Let’s talk about Keys history — including a visit from the late Queen of England

September 15 — When it comes to making history, the Florida Keys is often at the top of the list. 

Andy Newman with the Tourist Development Council joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about recent projects. 

The Society of American Travel Writers each year chooses up to three winners for their Phoenix Award, which has a conservation, environmental and restoration theme.  

The old 7-mile bridge in the Keys was made one of three Phoenix Award winners for 2022. The announcement was made late last Saturday. 

Newman said, “The bridge was honored for its sustainable and cultural tourism initiative. Anybody in the Keys should know that that bridge is the center piece that once was the Florida Keys overseas railroad and then later on in 1937 became the center piece for the Florida Keys overseas highway.” 

The Florida Department of Transportation, the Monroe County Commission and the City of Marathon earmarked the $44 million in funding for the restoration of that 2.2 mile segment, which was expended over a four-year period.

Another $33 million has been earmarked for maintenance during the next 30 years. 

Newman said, “None of this would have been possible if it hadn’t been for the local community efforts lead by a group of folks mainly in Marathon called Friends of Old Seven. They started fundraising efforts and really pushed the government resources. That sentimental seven mile bridge, it’s just iconic for the Florida Keys and to think that at least the 2.2 mile section of the old bridge is going to remain for us for quite some time is extremely gratifying.” 

It is also a linear park. Anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to talk a walk is encouraged to do so. 

Newman said, “If you have not yet visited Pigeon Key, which of course is where that old bridge takes you, that’s just an incredible experience. You literally step back into history. Amazingly at one point there were 400 men that were living on that island on a continuous basis. It’s just amazing to think that they could accommodate that many people.” 

The readers of Travel and Leisure have ranked four Florida Keys properties among Florida’s 15 best resorts in their 2022 issue. 

The recent death of Queen Elizabeth of England brought about the reminiscence of another historical moment for the Keys. 

Newman explained, “In 1991, the Queen made a trip to south Florida. It was announced in south Florida well in advance of her actual arrival. When my late father, who started the PR firm that I own today, heard of it, he came to me and said, we need to see if we can get the Queen to go to the Florida Keys. And I said, well, okay, sounds great to me! What are you going to do?  Are you going to contact Buckingham Palace? No problem.” 

Ultimately, Newman’s father did make contact with the British consulate office in Miami and it was decided the Queen would do a stop-over at Fort Jefferson because she and Prince Philip were planning on going from Miami via the Royal Britannia yacht to New Orleans. 

Newman said, “So the stop at Fort Jefferson made a lot of sense. One of the things we helped arrange was for then Florida Keys Mayor, Wilhelmina Harvey, the late great grand dame of the Florida Keys, to actually meet the Queen and to just officially welcome her to the Florida Keys.” 

A helicopter transported Wilhelmina to Fort Jefferson where she welcomed the Queen.

Newman said, “Wilhelmina was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity. I managed to convince the British consulate that I should be going there as part of the official press pool. It was a very, very, very small press group there. What was interesting for me was that when we got on the island, we all, even though the main staging for this whole big event in south Florida was Miami, they decided the British consulate and the Buckingham Palace decided they were going to charter planes for the press pool from Fort Lauderdale to Key West and then transfer there to sea planes at Key West to head out at Fort Jefferson. We went out there and the Buckingham Palace press person as well as the consulate press person was very specific as they addressed the media.” 

It was made quite clear that no one was to approach the Queen or talk to the Queen. They were simply there to record the action. 

Newman recalled, “I got myself set up as the Queen came up on the dock there at Fort Jefferson and Wilhelmina was ready to present her with a conch shell and to welcome here. I could see Wilhelmina very well, but I couldn’t see the Queen’s face. I’m like dying because I really want to see her face as well as Wilhelmina’s face. I so desperately wanted to shout out, hey madam Queen, will you please turn around so we can see you? But I decided that I would just sort of keep my mouth shut. I did get a nice picture of Wilhelmina presenting the shell to the Queen even though you couldn’t see her face.” 

Later he was able to get good photos of the Queen as she and Prince Philip toured the fort. 

Newman said, “The prince wore an incredible tropical shirt that the British press that were in the pool were just absolutely enamored with. It got a lot of play. The good thing I think is that in today’s issue of the newspaper, I know that at least one of those photographs is there. There might be others as well, too.”