Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Voyage of the Silver Spray: Discovering the Key Marco Cat

Submitted Photo
From left, first row: Judy Daye as Emily McGill Cushing, Cindi Kramer as Maggie Collier, and Evelyn Case as Marion Gilliland; Second row: Jory Westberry as George Gause, Bonnie Bozzo as Major Powell, Durell Buzzini as Frank Hamilton Cushing, and Caroline Rosenfeld as Wells Sawyer.

The Marco Island Historical Society invites you to step back in time on a voyage of discovery, which amazed and gratified scholars and laymen for generations. “The Voyage of the Silver Spray! 1895-96: Digging up the past and discovering the future!” is a two-act play, adapted for the stage by Betsy Perdichizzi. It tells the story of the discovery of the Key Marco Cat and other famous artifacts found on Marco Island in 1896.

In the late 1800s not many people were willing to travel to a South Florida swamp to dig in the muck for weeks in hopes of finding anything of value. Yet a party of 13 scientists, sailors, and crew¬—including famous anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing and Wells Sawyer as official photographer and artist—did just that. They came to isolated and primitive Marco Island, in a borrowed sponge boat, in February1896.

It wasn’t until almost 100 years later that Cushing’s barrels from the expedition were unpacked by an enterprising PhD student, Marion Gilliland. She opened the door to the secrets of Florida’s pre-Columbian native people by unearthing diaries, personal letters, and artifacts the team discovered—including the world-famous Key Marco Cat. The artifacts that Cushing packed up were so rich and startling that several of the items are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.

Gilliland wrote about these discoveries in her books, “Buried Treasure of Key Marco” and “The Material Culture of Key Marco.” Because the expedition was not without controversy, Gilliland’s books helped dispel the rumors of fake and fraud.

The all-female cast will re-create both the male and female roles using words taken from the letters, diaries and documents published in Gilliland’s books. The cast of characters are: Marion Gilliland portrayed by Evelyn Case, Frank Hamilton Cushing portrayed by Durrell Buzzini, Emily McGill Cushing portrayed by Judy Daye, Wells Sawyer portrayed by Caroline Rosenfeld, George Gause portrayed by Jory Westberry, Maggie Collier portrayed by Cindi Kramer, and Major Powell portrayed by Bonnie Bozzo.

The play will run for two days only—Monday, January 7 at 2 PM and Tuesday, January 8 at 7 PM at The Rose History Auditorium. Seating is limited. Tickets ($10) are on sale at the administration building, Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 3 PM.

The Marco Island Historical Society is located at 180 S. Heathwood Dr., Marco Island. For more information visit

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