As a writer myself, our visit to the Hemingway House was a highlight of a trip to Key West Florida. This was the home of Ernest Hemingway, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 “for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated with The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence he has exerted on contemporary style”. The house too is impressive and has the distinct air and rich ambience of old-world elegance.
A high brick boundary keeps the property private but the view from the first-floor wrap around porch takes in not only the garden but the adjacent street in what is an affluent residential part of town. I loved walking around the airy rooms and the book-lined hallways, taking in all the family photographs and the personal effects. I could almost pretend I was a house guest exploring the place while Ernest and Pauline (Hemingway’s second wife) had just popped out momentarily.
The house gives the visitor a real feel for the life the Hemingway’s led in Key West during the 1930’s. Our tour guide happily gave out lots of insider information about the history of the house, the escapades of the children, the Hemingway marriage, the huge row over the swimming pool and Ernest Hemingway’s ‘last penny’.
The story is that the swimming pool which replaced what had been Ernest’s personal boxing ring was contracted at great expense by Pauline after she found out about her husband’s affair with Martha Gellhorn, his third wife to be. When Ernest came back from assignment to find out the exorbitant cost of the pool, he was reported to have thrown a penny onto the ground in front of Pauline, saying, ‘you’ve spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that!’ Pauline had the penny set into the path where it lay. It is still there today.
Another extraordinary feature of the house are all the cats that reside there. These are descendants of a six-toed cat called Snowball. One of Snowball’s kittens (named Snow White) was gifted to Ernest Hemingway by a salvage and shipwreck captain (a respected and official position in those days) called Harold Stanley Dexter. Ever since the six-toed gene has been passed down through all the generations of cats at the Hemingway house. All were named after Ernest’s famous friends. The cat in this photo is Rita Hayworth.
I was so engrossed and enthralled by the house and its history and the life of Hemingway, that the following day we visited the Hemingway exhibit in town. There were many exhibits and pictures and movie posters reflecting his work but the centrepiece is the bronze sculptor by Terry Jones (2005) which captures a young, enthusiastic and adventurous Hemingway, fishing off his beloved boat ‘Pilar’.
Ernest Hemingway’s first visit to Key West in 1928 was only meant to a short stopover, but once he’d felt the sun on his face, inhaled the salty air and met the locals, he knew it would be his home with second wife Pauline.
He soon became an avid sports fisherman. In 1938 he established a world record for catching seven Marlin in one day. He also garnered a reputation for hard drinking with his new friends Josie ‘Sloppy Joe’ Russell, fisherman Eddie ‘Bra’ Saunders and his brother ‘Burge’ and later Toby Bruce who became his right-hand man and life-long companion.
I’ll give you a short tour of the Hemingway museum using my photos
If you ever do find yourself in Florida I urge you to explore the Keys. We took a Greyhound Bus from Miami and stopped off in Key Largo for a couple of before heading across the famous bridges down to Key West. You can read about this trip HERE. There is so much to explore and lots to do there. The food is fabulous and the restaurants plentiful. In the Hemingway tradition, bars are a fun feature too. Sloppy Joe’s Bar is still there and a new addition is the first and original of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.
I loved finding out about one of my writer heroes and we adored Key West!
Author note: I so enjoyed meeting the six-toed cats that a fictional six-toed offspring features in my romantic adventure novel ‘Island in the Sun’ – the cat in the story is aptly named ‘Hemingway’!
Have you ever explored the Hemingway House in Key West
Have you ever named a pet after someone famous?
Don’t hesitate to leave a comment – I love to hear from you!