On the southeast corner of Duvall and South street in Key West stands a monument to industrialism in the late 1800s. Sporting the Key West colors of pink and aquamarine, this three-story mansion was erected in 1897 and dubbed the southernmost house (it was at the time).

It was built by Judge Jeptha Vining Harris for his wife, the youngest daughter of William Curry, one of Florida’s first millionaires. They had heavily invested in Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad to Key West (another story) and often entertained Mr. Flagler during construction of the railway.

Built in the Queen Anne Victorian style with turrets and balconies, it boasted large stained glass windows and was the first home in Key West to enjoy electricity. In fact, Mrs. Harris was able to convince Thomas Alva Edison to oversee the electrical plan and installation!

During Prohibition the mansion was used as a speakeasy, gambling, and on the third floor, various unmentionable activities.

Next door and to the south, another building was constructed. This was to serve as a cook house as it was very common in those days to keep the kitchen and any wood-burning stoves away from the main building for safety reasons.

Currently, there exist three buildings south of the mansion – two very old houses (a pink one, the former kitchen; and a white one, a former barn), and at the end of South Street, next to the popular tourist monument dubbed the “Southernmost point,” (it isn’t) stands a very nice home with beautiful tropical landscaping.

The two older buildings belong to my former brother-in-law Hugh Morgan, a prominent attorney is the Keys.

A Mrs. Thelma Strabel had purchased the kitchen building around 1940, enlarged it into a house and built another edifice next to it, a barn complete with hay loft.

Mrs. Strabel was an American novelist noted for her tales of the American south and adventures at sea. Although she grew up in Indiana, she spent a great deal of her youth near her mother’s home in southwestern Pennsylvania. She published her first short story in a Pittsburgh newspaper and after working in several different capacities and traveling, she began to write fiction as a vocation. Her best-known story, Reap the Wild Wind (1940) was a romantic story of the men who salvaged shipwrecks in Key West and off the Keys. The story was bought by the famous director Cecil B. DeMille and made into a very popular movie in 1942 starring John Wayne.

Many more novels of derring-do and high adventure in exotic locales were to follow and she became quite a popular writer. She died in 1959 at age 60 in Washington, DC, and is buried at Magnolia Cemetery Trust in Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1979 I was visiting Key West to see my small children for the first time in three years. They had been living with their mother in Bogota, Colombia, and were just returning to the states. Hugh and I were sitting on the porch of his home (the pink house) enjoying the ocean air luffing up from the sea wall. Even though Key West is a tropical location, the wind from the ocean was making me cold. I asked if he had a light jacket I could put on and he said there was one in the closet upstairs. I navigated the very narrow stairway and was startled to see an old woman seated in a chair at the top. She seemed frail and was dressed in a black dress with a white lace collar. I spoke but she did not answer. I thought maybe she was a relative of Hugh’s and may be suffering from dementia or other affliction. I forgot the jacket and hurried back down the stairs. When I sat down next to Hugh on the porch I said “Who is that woman upstairs?” He seemed caught off guard and replied “You mean, you saw her?” I said, “Yes, who is she?”  “She is Mrs. Strabel, the woman who bought the house from the people that built the mansion next door.” I asked what she was doing in his bedroom and he said “I don’t know, she died in 1959.” I thought he must be playing a joke on me and bounded back up the stairs. All the windows were locked and I searched in every cubby hole and under the bed. No Mrs. Strabel. Hugh said I was white as a sheet. I argued “She didn’t look like a ghost, Hugh. She was as solid as you and me.” “I am the only one who has seen her and only twice before he said.” The first time I thought she was a vagrant or a woman with a mental illness. I spoke but she did not respond. I turned my head and she vanished.” “I don’t think she means any harm but for some reason, she can’t let go of this house.”

My head was spinning. I had never seen an apparition and I was completely undone! Thanking Hugh for his hospitality I left in a rush and scurried down Duvall street to Sloppy Joe’s saloon for a stiff drink, sincerely hoping that a spectre of Mr. Hemingway would not be grinning at me from the next bar stool. One ghost a night is enough for me!


