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Duck Key in the Florida Keys

An Information Guide to Duck Key in the Florida Keys



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President Truman and Duck Key


Three Presidents of the United States have stayed on the Island of Duck Key at the resort.

Visitors to the Florida Keys are usually unaware that a refuge of President Harry S. Truman was Duck Key and the Indies inn; now known as Hawk's Cay Resort.

Truman began visiting the Florida Keys in November of 1946 when a White House physician decreed a vacation was in order so that the President might rid himself of a persistent cold and cough. Truman liked his visit to Key West so much he returned many times to the Florida Keys during and after his presidency. In 1964, the 80 year old former President came to Duck Key and stayed at the Indies Inn. He arrived with his two grandsons, his daughter, Margaret, and her husband, Clifford Daniels, associate editor of the New York Times, and Sen. and Mrs. John M. Spottswood of Key West, hosts to the Trumans.

Truman held court early each morning with a 30 minute brisk walk just as he did when he was President. A fast walker, Truman expected residents who joined him to kept up with the pace. The people of the Florida Keys are " always cordial and act like they're glad to see us - and of course we're glad to see them."

President truman

Truman told reporters he planned to stay on Duck Key for two or three weeks or "as long as my money holds out."


Picture provided by Duck Key resident, Arlo Shay shows President Truman
walking with longtime friend Senator John Spottswood to the newly dedicated Truman Bridge on Duck Key.

Agreeing to having his name given to an "appropriate" landmark on Duck Key he said , "It's an honor to me . You're the ones taking the chance." The Truman Bridge spans the waterway separating Indies Island from the residences of Duck Key.


Truman visits Munson Island

Senator John Spottswood who at one time had been the sheriff of Monroe County said he planned to show Truman his "hideaway" on Munson's Island and to take him fishing. Truman made visits to the island. Almost 20 years later Munson Island became an exclusive resort known as Little Palm Island. In 1996, Noble House Hotels & Resorts purchased the island and made it a romantic upscale getaway.

The Spottswoods who owned a radio station in the Keys and the Trumans became friends when John Spottswood arranged for Mrs. Harry S. Truman to hear radio concert broadcasts from New York on his radio station. This was during the time Truman was President.

It is of interest to note that in 1962 , Spottswood was instrumental in getting Warner Brothers the film the movie "PT-109" at Munson Island . The movie was about John Fitzgerald Kennedy's service in Solomon Islands in 1943. John Spottswood portrayed the skipper of PT-109. Pictures of movie filming

Duck Key

Upon arriving at Duck Key Truman who had just returned from the funeral of King Paul of Greece, said, "I hope I outlive all of the kings so I can go to a lot of funerals." His trip abroad where, the President, he represented the United States stated "It was not a pleasant job, but it has to be done. It was a sad occasion."

In another exchange with reporters on Duck Key, Truman compared Cuban Premier Fidel Castro to a skunk. Castro's Communist Cuban government had just called Truman "criminal" for ordering the dropping of atomic bombs of Japan. Asked about the Castro comment Truman retorted that former President Calvin Coolidge once advised him never to get into a contest with a skunk.

Picture below shows Truman receiving a haircut in Marathon from Verb Freeman. Original of this picture hangs on the wall of the Barber Shop owned by Bruce Freeman which is located at the Gulfside Village Shopping Center in Marathon.



The former president returned to the Keys for several winters after his visit to Duck Key. He swam in local waters, walked island streets, and, if he kept to form, played poker, and drank Kentucky Yellow Stone bourbon.


Trip File in the Post Presidential Papers

Truman visited the Florida Keys on the following occasions after his Presidency.

February 1957 - Former President Harry Truman arrived at the Olney Inn at Islamorada, where he stayed until his trip to Key West to speak at a benefit held at the Casa Marina Hotel on February 23 for his Presidential Library in Missouri.

Truman Library benefit invitation


This was the first time Truman returned to Key West since leaving the White House. The Olney Inn, a private fishing retreat at that time, became Cheeca Lodge in 1960. In 1957 it was owned by Clara May Downey and consisted of a hotel and twenty plus cottages shaded by several hundred palm trees.


February 14 to March 7, 1960 - First traveled to Miami to see a play starring his
daughter, Margaret, and relaxed in Miami and Key West. Truman interrupted his vacation at Key West Feb. 27 to speak at a Democratic fund raising dinner in Miami.
While in Key West the Trumans were guests of John Spottswood and his wife.

March 14 - 28, 1964 - Truman stays at Duck Key

March 16 - 31, 1968 - The Trumans and Daniels stayed in seaside villas on the15-acre grounds of the Casa Marina Hotel, which is owned by Spottswood, but closed for
renovation. The former President and his wife arrived by Air Force jet and spent two weeks in Key West. The Casa Marina was used to billet Army troops during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis andfor some time thereafter. Later The Casa Marina became a training center for the Peace Corps.

March 22 - April 4, 1969 - Truman stayed with the Spottswoods in Key West.


Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson have also stayed at this best of resorts.


