Itâs early evening in Key West, the southernmost outpost of the continental United States. Walking through the narrow streets, passing turn-of-the-century Victorian homes adorned with the wooden lace called gingerbread, you can feel the anticipation sure as a pulsebeat in the air.
It gets more insistent as you near the Gulf of Mexico, and so do the crowds. Curious visitors and casual islanders, street vendors and craftspeople, T-shirt painters and guitar-toting musicians are all heading for Mallory Square â and the street market celebration that accompanies every eveningâs sunset.
The hub of the wrecking industry when this tropical seaport was young, Mallory Square is actually a rectangle â a wide expanse of land with a magnificent view of the gulf and the gently-bobbing sailboats anchored off Christmas Tree Island just across the harbor.
As the sun begins its descent into the gulf, Mallory comes alive with energy and festivity. Jugglers entertain with comedic patter and entice audience members into assisting with their offbeat feats. A gypsy tightrope walker performs breathtaking acrobatics high above the heads of the crowd. A mime painted totally silver captivates children and adults alike with his antics.
Elsewhere, business is brisk as vendors of hand-painted T-shirts, handcrafted jewelry, and hand-woven palm-frond hats peddle their wares to tourists. A blonde island woman offers her modestly-named âPretty Good Popcornâ from a brightly-painted wagon.
Yet no matter how colorful the denizens of Mallory may be, the real star of this nightly show is the sun. Painting the sky with a palette of creamsicle orange and dusty pink, it seems to gather momentum before its final plunge into the gulf. As it disappears, the action stops. Spontaneously, the clapping begins and swells â until everyone on the square is applauding Mother Nature for another perfect Key West sunset.
Want to know more about the artisans and performers who make Key Westâs Sunset Celebration so unforgettable? Check out www.sunsetcelebration.com, the online presence of the nonprofit Cultural Preservation Society that has successfully managed the Mallory Square event for some 25 years. Youâll find photos and info introducing the performers and artisans, as well as links to their individual sites.
And if you just canât make it to Key West (sob!) to experience the island city’s Sunset Celebration in person, try viewing it via a Mallory Square webcam at www.fla-keys.com/webcams/. Be warned, however: the webcam is âvirtuallyâ certain to whet your appetite for the real thing!