I have been blessed with many opportunities and rare and unusual experiences. One of my most memorable was getting to spend six months in South America courtesy of the U.S. Navy. My ship, the USS Damato (DD-871), was selected out of approximately 1,000 ships in active service at the time (1968) to join two other surface combatants, a submarine and an aircraft group to participate in UNITAS IX, a massive hemispheric defense exercise working with the navies of North, Central, and South America.  UNITAS LX (60) occurred in 2019. The US surface ships were the USS Josephus Daniels (DLG-27), a Belknap-class guided-missile cruiser; and the USS McCloy (FF-1038), a Bronstein-class frigate. The name of the sub has evaporated from my memory. The exercise began on the first of June in Puerto Rico and concluded in late November. Then to Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, through the Straits of Magellan and up the Chilean inland waterway, Peru, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and back through the Panama Canal.

It was indeed a fairy-tale cruise reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet,” a show of force displayed on a world voyage between 1907 and 1909. Peru dropped out shortly before our arrival due to some political uprising. We were only about a day out of Callao, the seaport for Lima when the task force got the order to divert. My dream of visiting the ancient city of Machu Picchu went up in smoke. We proceeded to our next port, Guayaquil, Ecuador, about one hundred miles up the Guayas River. The Ecuadoran government insisted that we visit their Galapagos Islands 600 miles to the west – the location for Charles Darwin’s famous studies on evolution.

We used to joke that we had to wear dress whites (nicknamed “choker whites” by the crew) to take out the garbage, but it was not far from the truth. There were many fancy balls, embassy parties, proclamations, concerts, and even parades. In Santos Brazil, we were the first US ship to visit the port of 600,000 people since 1939 and a massive parade was held for us. Sailors were treated as visiting royalty – the whole city went crazy! It reminded me of the ticker-tape parades in New York City at the end of WWII.

Everything was “high protocol!” In Chile, I was assigned to escort the US Ambassador to Chile’s daughter to a grand ball. In each country, there were meetings with dignitaries and many formal celebrations and ceremonies of grandeur. Another interesting side note is that when we were in Valparaiso, Chile, a small welcoming party came aboard the ship to meet with the Captain and officers of the wardroom. I remember being impressed with one of them, a young dark-eyed beauty named Isabel. Her last name was Allende. Only recently did I make the connection that this young woman became the now-famous author.

With the Argentine and Chilean navies, we worked with some large cruisers that were former US ships. In 1951 the United States transferred two ships to each of these nations. To Chile went the USS Nashville (CL-43) which became the Capitan Pratt (CL-03), named after Arturo Prat and the USS Brooklyn (CL-40), renamed the O’Higgins (CL-02) after Bernardo O’Higgins, a Chilean leader. To Argentina went the USS Boise (CL-47) which became the ARA Nueve de Julio (9th of July) and the former USS Phoenix (CL-46) became the ARA (Armada de la Republica Argentina) General Belgrano.

The officers of Damato made many friends with officers of other nations and some of these friendships have lasted to this day. The ships of other navies were allowed to have alcohol on board, but the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the only navies in the world that did not. Only when my seamen in the deck division became wet and frozen while refueling in harsh weather were miniature bottles of brandy broken out to ward off the chill. Therefore, these Latin officers were very popular with us guys from the “Teetotaling ships.” Not only did the other ships have liquor, but some of them were also known for rowdy parties. During a port visit to Buenos Aires, I was invited to one of them. It was like a surreal movie scene – loud thumping disco music, the suggestive glow of soft red lights, free-flowing booze, Go go girls and very friendly Latin beauties, and an abundance of buxom bosoms. I was quite impressed with the whole affair but fortunately, I gathered my wits and departed before I became a key figure in some tawdry international incident!

