Wednesday, February 20, 2013


A few years ago Bob and I visited Louisa May Alcott's house in Concord, Massachusetts.  It was really interesting to see where Alcott did her writing and to place her in a physical and historical context.  With that in mind,when I learned that we were going to Florida and that Hemingway lived for a time in Key West, I knew we had to visit his house there.

It is no easy task to get to Key West.  It is about 160 miles from Miami to the tip of the Florida Keys, which is where Key West is located, and if you are driving, the only route is a mostly single-lane road known as the Overseas Highway. Speed limits are low, but the scenery is beautiful.

The road got its name from the fact that much of it is actually long bridges between the pieces of the coral archipelago that form the Keys.

At its southernmost tip, Key West is only 90 miles from Cuba.  No wonder Ernest Hemingway was so often linked to Cuban politics and politicians.  I could also understand why he would like this region with its out-of-the-way location and surrounding wild sea.

Hemingway House, Key West, FL / Souvenir Chronicles
The price of admission included a tour led by a dryly humorous older man who filled our heads with the basic facts laced with quirky details.

The yard was being decorated for a wedding to be held that evening.  I can only imagine what it costs to rent the Hemingway House.  Yikes.

The house itself is filled with Hemingway memorabilia.  I enjoyed the posters for the movies made from Hemingway's books and was impressed by the line-up of very famous actors and actresses who starred in them.  There was also a copy of the July 1961 Time magazine that featured Hemingway on the cover shortly after he took his own life:

Hemingway lived in this house from 1931 to 1939 with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.  He had left his first wife, Hadley Richardson, for Pauline in 1926.  Hemingway and Pauline were married from 1927-1940, at which time Hemingway left Pauline for the woman who would become his third wife, Martha Gelhorn, with whom he had been having an affair since 1937.  He was definitely a man you needed to keep an eye on.
Photo from Wikipedia
He was a very handsome fellow.  I think that helped him get away with an awful lot of bad behavior.
The most fun thing about the Hemingway House has to be the cats.  The story is that the Hemingways loved cats, particularly a breed that is know for having six toes (polydactyl cats).  The house today is full of cats, all supposedly descendants of the original Hemingway cats.  The organization that owns the home employs several vets to care for them, each kitten's lineage is carefully documented, and a stable population of around 50 cats is assiduously maintained. About half of the cats have six toes. There is some discussion over whether or not Hemingway actually did have cats here. Some believe that he only had cats when he lived in Cuba, but never when he lived in Key West.  Regardless of what the truth is, the cats are a charming addition to the house, and our guide was able to convince several to join our tour by offering them treats kept in his pocket.

 Even the window curtains contribute to the cat theme:
 Isn't this the most awesome bathroom floor?
 Behind the main house is a small two-story guest house where Hemingway did most of his writing.
Heminway writing house, Key West, FL / Souvenir Chronicles

Heminway writing room, Key West, FL / Souvenir Chronicles

 The grounds around the house are really beautiful:
The pool in the backyard cost $20,000 to build, in part because of the difficulty of digging the hole in the hard coral ground.  It was the first in-ground pool in Key West, and during the 1930s it was the only pool for 100 miles.
 Finally, next to the pool stands a most unusual fountain, made from a urinal from Hemingway's favorite Key West bar, Sloppy Joe's. Today it serves as a handy drinking fountain for the Hemingway cats.

We have another author's home visit planned for next month.  Stay tuned!


  1. I remember from Mrs. G's class that Hemingway loved his cats-interesting to see them accommodated by current caretakers.

    Is that a fish tank in the bathroom?

    1. I don't think so, Chris. I think it was some sort of display case. However, a fish tank in the bathroom is kind of a cool idea, don't you think?

  2. I enjoyed the contrast between Hemingway's house and the summer white house occupied by Harry Truman, just down the road. We think of the wealth generated by our free enterprise system, yet the wealth enjoyed by an elected official (the president) was on a scale four of five times greater than that enjoyed by Hemingway. I'm not sure what that means, but it has given me pause to wonder.

  3. Loving this tour of FLorida. You guys are REALLY dedicated to travel so far to see Hemingway's Florida house. Good for you.