Category Archives: Key West History

Key West “Gypsy” Chickens

As proud citizens of Key West, we are always glad to help bewildered-looking tourists with directions or to answer their more than familiar and often entertaining questions. Besides are all time favorites— “Is there water on the other side of the island?” and “Do you have a sunset every night?”—we are amazed by how many people ask us, “What’s up with the chickens?”

What's the joke about the chicken crossing the road?

What’s the joke about the chicken crossing the road?

Often called Key West “Gypsy” chickens or Key West “Free-Range” chickens, the number of chickens on the island took a big leap in the 1860’s when waves of Cubans followed the cigar industry to Key West. Cockfighting was an extremely popular sport in Cuba and the immigrants brought their chickens with them. When cockfighting was finally outlawed in 1970, the chickens were emancipated, protected by law, and free to roam the island.

One of our favorite signs.

One of our favorite signs.

Proud Mama.

Proud Mama.

We have a love/hate relationship with the chickens. The roosters’ gorgeous plumage often warrants our highest compliments and we have marveled at the tenacity of many a hen when her chicks are being asked to lunch by a hungry hawk. Choice words have flown when a daydreaming rooster has suddenly stepped into the path of our bikes or after moving in next door, an early riser has awakened us before sunrise. Good or bad, Key West’s “Gypsy” chickens have attained celebrity status and are as woven into the colorful fabric of the island as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Jimmy Buffett.

Keith & Dean

Key West’s Theodore “Fats” Navarro

Theodore "Fats" Navarro, 1923-1950

Theodore “Fats” Navarro, 1923-1950

Without a doubt, the musician that is most often associated with Key West is the legendary Jimmy Buffett. Long before Parrotheads around the world were singing and dancing to Margaritaville, the world of jazz crowned Key West native Theodore “Fats” Navarro as one its greats.

Navarro was born in Key West in 1923 to Cuban-Black-Chinese parentage. While growing up on Thomas Street in Bahama Village, his mother, Miriam Williams, worked as a cook in the home of Earnest and Pauline Hemingway. Although Navarro began playing piano at age 6, he did not become serious about music until taking up the trumpet at 13. After graduating from Douglas High School and ready to see the world, he joined a dance band and headed for the Midwest.

As a trumpet player, Navarro was a pioneer of the bebop style of jazz improvisation in the 1940’s—playing with Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton. He is ranked with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis as one of the most gifted and original stylists in the development of jazz. Theodore “Fats” Navarro died New York City, at the young age of 26, in 1950. Six days before his passing, he gave his final performance with Charlie Parker at the landmark jazz club Birdland.

Keith & Dean