One of the most popular attractions in Old Key West is a stop at the Home and Museum of iconic author, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was an adventurous man who lived in many places in his life including France, Spain, Cuba, Idaho and Florida.
The Hemingway home is lovely home and interesting to visit. Hemingway only lived here from 1931 to 1939, although he retained ownership of it until he died. Key West was Hemingway’s kind of town — eclectic, with lots of physical activity available to him in the form of deep-sea fishing (especially for marlin and tuna) and boxing, and good pubs for drinking and socializing. Some of his most important works were written in Key West including “A Farewell to Arms”, “To Have and Have Not” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.
The house was built in the 1850s in a French Colonial style by a marine architect. While it rests on the second-highest site on Key West, it’s only 16 feet (4.9 m) above sea level. It’s made of local limestone and has survived many hurricanes. Pauline, Hemingway’s second wife, found the home and her uncle bought it for her and Ernest as a wedding gift (an $8,000 gift — pretty nice!)
At the time they bought the home it was run down and they renovated and made a number of improvements to it, the most notable being the addition of a new swimming pool, the first in Key West. Given the amount of coral rock that had to be excavated, it cost a lofty $20,000 in 1938 dollars to construct just the pool. Today the home and grounds is a National Historic Landmark.
The Hemingway home is not hard to find and your admission includes a free and interesting tour of the home that lasts about 30 minutes, after which you’re welcome to explore the home and grounds on your own. The guided tour includes most of the rooms in the home.
The home is a private for profit site that does a nice job of preserving what the place was like in the 1930s (including the Hemingway’s original furnishings), as well as displaying a collection of Hemingway related photos and memorabilia. Many of the photos featured in this blog highlight some of the museum’s displays.
During the time the author lived here, an elevated walkway connected the second floor of his house to his writing office in a separate carriage house. That walkway has since disappeared and you need to climb a staircase to get a view of the Hemingway office, which looks like it hasn’t changed much in the past 85 years.
The grounds are populated by six-toed cats who are descendants of Hemingway’s cat. The feline polydactyly is traced to a tomcat named Snow White, whose 40 or so multi-toed descendants you’ll see around the grounds. The six-toed cats appear well cared for, with routine veterinary visits, feeding and comfortable “cat-houses” for shelter. There are scattered grave markers on the grounds for many of the cats who have passed on. These cats often had celebrity names, a tradition started by Hemingway himself.
Ernest and Pauline divorced in 1940, Hemingway took up residence in Cuba with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 and died by suicide at his home in Ketchum, Idaho in 1961.
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