *Fun fact: Hoover Gold is what people in Key West called bootleg rum.* The speakeasies continued into the 1930s when an establishment that will become well known moved in and that was Sloppy Joe's.

Joe “Josie” Russell opened Sloppy Joe’s in 1933. This was Ernest Hemingway's favorite watering hole in town. Hemingway had his most productive time of writing while he was living in Key West and his daily routine was getting up at dawn, writing all morning and afternoon in his pool house and then heading to Sloppy Joe's to meet his friends at 3:30pm. During these years Hemingway wrote,  “Death in the Afternoon”, “The Green Hills of Africa “, “To Have and Have Not” as well as “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” A dispute over rent between Josie and his landlord caused Josie to decide to move the bar across town to its current location on Duval Street. The landlord presented him with a new lease that raised the rent and stated that all fixtures had to stay at the bar if the lease was ended. So Josie decided to move the entire bar in the middle of the night and he took the fixtures too. This included a urinal, which Hemingway insisted on taking because "his hard earned money paid for it.” The urinal can still be viewed at the Hemingway House where it remains as a cat trough.

The next person to own the building was an openly gay man named Morgan Bird. Although it was the 1940s, Key West seemed more open about gay people and perhaps that is why it is a gay haven to this day. Bird decided to open a gay bar here and called it the Duval Club. He decorated it in a late-Victorian style and threw lavish parties. Some of these parties attracted naval sailors and before long, the Duval Club was on the "off limits" list for the naval sailors who were apparently propositioned heavily at the bar. The well worn location at 428 Green Street would have its final and current tenant take over in 1958. The owner at the time was David Wolkowsky and he sold it to Captain Tony Tarracino, for whom Capt. Tony's Saloon is named.

Anthony Tarracino was an interesting character and so he fit well with quirky Key West. He was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on Aug. 10, 1916. His father was an immigrant and made money as a bootlegger during Prohibition. Tony decided to get into the family business and he quit school in the ninth grade to sell illegal whiskey with his father. This eventually led him to the New Jersey Mafia. He became a gambler as well and got himself into a tight spot that left him beaten nearly to death at the Newark City Dump. Tony decided he better chance things and fast, He moved to Key West in 1948 and spent the next sixty years on the island, even serving as mayor for two years. He only had $18 in his pocket when he arrived. He worked as a charter boat captain for 35 years, which is where the title "Captain" comes from. During the 1950s he claimed he was a gunrunner and that he ferried CIA agents and mercenaries to Cuba and Haiti. He opened his saloon in 1958. He once said of Key West, "Key West is an insane asylum. We're just too lazy to put up the walls or fences. I want to retain that mystique." He eventually sold the saloon in 1989 after running it for 28 years. He fathered 13 children with 5 wives. He died of lung and heart ailments at the age of 90 at Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West.

The back room at Capt. Tony's is a pool room, but it served as a dance hall named Silver Slipper in the days of the original Sloppy Joe's. A live band played Rumba all night long. The room hosted gambling before the dance hall. There was sawdust on the floor and gamblers played faro, celo, craps, roulette, slots and blackjack. Today, a huge tree grows in the center of the bar, all the way through the roof. And yes, it is THAT tree: The hanging tree. The decor features license plates, business cards and countless women's bras stapled to the walls and ceiling. The bar stools are painted and feature the names of famous people who have spent time there like Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Shel Silverstein. Jimmy Buffett performed at the tavern in the 1970s for tips and beer. The song “Last Mango in Paris” is about this time in Buffett's life. If you visit, be sure to try the Pirate Punch.

Many people have heard of  Robert the Doll. This creepy doll seems to have captured a spirit of some sort. But Robert is far from the only spirit on Key West and Capt. Tony's seems to have a few spirits. One of them is a "lady in blue'" Remember that woman who was hanged on the hanging tree for killing her family? She was wearing a blue dress when she swung from the rope. The effects of hanging also caused her to turn blue. So when people see her full-bodied apparition in the saloon, she is completely blue. One patron also claimed that he got a third degree burn on his hand after touching the tree.

A major hurricane hit Key West in 1865, with a massive sea surge. The waves smashed into everything and the city morgue, the current saloon, took a direct hit. Doors went flying and so did corpses. They disappeared into the murky waters. Only one was ever recovered outside the building. The Bahamians decided to bury the body and then they built a wall around the grave and placed bottles of holy water in the wall. The bar was eventually built over this grave. In the 1980s, restoration was being done on the floors when the bones of eight to fifteen bodies were discovered. The bar features a skeletal reminder behind it. A grave marker featuring the name Elvira was found at this time as well and it was put in the passageway to the pool hall. Was there a cemetery here at one time? Were the bones of those hanged, buried here?

A woman came into the speakeasy one night with her baby and found her husband carousing. She was so angry that she went into the bathroom and killed the baby. Ever since, the bathroom has been haunted. Cold spots are felt in the bathrrom and outside in the hallway.The stalls lock and unlock themselves. One woman had the following experience in 2005:
“I tried to go in the first stall, but it was locked. I figured someone was in there that I didn’t notice, but then I heard the outside door close. Just before we left, I went in again. I again went for the first stall – the back one gave me the chills and eerie feeling – and realized it was locked from the inside. While in the back stall, I again heard the outside door close and I looked around the corner. No one walked in. I was feeling strange but continued what I was doing when, all of a sudden, I heard that first stall door slam. I jumped out of the back stall and saw that no one was there, and that the first stall was still locked from the inside. I ran out and never looked back.”
A man named Joe Faber started frequenting Captain Tony’s Saloon in 1976. He has heard disembodied voices. He said, “About eight or nine years ago, I’m in the bar alone at about four o’clock in the morning. I was sitting there doing paperwork, and someone called me. All I heard was, ‘Hey, Joe.’ I thought that was pretty odd, so I got up to look around to see who was looking for me. I walked out of the back of the bar, and the back doors were wide open. I had just been out there maybe half an hour earlier.”  He looked everywhere, but found no one. He continued, “I didn’t think much of that voice until several years later. I was sitting at the bar at the end of the night doing paperwork, and I hear that same voice again, but this time it says, ‘Don’t leave.’ Now I’ve got the chills. I got up, and I ran to the back to see if the doors were open. I checked, and everything was locked down. So then I checked the entire building, because I’m thinking this may be a warning that there’s going to be a fire or something, but nothing was wrong.” He finds nothing again and heads home.

Several hours later his phone rang. He said, “I get a phone call about six o’clock in the morning from the police saying that a girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old, committed suicide in front of the bar. Apparently the girl called her mother from her cell phone, said that she had just taken some pills to kill herself, and that she was in front of a yellow building that she thought was a bar, under a green awning. Her mother called the Key West police, who went from bar to bar and found the girl in front of Captain Tony’s, dead. Had I stayed at the bar that night, maybe I would have found the girl and been able to help her. Now, do I know what the hell that is? Absolutely not. But I do know that I’ve been there twenty years, I’ve heard it twice, and it was meaningful both times. Everybody can speak about the Lady in Blue, the bathroom, and things like that, but I means nothing to me until I actively see it or hear it. But from what I’ve experienced, and the stories I’ve heard, I know something’s going on.”

Key West seems to have captured many spirits along its coral surface. Is the former Sloppy Joe's one of those places on this island harboring the spirits of those no longer living? Is Captain Tony's Saloon haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
We also featured the fifth installment of the third series of Tim Prasil's Spectral Editon: A New York Society of Ghost Hunters. Check out more Spectral Edition at

Quotes from Alan's Mysterious World Blog:

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