Fast forward fourteen years to a sad conflict – a 10-week undeclared war in 1982 between the United Kingdom and Argentina involving British dependent territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and its territorial dependencies, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The area had long been a dispute between Argentina and the UK with each claiming sovereignty. They were the Malvinas to the Argentines and the Falklands to the British. On April 2nd, Argentina invaded and occupied the Falklands and later the other two islands.

Admiral Juan Lombardo of the Argentine navy ordered all Argentine naval units to seek out an approaching British task force and launch a massive attack on it. On April 30th, the General Belgrano was ordered to the southeast. Although it was outside the 200-mile exclusion zone, the British Navy considered it a threat and on May 2nd, the navy ship Conqueror fired torpedos at the Belgrano. One of the torpedos blew off the ship’s bow. A second torpedo struck about three-quarters of the way along the ship, just outside the rear limit of the side armor plating. The torpedo punched through the side of the ship before exploding in the aft machine room. After the explosion, the ship rapidly filled with smoke. The ship began to list to port and to sink towards the bow. Twenty minutes after the attack, the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship. Inflatable life rafts were deployed, and the evacuation began without panic. However, in the gloom of the bad weather distress signals were not seen, delaying any rescue attempts. Argentine and Chilean ships rescued 772 men but 323 were killed.

The ARA General Belgrano, my Argentine party ship – gave a last dying gasp and sank to the depths of the South Atlantic!


During my life, I have had many interesting experiences, including once seeing a ghost in a house in Key West. Others, while not so disturbing, were none-the-less disconcerting. They both involve Navy ships – one of ours (U.S. Navy) and one of Argentina’s. Here is the first story:


During the Viet Nam War, my destroyer, the USS Damato (DD-871) was in the naval shipyard in Yokosuka, Japan in 1967. It was in late December and my first time away from home at Christmas – 6,878 miles from home to be exact. However, my responsibilities and work-load did not allow time  to feel sorry for myself. We were in the shipyard for repairs for battle damage suffered in combat off the coast of North Viet Nam, near the DMZ at the 17th parallel. Since I was the deck officer I responsible for completing many work orders in a short period of time before we again sailed into harm’s way. To complete one of them I needed a signature from a ship’s “sup,” or officially, a ship’s superintendent. All over the base I traipsed looking for him and finally was told: “Oh, he’s over on the Pueblo!” 

I found the Pueblo, requested permission to come aboard and finally found the guy to get the needed signature. I knew vaguely that it was a spy ship, but it was anything but “Secret Agent-looking.” In fact, it was a rather dumpy and dowdy old tub originally built as a coastal supply ship for the Army.

The Pueblo was launched at the Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Kewaunee, Wisconsin in April of 1944 as a Freight and Passenger craft (FP) and was designated the FP-344, and later reclassified as a Freight and Supply vessel (FS). It served as a Coast Guard-manned Army vessel used for training civilians for the Army and for coastal supply. 

In 1964 the Department of Defense became interested in having smaller and less expensive ships to use in gathering SIGINT (signal intelligence). In other words, a spy ship to capture and collect transmissions from countries considered hostile to our interests. We had some vessels designated AGTR and T-AG but the old Army ships were more flexible and responsive. The mothballed light cargo ships were just the ticket and the first one was converted and became the USS Banner (FS-344) in 1964. She was transferred to the U.S. Navy in April 1966 and was renamed Pueblo (AKL-44) after Pueblo County Colorado. From its inception, the Navy has used a ship naming convention that I have always liked. Each ship type carried a different category. For instance, battleships were named after states, aircraft carriers after naval battles, oilers after rivers, etc. LSTs (landing ship tank) and these light cargo ships were named for counties.

Pueblo was outfitted under a non-secret cover as a “light cargo ship” and manned by general crew (boatswain’s mates, engineers, radiomen, etc.). After shake-down training in San Diego, she left for Yokosuka in late September 1967.

