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Keys Library Throws Farewell Party - 161 Years Later

Nancy Klingener
Monroe County Historian Tom Hambright tells Jill Keeler about William Hackley's life and family after he left Key West in 1857.

The public library in Key West just threw a farewell party — for a guy who left town more than 150 years ago.

William Hackley did not play a major role in Key West history. He didn’t do anything remarkable while he lived on the island.

Except keep a daily diary that survived and wound up in the archives at Florida State University.

In 2016, Monroe County historian Tom Hambright started including the entries for 1855 in the column he writes for the Key West Citizen newspaper.

And right away, Hackley was a hit.

Read more: Key West's Latest Addiction: The News From 1855

Credit Key West Citizen
Key West Citizen
William Hackley's diary entries were local favorites in the history column of the Key West Citizen.

“Never expected that,” Hambright said. “In fact, we doubted whether we’d run it to start with. Wasn’t sure anybody would be interested.”

Hackley eventually moved to Illinois, so after 2 1/2 years, the paper ran out of accounts of Hackley’s walks and baths and dosing his children with medications. The Monroe County Public Library in Key West marked his departure with a presentation and a party, complete with a cake listing some of Hackley’s most frequent activities (according to the diary): “Rose at 4:30. Walked to the salt ponds, returned home. Bathed.”

Jill Keeler came to the party to learn more about Hackley and his life in Key West. She said following his Key West life was like a soap opera.

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
The cake for William Hackley's good-bye party listed some of his favorite activities.

Locals were intrigued with trying to trace Hackley's daily walks, his occasional shooting of birds and the illnesses and cures he and his family went through.

“I’ve been trying to figure out some of the mysteries - never did really, till the end, learn the names of his kids,” she said. “You looked forward to finding a new clue.”

William Hackley was done with Key West in 1857, but Key West may not be done with Hackley. Starting this fall, Hambright plans to run diary excerpts from 1830, when Hackley was young and single.