After Hurricane Irma: What celebrity’s home was destroyed in Key West?


There’s no more wondering “Where the Sidewalk Ends” at the late poet and author Shel Silverstein’s former Key West house.

Hurricane Irma uprooted a large ficus tree that crushed the 1901 Greek Revival home on William Street, demolishing much of the wooden two-story house and taking a portion of the street’s sidewalk with it.

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Other Key West landmarks, including Ernest Hemingway’s home, weathered the storm intact except for tree and landscape damage.

“The Giving Tree” of one of Silverstein’s best-known children’s books became a “Taking Tree,” destroying one of Key West’s literary landmarks. The town has been home to writers such as Tennessee Williams, Thomas McGuane, Hunter S. Thompson, Ann Beattie, Joy Williams and Judy Blume over the years.

Silverstein was known for his goofy, sometimes ghoulish children’s poetry books including “A Light in the Attic.”

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Silverstein was also a quirky but prolific songwriter, who penned the Johnny Cash 1970 Grammy winner, “A Boy Named Sue,”, and Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show’s “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’” “Queen of the Silver Dollar” and “Sylvia’s Mother’.”

His songs were recorded by an eclectic roster of singers including Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Peter, Paul and Mary, Waylon Jennings, Marianne Faithful, Belinda Carlisle and former Playmate and Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend, Barbi Benton.

His song, “The Great Conch Train Robbery,” became a Key West classic about a crime gone wrong, inspired by his girlfriend, Sarah Spencer, a one-time Conch Train driver. Another Key West-inspired ditty written with his friend, Captain Dan Mobley, was “Dopeheads on Mopeds.”

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Silverstein began spending time in Key West in the 1970s and bought the William Street house in the ’80s.

Playwright David Mamet once wrote an essay for the Paris Review about Silverstein called “He Was My Closest Friend.”

In it, Mamet recalled a night he and his wife spent with Silverstein, known for his transient relationships with a wide variety of women.

“Two weeks before he died my wife and I had been with him when a very young girl picked him up at a café… they’d gone back to his place, and she had, at one point, risen to leave. “Wait,” he said, “When we met I thought you ‘felt’ something. Didn’t you?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well,” he said, “what did you think?”

“I thought, What a nice old man.”

My wife and I joked that that’s what killed him,” Mamet wrote.

Silverstein was 67 when he died of a heart attack in 1999 in the house at 618 William Street, a fixture on several Key West literary tours.



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