Key West's iconic "Welcome to Paradise USA" sign, which was damaged and turned up missing after Hurricane Irma, will soon once again greet visitors to the Conch Republic. "The sign is now safe and sound" and being refurbished, the Rotary Club of Key West announced today on Facebook.
Key West police presented the sign to the Rotary Club, which had offered an $8,000 reward for its return, at the club's meeting this afternoon.
The sign's return was just as mysterious as its disappearance. It was last seen Sept. 10, when the Category 4 storm made landfall at 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key. It was presumably torn off its posts by the high winds, but reports on Facebook indicate that it may have been stolen.
The sign made its way to Fort Myers, where it was dropped off today at the Key West Express ferry by a couple in their 20s, according to Florida Weekly.
"During our regular passenger boarding this morning, a couple showed up at the docks wanting to transport a 'package' back to Key West," the ferry company announced on Facebook. "Low and behold, it was the Key West sign." The Key West Express makes regular trips between Fort Myers Beach and Key West.
Key West Express indicated that it would be collecting the $8,000 reward, but there's no word on the identity of the couple or if there were any criminal charges pending. They would not identify themselves to ferry employees after pulling up with the sign in the back of a black pickup truck, Florida Weekly reported.
A photograph of the sign in the back of a pickup truck had earlier been posted on Facebook. "That led police to the Fort Myers man who said he alone took the sign," according to Florida Weekly. The Rotary Club had said earlier that it was not filing a police report and simply wanted the sign returned.
That's what happened today, when the Key West Express docked at noon and police rushed the sign to the Rotary Club’s noon lunch meeting.
It will soon return to its rightful place at a the busy intersection, where a handmade sign has stood in its place for the past month with the familiar catchphrase: "Welcome to Paradise."
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