A report from Atlas Obscura
A historic landmark and museum filled with curious objects representing the history of Key West.
LOCATED JUST OFF OF MALLORY Square, the historic Custom House was built in 1891 at the height of Key West’s maritime industry as the original customs building, postal service, and district courts. During the Spanish-American War, the Custom House played a central role in the U.S. Navy’s inquiry into the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana, which led to America formally declaring war on Spain.
In 1932, the building became the property of the U.S. Navy and official headquarters for their Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Reconnaissance planes were housed here, where they could easily fly over Cuba and monitor for the presence of nuclear weapons.
Since 1991, the Custom House has been the site for the Key West Museum of Art & History. Many of its permanent exhibitions tell the story of Key West’s role in the Spanish-American War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Some pieces of the museum’s permanent collection tell stranger stories from Key West’s checkered past. One notable piece in the museum’s permanent collection is a photo of the embalmed body of a young Cuban-American tuberculosis victim, Maria Elena “Helen” Milagro de Hoyos.
Know Before You Go
The museum is located just off of Mallory Square. Tickets are required for entry.