History & Discovery Center adding tombstone of ‘Wrecker King’

A permanent exhibit featuring the tombstone of the early-19th-century wrecker John Jacob Housman, whose remains are thought to be buried on Indian Key, will be added to the collection of exhibits at Keys History & Discovery Center. 

A capital campaign is being launched to raise funds for this $75,000 project.

The new permanent exhibit will be on the second floor of the museum and will feature a series of free-standing interpretive panels and additional historical stories about Indian, Lignumvitae, Windley and Tea Table Keys. The existing Indian Key model 1840 will move to the second floor to better tell the intertwined relationship among the significant keys. 

Why Housman? “He holds a special place in the history of the Florida Keys” said Brad Bertelli, curator of the Discovery Center. “Once considered the Wrecker King of Indian Key, local history cannot be told without including his story. Born on Staten Island, New York, in 1799, he sailed into the Keys in 1822. Running afoul of the Florida Reef, the encounter would forever alter the history of Florida wrecking, Monroe County and Indian Key. The rest of the story, well, will be part of the new permanent exhibit.”

The tombstone has been stored for decades at Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park and will become part of the permanent collection of the Discovery Center.

In addition to the capital campaign with a goal of $75,000, the new addition to the museum is made possible through a partnership with the Florida Department of State, Islamorada Area State Parks and Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation, the not-for-profit organization that operates the Discovery Center located in Islamorada on the property of the Islander Resort, as well as anticipated funding from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

The new exhibit is expected to be installed in September 2021.

Information including naming opportunities and recognition levels related to the Housman campaign is available from Jill Miranda Baker, foundation executive director, at 305-922-2237 or via [email protected]

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