On Whitehead Street in Key West, you'll find a Spanish colonial house with big, shuttered windows and several dozen polydactyl cats wandering freely about the home and beautifully kept tropical gardens. This was once the dwelling place of the late Nobel Prize winning author, Ernest Hemingway. If you want to walk where he walked, then visit Key West and tour his former home and gardens, and enjoy the tranquility...
(Editor's Note:This article was originally published on December 5, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Enjoy the tranquility of the lush gardens at The Hemingway Home and Museum while you stroll, carefree as a child, through them. Take time to revel in the splendor of the day, as the scent of the tropics eases away your worries.
Plants to Look for in Key West Gardens
The Florida Keys The Florida Keys are truly filled with the scent of the tropics. And why not, they are a chain of islands located between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean just beyond the peninsula of Florida. The Keys are an archipelago, which is an expanse of water with many scattered islands. The Keys contain around 1,700 islands. There are the upper keys, the middle keys and the outlying keys, which are only accessible by boat. The island in which Ernest Hemingway's former home and gardens is located is one of the lower key islands, called Key West. It is the southernmost city in the continental United States.
Key West It was the cigar industry that put Key West on the map, so to speak. In the 19th century the industry virtually changed the island into a thriving seaport. Since then Key West has continued to thrive. It is more famous now for its skinks, conchs, free roaming chickens, the Hemingway cats, a few infamous pirates and its nightlife. And, of course, the writers that call Key West their home. Not only is Key West the place of Ernest Hemingway's former home and gardens, but there are several other beautiful gardens located in Key West.
A Few of Key West's Beautiful Gardens
Cygnus buccinator, trumpeter swan by John James Audubon "The Birds of America",1838
Audubon House and Gardens John James Audubon sketched birds and wrote in his journal during his time in Key West. His former house and gardens in Key West are a testament of beauty to his life's work.
Key West Botanical Gardens The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is the only frost-free botanical garden in the continental United States. It is also a place to discover many endangered and threatened plants. You might also see a green anole or a lovely butterfly while there, so watch closely.
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory This is a tropical paradise filled with hundreds of beautiful birds and butterflies. Your neck will get a crick in it from all the gazing 'up' you will do. There are flowering plants, lovely waterfalls and trees to admire as well. The conservatory is a glass-enclosed habitat. And it is climate controlled. What a spectacular adventure this place would be for the children!
The Fort East Martello Museum & Gardens The exhibits you will see here are a wonderful way to discover the history of the Florida Keys. There is an 80-year-old playhouse which shows children how kids lived in Key West many years ago. The swaying palms above your head are an added benefit.
Heritage House Museum and Robert Frost Cottage Seven generations of a Key West family have collected treasures such as rare antiques, original furnishings, and artifacts related to the sea. The cottage is a Caribbean Colonial style house. The garden is flowering, not only with beautiful blooms, but with recordings of Robert Frost's poetry. This is truly a romantic place to behold.
Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden Nancy's hope was to preserve endangered species of rain forest plants and keep a part of Key West green. She has done this, with the help of her friends, in her beautiful corner of Key West.
There are far too many attractions to list them all in this article. Find more here.
Critters to Look for in Key West Gardens
Of all the gardens in Key West, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum draw the most visitors each year. And, if you are a lover of Hemingway, a student or a writer, then his home and gardens must surely appeal to you as well. You may want to join one of the writer's walks, held in the winter months. You will pass by the homes of writers such as Tennessee Williams and John Hersey. I want to walk you through Ernest Hemingway's gardens. But before I do, let's learn a bit about Ernest Hemingway, the man.
Who Was Ernest Hemingway?
Ernest Miller Hemingway, circa December 1899 Oak Park, Illinois Copyright: Public Domain Credit: Photograph by Arnold Studios, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Ernest Hemingway, Milan 1918. Milan, Italy Copyright: Public Domain Credit: Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Ernest Hemingway, 1950 Copyright: Public Domain Credit: Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Ernest Miller Hemingway  Ernest Hemingway was born July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois and lived for 62 years. His literary reputation is unparalleled, but to many he was more than a writer; he was an icon. Even today he is remembered and esteemed. He began his writing career in high school where he wrote his first articles for the school paper called Trapeze. He attained fame and riches through his writing, winning the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea in 1953, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.
