“Florida Keys History with Brad Bertelli, Volume 1,” was not the next book I planned to write. However, the interesting year keeps getting more interesting. The book is the result of one thing leading to another, and it started because of the Facebook group Florida Keys History with Brad Bertelli.
The group has become something of a virtual and interactive local history museum that appears in your Facebook feed every morning, seven days a week. It has been a tremendous outlet, and the response has been nothing short of amazing. The insights and memories shared by the members have been quite an education and have made two things abundantly clear. First, people have a significant appetite for the histories associated with this particular chain of islands.
Second, the little Facebook group I started in late December is not so little anymore.
On the last day of the week, I post the Sunday Morning Read to the group page. Hopefully, Sunday comes with fewer commitments and maybe an extra cup of coffee, so I will post one of my columns from the Keys Weekly. It was the Sunday Morning Read that prompted the new book. The response to the Sunday Morning Read inspired me to revisit some of my old columns and create a new book.
The limitation of my column is that it is saddled with a word count. When I write the story, I am only able to use bits and pieces of information. What I wanted to do with this book was to take some of those bits and pieces, add a bunch of other bits and pieces, and tell stories that were unconstrained by word counts. I wanted a format where I could tell the stories I wanted to tell the way I wanted to tell them, and that format turned out to be the book I didn’t see coming.
“Florida Keys History with Brad Bertelli, Volume 1” is not a standalone history of the Florida Keys, but a peek into some fantastic moments in the local history that might be otherwise overlooked. The collection of stories stretches from the island chain’s northern reach in Biscayne National Park to the Dry Tortugas some 70 miles southwest of Key West.
In this first volume, I picked out some of my favorite stories. The Ed and Fern Butters love story is one of them and one of the reasons I wanted to write this book. Not only is their story an all-time great love story, but their union also engaged the Florida Keys, Key lime pie, and the most powerful hurricane to ever strike North America, still.
Captain Ben Baker, too, has always been a favorite topic. In the mid-19th century, he was the king of the Florida wreckers. In addition to being a classic Florida Keys character, he is considered to be the man responsible for introducing large-scale pineapple farming to the Florida Keys. Farming and pineapples might seem like foreign concepts these days. However, farming and pineapple, tomato, cucumber and lime crops (among others) were how early pioneer families made their living – at least part of the time.
The book is not all about a case of love at first sight and pineapples but is filled with stories about early pioneers, place names and historical connections that connect the islands to surprising people and places far beyond the Florida Keys. Davida Breier, the author of the amazing novel “Sinkhole,” wrote: “Pull up a barstool and gather ‘round as historian and honorary Conch Brad Bertelli brings the past alive. From pineapple farmers to notorious wreckers, Bertelli focuses on individuals who worked the land and sea, as well as those who tried to exploit the Keys since they were first sighted. Locals and visitors alike will delight in his vibrant telling of the lush and often quirky history of the Florida Keys.”
Volume 1 is just the beginning of something bigger. As my Facebook group continues to grow, so will these volumes of history. Two more editions are already in the works.
The book is available through Amazon. Locally, it can currently be found at Sandbar Books in Tavernier and the Oldest House Museum in Key West. If you are a retail outlet and want to sell this title, send me a note at [email protected]
Copies of Volume 1, along with copies of “The Florida Keys Skunk Ape Files,” will be available at my next talk at the Islamorada Moose Lodge on Monday, Oct. 3. I will be sharing stories about Captain Ben Baker and the rise and fall of the pineapple industry at this free event that is open to the public. The talk starts at 6 p.m. I will be signing books after the event. Mark your calendars. I hope to see you there.
In the meantime, pick up your copy of my latest book, learn some great local history, and help support my efforts as I continue to share the fascinating and multifaceted histories of our favorite string of islands.