There was no reason for me to think much of my few minutes aboard the Pueblo and it passed into the deep recesses of my mind. On 5 January, about a week after my visit, the ship sailed in transit to the naval base in Sasebo. She left there on 11 January 1968 headed northward into the Sea of Japan. Her orders were to intercept and conduct surveillance of Soviet Naval activity in the Tsushima Strait and arrived at the 42nd parallel to start its patrol. The ship was harassed several times by North Korean vessels. January 23rd was a fateful day! The ship was attacked by various means. They only weaponry aboard was a 55 caliber machine gun – no match for the Koreans. It tried to sail away from danger but was slow and became  captured. One sailor was killed, many injured and the remaining crew was captured, imprisoned and tortured. After much diplomatic maneuvering, the crew was finally released about 11 months after their capture.

The Pueblo is considered by North Korea to be a war prize, towed to Pyongyang and to this day serves as a museum ship even though it is listed as a US Navy commissioned ship, along with the USS Constitution. My recently deceased friend Dr. Tom Dolan, a Columbus State University professor, and naval intelligence officer made a state-sanctioned visit to Pyongyang a few years ago  and sent me a postcard of the ship. After all these years, I still have an eerie feeling knowing that I stood on the deck of the Pueblo not long before its ill-fated voyage.


Well, it wasn’t actually an eternal damnation sin, and more a sin of “omission” than commission but I felt compelled to atone for it.

My dear friends Mike Venable and Jill Tigner are owners and editors-in-chief of that wonderful monthly magazine Columbus and the Valley. Five years ago I invited Mike to lunch. He was somewhat hesitant at first and he probably thought I was going to pitch Amway or Hare Krishna but I just wanted his company for a nice mid-day meal at Uptown Vietnamese. Well, that visit turned into a very long lunch and an invitation to write an online blog for their magazine. I chose to call it Chattin’ the Hooch – Ramblings of a Retired Mind – senior mutterings and observation on things of the Valley.

It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that it has been so long. Although I have been enthusiastic about the project, I have been more than erratic in application. Some months I would post three or four articles and then totally forget for a long period of time. This oversight was weighing heavily upon me so I drove to the offices of Columbus and the Valley to come clean.

Alas, the office was closed. Fortunately for me, the drive-in confessional was open and I was able to rattle off a few “Hail Mikeys” and received absolution from a disembodied recording of St. Mike. Much to my relief, they have let me stay on and I have made one of my New Year’s Resolutions to do better in the future.

The problem has not been a dearth of thing to write on or enthusiasm for sharing my “ramblings of a retired mind,” but mostly the ineffectitude (I think I just made that word up) of my retired brain in remembering to do so.

Also, I had originally intended to have two periodic features: Colorful Characters of the Chattahoochee – folks like Ralph Frank, Rick McKnight, Jerry Farber, and Butch Anthony; and Hidden Gems of the Valley – things like the Olmstead gardens at the Columbus Museum and the Slave Cemetery on 6th Avenue.

And so, dear readers here is my pledge: I vow to post at least once a month on various topics – things unique to the Chattahoochee Valley, reports of my travels, fun with my strange and wonderful friends and my elderly observations of life. You may feel free to remind me if I fall short. Also, topic suggestions are welcome.





Today Papa took us to the historic State Theater of Georgia – the Springer Opera House. It is 144 years old but still very beautiful. A man named Joseph Springer built it and people would come up the river on the Paddle Wheel Steamboats to see things at the theater. Papa’s friend Aileen works at the Springer and was very sweet to us and gave a little tour. Papa says theater people can seem a little strange at times but they are very talented and interesting. Papa is a little strange too, so they go together like peas in a pod. Papa likes the Springer people a lot and he was in a play on this very stage in the Wizard of Oz in 1998.

Miss Aileen let us sit in some cushy chairs in one of the balcony boxes. It was in the very same place that real famous people like Oscar Wilde, Will Rogers, and John Phillip Sousa sat a long time ago.


 Mr. Paul Pierce is the director. That means he runs the place. He says that there are ghosts in the attic and the basement but they are friendly. He says sometimes they are very helpful and even rearrange the furniture in the middle of the night. Clara said, “Boo” and we all jumped real high!


The “Flattsie Sisters”