President Truman and Key West

President Harry S. Truman visited Key West eleven times during the time he served as President. and stayed at the Key West Naval Air Station. His visited frequently enough that the house he stayed in became known as "The Little White House."


His daughter Margaret and the First Lady often accompanied Truman. Traveling with him were secretaries, Secret Service agents, advisors, Cabinet members, military personnel and members of the press.

Truman would swim at the Enlisted men's beach at the Navy base. This beach known locally as Truman's Beach was located near by Fort Taylor before the Navy enlarge this part of the base with fill.



TRAVEL LOGS - Truman's Eleven Visits to Key West

Written logs of Truman's daily activities while at the Little White House together with pictures may be viewed at the website of the Truman Museum. Some of the logs record the temperature during each day of his visit. These are fascinating accounts of President Truman's daily routine while on vacation. Walking, swimming, meetings, dining with family and guests, and watching first run movies are all recorded. No mention of card playing, as Truman did not want that mentioned in the Travel Log. There is mention of the President frequently joining friends in the evening on the porch, however.

In the book "Counsel to the President" by Clark Clifford with Richard Holbrooke, there are multiple references about Truman playing cards.


Truman's first vacation trip to Key West, November 17-23, 1946

Truman's Second Visit to Key West, March 12-19, 1947.

President's Third Visit to Key West, December 3-8, 1947

Truman's Fourth Visit to Key West - Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guantanamo and Cuba, February 20 - March 5, 1948

President Truman's Fifth Trip to Key West, November 7-21, 1948

Mrs. Truman and Margaret make their first visit to Key West. President Truman lets his beard grow for the sake of vacation comfort. The press teased him about a 3-day beard growth.

President Truman's Sixth Trip to Key West and Orlando, March 6 - 19 1949

Little White House underwent redecoration, and log contains photos of the Little White House interiors.

Truman led staff meetings in the living room. In addition to the desk/table used by Truman there is also the presidential piano. There was no television, but there is a radio. On one occasion the radio was used to listen to the national singing debut of the President's daughter, Margaret. A close friend of Truman, John Spottswood, owned the local radio station and switched networks so that Truman could hear Margaret sing that evening.

The President and Mrs. Truman had separated bedrooms. In Mrs. Truman's bedroom, the second bed was used for the president's daughter, Margaret. President Truman's bedroom also had a day bed whereTruman would take afternoon naps. The day bed was utilized because Truman would not sleep on an already made bed because that was the way his mother had taught him.


Initially because of planned redecorations it was thought that President Truman would stay at the Casa Marina Hotel . The Casa Marina Hotel letter below mentions Truman and sixty guests expected in March 6 of 1949. Renovations were completed in time for the President's visit and the Travel Log explains that Truman stayed in the Little White House during this March 1949 trip.


President Truman's Seventh Trip to Key West, 28 November 28 - December 20, 1949.

An extended vacation to Key West accompanied by the First Lady and Margaret. Daughter Margaret participates in volleyball games every day she was there.

President Truman's Eighth Visit to Key West, 12 March 12 - April 10, 1950.

Truman's retinue entertained themselves many evenings watching the latest of new movies: The Third Man, Love Happy with the Marx Brothers, s Twelve O'Clock High, Cheaper by the Dozen, and Cinderella. Truman often did not watch the movies, preferring to spend time with his friends on the porch possibly playing cards although the logbooks do not mention this.

Tours of the Little White House tour feature a stop at the poker room. The table and a nearby bar were made by the Navy especially for the President. Ashtrays made from shell casings were a part of the table. Bess Truman, called this room "that smelly little tavern."


President Truman's Ninth Visit to Key West, March 2 - 22 1951.

Truman communicates with Bess, his wife and daughter Margaret nearly every day by phone on his ninth visit. On the 4th, he and the rest of his party . Log record Truman listening Margaret's guest appearance on Tallulah Bankhead's "Big Show" radio program.

President Truman's Tenth Visit to Key West, Florida, 8 November 8 - December 9, 1951.

Logbook records Thanksgiving celebration by President and Mrs. Truman and guests. Log provides menu and notes that in "order to create the appropriate fall atmosphere in sunny Florida, pumpkins, fall leaves and flowers, and ears of corn were flown down from Washington, D. C. "

President Truman's Eleventh Trip to Key West, Florida, 7-27 March 1952.



Other President have visited Key West.



Dwight Eisenhower recuperated from a heart attack at the Little White House in 1956. Shown above is President Eisenhower touring Key West at the corner of Truman and Margaret Streets. The Margaret-Truman Laundromat in the background indicates its location not that it is named after Truman's daughter Margaret.


In 1912 President William H. Taft arrived on the train, and after touring the city and attending a luncheon in his honor, sailed on a Navy ship to Panama to inspect the construction of the Panama Canal, then in progress.



John F. Kennedy and British Prime Minster Harold MacMillan came to Key West for a major summit meeting at the time of the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961.



And, in 1996, Jimmy Carter celebrated New Year's Eve in 1966 at the Little White House with family and friends.




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