A defining moment in Hemingway's life came in January 1954. He and his fourth wife, Mary, were traveling abroad. They were touring East Africa's lakes and waterfalls from a plane. To avoid hitting a flock of birds the pilot, Roy Marsh, dove and hit a telegraph wire. The plane was damaged and Roy Marsh had to make a crash landing. Mary suffered fractured ribs, but the others came away with minor injuries. They crossed Lake Victoria in a boat, and boarded a de Haviland Rapide. This plane was piloted by Reginald Cartwright. Just after takeoff the plane crashed and caught fire. Reginald Cartwright, Mary and Roy Marsh, the pilot from the first plane, managed to escape through an exit in the front of the plane. But Hemingway was forced to use his head to break through the main door. He had suffered serious injuries in the crash.
In his biography of Hemingway Jeffrey Meyer listed the injuries Hemingway suffered in the de Haviland Rapide plane crash. "His skull was fractured, two discs of his spine were cracked, his right arm and shoulder were dislocated, his liver, right kidney and spleen were ruptured, his sphincter muscle was paralyzed by compressed vertebrae on the iliac nerve, his arms, face and head were burned by the flames of the plane, his vision and hearing were impaired..." Jeffrey Meyer's own words could not have expressed what occurred afterward in truer form. He said, "Though he survived the crashes and lived to read his own premature obituaries, his injuries cut short his life in a slow and painful way."
When Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 28, 1954 his injuries kept him from traveling to the ceremonies in Sweden. He sent a written acceptance. John Cabot, the US Ambassador to Sweden, read the acceptance to the Nobel Committee.
Hemingway's health continued to deteriorate after the 1954 plane crashes. And his ability to write was affected. By 1961 Hemingway had spiraled down into a deep state of depression. On the morning of July 2, only two weeks before he was to turn 62, Hemingway took his own life.
Hemingway Bibliography  In the following years Hemingway published these books: 1923 Three Stories & Ten Poems 1924 in our time [sic] 1925 In Our Time 1926 Torrents of Spring and The Sun Also Rises 1927 Men Without Women 1929 A Farewell to Arms 1932 Death in the Afternoon 1933 Winner Take Nothing 1935 Green Hills of Africa 1937 To Have and Have Not 1938 The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories 1940 For Whom the Bell Tolls 1942 Men at War: The Best War Stories of All Time (edited, with an introduction by Hemingway) 1950 Across the River and Into the Trees 1952 The Old Man and the Sea In the years after Hemingway's death, these books were published from his manuscripts: 1964 A Moveable Feast 1967 By-Line: Ernest Hemingway 1970 Islands in the Stream 1985 The Dangerous Summer 1986 The Garden of Eden 1987 The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway and sons Patrick and Gregory, 1946 Finca Vigia (Hemingway home), San Francisco de Paula, Cuba. Copyright: Public Domain Credit: Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston Notice the cats.
Not only did Ernest Hemingway have a passion for writing, but he did so while gazing at his beautiful gardens in his Key West home.
Part Two of this article will discuss cats with six toes! And it will walk you through Hemingway's Key West Gardens.
Words Defined Skink - Any of a family (Scincidae) of pleurodont lizards mostly small and with small scales. Taken from Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Copyright 1970 Conchs- People born in Key West.
Photo Credits The Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain photos
About Stephanie Boles
Stephanie is a Floridian, transplanted to Missouri and married to a Missouri farmboy. She is a mother who enjoys the farm, teaching Sunday school, working as a church musician and a freelance writer. She spends a large part of her time helping the DH on building/remodeling their house. She designs the gardens and her DH helps to landscape them. She makes old fashioned bed dolls in her spare time. She is currently working on a historical romance book series. The first book of the series will be available for purchase in spring 2010. Book 2 in the summer of 2010.