Monday, June 27, 2011

Egmont is the Key

Egmont Key, a somewhat distant island in the keys off Florida's gulf coast, has had an illustrious past - much of it military.

During the Seminole Wars it was used to detain Seminole prisoners until they could be transported to the reservation in Arkansas. Early in the Civil War, it was a Confederate base until Union forces captured it in July 1861. A cemetery for Civil War dead existed on the island from 1864 to 1909, when the bodies were moved elsewhere. It was a U.S. military position during both World War I (as a National Guard training center), World War II (as a radio beacon and ammo dump), plus the Spanish-American War - during which Fort Dade was built. Dade was decommissioned in 1921 and subsequently fell into ruin.

What I like best about Egmont is that it's deserted. No one lives there, and other than its historic lighthouse, there's not many signs of civilization. No stores; not even a bait shop or a snorkel supply. No restaurants, no bars. No restrooms. No nothing. And best of all, it's only accessible by boat, which really separates the shoppers from the hoppers. If you have no seafaring vessel to call your own, you can charter a ride with Hubbard's Marina out of Tampa Bay, Captain Snow from Pass-a-Grille, Captain Hal Batey of Charlie's Charters out of Treasure Island Marina, and my personal recommendation, Captain George's Mystic Dolphin Island Cruises.

But my interest in Egmont Key goes back to earlier times. According to some sources, it was first explored by the Spanish in the 1500s, and in 1759 it was called Castor Cayo after a mysterious Caribbean pirate - about whom I can find very little information. Supposedly, if internet chatter is to be believed, this Castor the Pirate buried treasure on Egmont Key and and near Sweetwater Creek at Rocky Point, and held his own pirate community called Castortown on the East end of the key. Nothing remains of Castortown today.

Castor was, as legend has it, captured and beheaded by the Spanish government. I wonder where this took place. I wonder what they did with his body and head. I wonder if he was buried someplace, or dumped into the ocean. I wonder where Castor's spirit is now and what his next move is.

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