Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I have previously mentioned that my family were some of the original families in Key West, Florida. I wrote about my Curry side of the family, this is to give equal time to the Maloney side.

Col. Walter Cathcart Maloney was born in Ireland but spent his boyhood on a Georgia plantation. In 1837, when he was 24, he visited Key West and decided to settle there. He married a Rigby whose family had been among the first to settle Key West. He tried his hand at school teacher, US Marshal, post master and finally in 1850, he studied law and became a successful attorney.

He was very politically involved and was a one man chamber of commerce. He had secured the land and helped to raise the money for the new city hall that was to be dedicated on July 4,1876. This was only one of many celebrations scheduled for that day as it was also the Centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Walter was asked to give a speech on the history of Key West for the dedication of the city hall. He was given two weeks to prepare and prepare he did. He was known for his accurate record keeping which years later would prove to be a blessing.

Walter scoured the city's records and prepared an 86 page speech to be delivered in the hot July sun. That is right, 86 pages. It is estimated that had he been able to finish his speech, it would have taken over 3 hours to complete. Think my verbose nature might be hereditary. To make things worse, he was not the first speaker.

A bit before noon, Walter was introduced to give a history of Key West from 1820 when it had a population of 300, to the present booming city of 12,750 making it the largest city in Florida. By now the audience was restless, hot, and in no mood for history and statistics.

What no one was aware of was that a celebratory cannon had discharged a shot into the roof of the Gem Saloon and that it was continuing to smolder between ceiling and shingles. At noon, the fire blazed through the roof of the bar and the alarm was sounded. Nothing like a good fire to excite people. Walter was abandoned and even though the fire was quickly put out, people went on to other activities. You know he wanted to shout to the disappearing crowd,"Wait, I'm not finished."

There were other things to do that day, parades to see, bands to hear, and a skating party. All those trumped a history speech. So there he stood with 86 pages of dry facts and figures. Pages of history, charts, columns of figures, shipping data, census figures, births, deaths, causes of death, meteorological tables, endless facts, and no one cared.

Not to let a little thing like lack of interest stop him, he was able to get his speech published as a book. A Sketch of the History of Key West, Florida by Walter C. Maloney. He was not going to let all that work go to waste. By gum, you will at least read what I have written, had to have been his inner voice.

Ten years later, the worst fire in the history of the town broke out and raged for twelve hours. The city hall he was to have dedicated 10 years earlier, burned to the ground along with all the cities records.

Walter's ponderous speech that was never given became the only written record of early Key West. I know he was devastated by the fire but in his heart of hearts, he had to have had a smug moment or two. He was finally heard.


  1. Fascinating story, Patti. I'm glad Walter's detailed city history finally was appreciated. As interesting as it may have been, I think I, too, would have been hard pressed to listen to a three-hour speech on the history of the town. :)

  2. Pat
    I would have been the first to bolt gratefully for the fire. It is only 86 pages to read and I have yet to read it cover to cover.

  3. Thank God for a cannon shot!!!

    I have just finished listened to several dry, boring speeches, none of which approached 86 pages.

    I'd have to the bathroom at page 10 or before, whether I needed to or not.

    I do good to sit through a 30 minute sermon once a week!!!

  4. Nitwit
    When I read your post today I saw the similarities.
    Makes you kind of wonder if the first fire might not have been intentional. I often wonder what he was thinking.

  5. Amazing story! What a History in your family....And to think his 86 pages was all that was left of the history of this wonderful area...! Vindicated, at last!

  6. OOLOH
    As a speech it sucked, as for preserving history, it was priceless.

  7. Wonderful story. I would have been striking matches after the first half hour. What was he thinking to do 86 pages. Is it possible that speaches where longer in those days? We have become so used to sound bites that no one really listens anymore.

  8. Well, I would much rather read it than have to listen to it - especially in the hot sun!! LOL

  9. Brighid,
    You know, they had no TV or radio so maybe this was entertainment. Looks like they switched channels on him though.

    At least reading it, you can put it down and walk away. It is definitely better taken in small doses.

  10. Hi Patti, What a great story!!!! Glad the 86 page paper at least got written down for future historical info... Even if there hadn't have been a fire --I wonder who many people would have stayed and listened to ALL of that..????? Yipes!!!!

    We are home from our Anniversary trip. I'll blog about it tomorrow.

    Hope you are having a great week.

  11. Betsy,
    Probably the fire saved him the humiliation of having people wandering off before he was finished. Pretty sure he would have eventually cleared the room.
    Hope you took pictures.