Oddities and Ghosts of Key West Cemetery Mar 23, 2020 12:05:50 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Mar 23, 2020 12:05:50 GMT -5
Oddities and Ghosts of Key West Cemetery
If you’re a fan of the weird and spooky, Key West Cemetery is the place for you. The 19-acre graveyard in the heart of Old Town was established in 1847 after a catastrophic hurricane hit the area on October 11, 1846, destroying the community’s burial ground. According to Stephen Mallory, port inspector and eyewitness to the devastation:
The effects of the hurricane were terrible. The grave yard of this town on a high sand ridge on the Southern part of the Island was entirely washed away, and the dead were scattered throughout the forest, many of them lodged in trees.
The address is 701 Pauline Street, but the main entrance and sexton’s house are located at the intersection of Angela and Margaret streets. The graveyard’s inhabitants include those of all religious faiths, political persuasions and socioeconomic levels – from paupers to millionaires.
One of the more interesting tombs is the tilted crypt (above) of Piedad de Ayala, granddaughter of José Fornaris, who wrote “La Bayamesa,” the Cuban national anthem. Piedad had an unnatural fear of drowning and when she died in 1891 at around age 30, her stilted vault was tilted to ensure the draining of any water that might enter the receptacle.
Another noteworthy memorial is the delicately-carved angel at the grave of 16-year-old Gladys Bates, who died of typhoid fever in 1908. The huge Otto plot that serves not only as the final resting place of the descendants of Dr. Joseph Otto, a Prussian immigrant, but also three Yorkshire terriers and “Elfina,” a pet Key deer.
Then there’s the crypt of B. P. “Betty” Roberts, whose husband and friends scoffed at her many ailments. She died at age 50 and the plaque on her crypt reads: I told you I was sick.
Another amusing epitaph is that of Georgio Aversa, which reads: Jesus Christ, These People Are Horrible. The line was chosen by his wife who often complained this was what her husband said when they attended social gatherings.
I’ve Always Dreamed of Owning a Small Place in Key West is inscribed on one stone and another identifies the occupant as a Devoted Fan of Singer Julio Iglesias.
And you don’t want to miss the bronze plaque on the crypt of Alan Dale Willcox that wisely observes: If You’re Reading This, You Desperately Need a Hobby.
But among the humorous, heartbreaking and historic grave markers, there are also bizarre images and tales of horror. While rambling about the burial ground, sooner or later one comes upon the statue of a nude female with her hands tied behind her back. Does she symbolize bondage? No one knows. The enigmatic figure known as “The Bound Woman” adorns the grave of Archibald John Sheldon Yates, who died in 1966 at the age of 55. Some say the statue represents his wife, Elaine Ballou Yates, an artist, pianist and arts enthusiast, but no one really knows. Mrs. Yates died in 2017 at the age of 93 and never explained her husband’s mystifying grave marker.
The Bound Woman is tame in comparison to the fate of a lovely young woman who became the unwilling plaything of a mad necrophiliac. In 1930, Carl Tanzler (aka Count Carl von Cosel), a German-born radiology technoligist (radiology technician), met the comely Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, a 21-year-old woman of Cuban heritage, when he x-rayed her lungs. Despite the fact both he and Elena were married – he had a wife and two children in Zephyrhills and she had been deserted by her husband – plus she was dying of tuberculosis, Tanzler fell head-over-heels for the dark-haired beauty.
Initially, Tanzler, who falsely claimed to be a doctor, attempted to cure Elena of the dread disease, while at the same time showering her with expensive gifts, but, alas, on October 25, 1931, she died. The “doctor” encouraged the family to bury their loved one in an above-ground crypt and because he was paying for both the tomb and funeral, they acquiesced. Following interment, Tanzler visited the cemetery daily, often singing Spanish ballads at her grave site. Then one night in April 1933, he removed Elena’s body from her sepulcher, placed the remains in a toy wagon and took his beloved home.
In a makeshift laboratory he had set up in an old airplane, Tanzler stuffed the decomposing cadaver with cloth, inserted wires to preserve her form and used plaster of Paris to fill the holes where the outer layers of skin had deteriorated. He placed glass eyes in her empty sockets and waxed the skin to make it more pliable. Needless to say, he purchased gallons of perfume to masque the pungent odor of rotting flesh. Once his prize was presentable, he bought wigs, silk stockings and clothing for his dead sweetheart. Some say he had a wig fashioned from Elena’s hair, which was still thick and lustrous, despite many months in the grave.
