KEY WEST, FL.HISTORY This 19th-century home was built by Captain John H. Geiger (below), who was a harbor pilot and master wrecker. A "wrecker" was someone who made a living from recovering the bounty found on shipwrecks, which were quite common in this day because of the dangerous, razor-sharp reefs and the immense storms off the Key West coast. As a rule, the wreckers would receive 25% of what they could salvage and it was lucrative work. In fact, before the advent of lighthouses and horns to alert sea captains to the inherent dangers of its coastline, Key West in the 1830s and 40s was considered the richest city per capita in the entire country. Such was the extent of the wreckage claimed by its shores. Capt. Geiger was so adept at navigation, that he was hired to steer many ships through the treacherous reefs. Between 1835 and 1876 his name was mentioned in fifty-seven wrecking court cases. The home he built with his riches was shared by his wife and nine children. Capt. Geiger also dabbled in another line of work before this that was known only to his immediate family - piracy. This fact led to widely-circulated speculation that he may have buried a part of his vast fortune somewhere on his property, a rumor that remains to this day. Capt. Geiger died in 1885 and the mansion remained in the family until his last direct descendant, Capt. Willie Smith - a ship's pilot himself - passed away in 1956. Smith was a rather eccentric sort and a recluse by all accounts. His disdain for human contact extended to the point where he would lower a basket from a second floor window that would be filled with food by someone he made a previous arrangement with. The home was scheduled to be demolished in 1958, but was spared this fate by the Mitchell Wolfson family Foundation, a non-profit educational institution. This was to become the first of many restoration projects in Key West and still stands today as the gold-standard of renovation endeavors. The house was then renamed after the renowned ornithologist and painter John James Audubon, a visitor to Key West in 1832. In that time he catalogued and sketched 18 new new birds for his "Birds of American" folio. Audubon's most famous discovery in Key West was that of the Great Blue Heron (below). It is thought that many of these drawings were done in the gardens of the Geiger estate. In fact, one such sketch featured the tree that can be found in front of the property.THE HAUNTING The ghost of Capt. John Geiger has been seen on the property in the form of a man standing on the second story landing, peering out over the waters of Key West searching for ships that have or are about to meet their doom. It has also been speculated that he roams the grounds ever vigilant for interlopers trying to take his buried riches. Ironically, while many think of John James Audubon as a sort of animal-right's activist - which to a great extent he was - he was also a hunter and marksman of some renown. To "collect" his subjects he would shoot and kill the birds and then pose them in lifelike poses in order to then draw them. Audubon was concerned foremost with man's impinging on the wild and what the eventual result of urban sprawl into these areas might bring. The raw, unaffected beauty of Key West apparently left a strong impression on him because some have sighted what they believe is his ghost in the garden area (pictured below). In gallery area, which sells copies of Audubon prints, a presence seems to linger there. The gallery manager has heard footsteps coming up the stairs and upon checking, finds no one there. A painting of a young girl named Hannah who died at the age of ten graced the gallery for a time. The painting was known in the 19th-century as an "oilogram", a portrait commissioned by the grieving family of a recently-deceased member. This particular painting was hung in the hallway, but some visitors found its forlorn appearance and the circumstances surrounding its creation to be somewhat unsettling. A decision was made to move the painting to the Children's Room where it was placed in a corner by itself out of clear sight. One morning the manager was startled to hear the sounds of laughter and children's voices coming from the room. He got up and walked down the hall to check, but upon entering the room he found no one there.