Oddly, no one thought it strange that a man in his mid-50s, who lived alone, was purchasing women’s clothing, wigs and perfume by the gallon or that one spring night he was seen leaving the cemetery pulling a child’s wagon.
Tanzler thoroughly enjoyed the company of his “companion,” singing, dancing and playing the organ for her and sleeping beside her for seven years before anyone became suspicious.
But Key West was a small town at the time and there were rumors. Initially, when people saw him buying feminine items, they assumed the old doctor had taken up with some woman, but no one ever saw him in the company of a female. When word reached Elena’s family in October 1940, her sister, by all accounts a shrewd lady, suspected the worst and marched straight to Tanzler’s house, where she found her sister’s violated corpse. She wasted no time contacting the authorities and Tanzler was arrested.
A psychiatrist who examined him deemed Tanzler mentally competent to stand trial and he was charged with “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization.” During his interrogation by authorities, Count von Cosel (he wasn’t a count either) claimed it was his intention to reanimate the woman he loved using some sort of advanced radiology equipment he planned to invent. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations had expired and the charges against him were ultimately dismissed.
In the meantime, the grotesque thing that had once been Elena Hoyos was displayed for all to see and thousands made the trek downtown to have a look. Strangely, many sympathized with Tanzler, finding it romantic that he was so enamored with the girl that he had gone to such extreme efforts to preserve her.
It wasn’t until 1972 that a doctor present during the examination of what was left of Elena’s body revealed that in addition to the stuffing, wires, plaster of Paris and other preservation measures, a tube had been inserted in the vaginal area so that Tanzler could mount and engage in sexual intercourse with the cadaver. Had this fact been revealed at the time, Tanzler would have been condemned for the disgusting necrophile that he was and few, if any, would have considered him an “eccentric romantic.”
Once cleared of the charges against him, Tanzler had the audacity to request the return of Elena’s corpse. Some thought this proved the man was deranged, but others considered him crazy like a fox. Needless to say, his request was denied, but the authorities were convinced the remains of Elena Hoyos would never be safe as long as Tanzler was alive. Accordingly, the bones were placed in a square box, transported to Key West Cemetery and buried in an unknown location. The plaque in the graveyard bearing Elena’s name and dates of birth (July 31, 1909) and death is all that’s left of the young woman’s elaborate tomb. On the day Tanzler departed Key West for Zephyrhills, the crypt mysteriously exploded.
Tanzler remained in Zephyrhills until his death in July 1952 at age 75. When officers were searching the cluttered little house he called home, they discovered a wax replica of Elena Hoyos. Those who saw the image said it was skillfully created, a faithful reproduction of the girl he loved. He was laid to rest in Oakside Cemetery beside his daughter, Crystal, who died in 1934.
When touring Key West Cemetery, those with an interest in the paranormal always enquire if the graveyard is haunted and according to local ghost hunters, it is. Some have reported seeing the apparition of an angry woman who appears to those disrespecting the burial ground by stepping on graves, sitting or leaning on tombstones, or being loud and obnoxious. Others claim to have heard the voice of a child that seems to be emanating from the grave of a 12-year-old girl.
In the late 1990s, a group of out-of-state visitors swore they caught a glimpse of a gorgeous young woman in what one of their number described as an old-fashioned dress, “possibly from the 1920s or 30s,” while touring the cemetery. Later, when they saw a photo of Elena Hoyos in a brochure recounting the story of Carl Tanzler, they couldn’t help wondering if what they saw was the spirit of the lovely young lady, unable to rest because of the indignities to which her corpse had been subjected.
Sources: Li Misol, Narcity, March 3, 2020; "Most Haunted Places in Key West," Southernmost Ghosts, November 29, 2019; Marisa Roman, Only in Your State, February 1, 2019; Tijana Radeska, The Vintage News, October 9, 2018; Undying Love: The True Story of a Passion That Defied Death by Ben Harrison; Charlie Hintz, Cult of the Weird, April 11, 2016; Kaushik Patowary, Amusing Planet; Key West Cemetery; Clerk of Court, Monroe County, Florida; and Find-a-Grave.