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Part Two of Hemingway's Key West Home and Gardens

By Stephanie Boles (josette63December 11, 2008

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 Nobel Prize winning author, Ernest Hemingway. If you want to walk where he walked, then visit Key West and tour his home and gardens. This article picks up where Part One left off.

Gardening picture

Hemingway's Key West

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway, Paris, 1927
Paris, France
Copyright: Public Domain
Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection,
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and Museum, Boston

Key West, Florida
Copyright: Public Domain
Credit: Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection,
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Pauline

When Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Pauline, discovered Key West, upon returning from a trip to Paris, he said of it, "It's the best place I've ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms... Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks." Subsequently, he lived in Key West for eleven years. He and Pauline rented an apartment for a time, and then moved to their new home. Their Spanish Colonial style house was built in 1851 with limestone rock found on the property. The house, now known as The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is a registered national historic landmark, and a major tourist attraction for Key West. It is also a wonderful place to retrace the footsteps of one of American's best known authors.

Cats with six toes, oh my!

Ernest Hemingway and sons Patrick and Gregory, 1946
Finca Vigia (Hemingway home), San Francisco de Paula, Cuba.
Copyright: Public Domain
Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection,
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and Museum, Boston
Notice the cats.
Polydactyl Cat Paw
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain



Hemingway Cats
The polydactyl cats which roam the grounds of the Hemingway house are descended from Hemingway's six-toed cat called, Snowball. Snowball was purportedly given to Hemingway by a ship's captain he met in a bar. Most cats have five front toes and four back toes. But polydactyl cats look as if they are wearing mittens because of the extra toes on their paws. Since Hemingway owned several polydactyl cats, the nickname Hemingway cats is frequently used to describe them. The cats on Hemingway's property are named for movie stars, characters from Hemingway's books, artists, poets, and two are named after major hurricanes. In Hemingway's garden the cats can wonder along the paths, nap or take shelter in the cathouse fashioned like a mansion. They can even curl up in one of the wooden shelters dispersed throughout the garden. The cats are well loved at The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. And when a cat dies, it is often interred at the cat cemetery, which is on the property, across from Hemingway's writing studio. The names of the cats that have been buried at the Hemingway Home are engraved in concrete stones.

ImageTouring The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Most who tour the Hemingway home and beautiful gardens come away enamored with the cats. But there is so much more to enjoy than just the cats. In the house you can see the Key West lighthouse from the living room. There are several hand-blown chandeliers throughout the house. It is said the chandelier in the dining room is from the 1700s. It was made near Venice. In two of the bedrooms you will find photos of Hemingway, first editions of his books and novels in several languages. It is interesting to note that there is a Picasso ceramic cat sculpture in Ernest and Pauline's former bedroom. The sculpture is a replica, however, since an intruder broke the actual sculpture, and it has been placed in storage. As you roam through Hemingway's bedroom, you will likely see a cat sprawled out on the king-sized bed.
From here, you might walk over to Hemingway's writing studio. It is above the carriage house which is near the pool. A gift shop is beneath the studio. You will be pleasantly surprised to see Hemingway's Royal typewriter resting at ease on a table with turned legs and a worn top. And the chair is the very one he sat in when he wrote. It is a Cuban cigar maker's chair. Hemingway created some of his greatest works in the studio. A Farewell to Arms, To Have and Have Not, Green Hills of Africa and Death in the Afternoon are a few of them. His outstanding short stories, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber were created in the studio as well. He would work nearly every morning from six to the early afternoon. Afterward he would pursue some of his favorite pleasures. He enjoyed fishing, swimming, boxing and passing time with his friends at Sloppy Joe's bar. But there is something intrinsically sad about the studio now. It is by far a lonely room without the author to fill it with his commanding presence. The studio overlooks the swimming pool, which Hemingway's wife, Pauline, had built while he was away reporting on the Spanish Civil War. When he returned and was informed of how much the pool cost, he took a penny from his pocket and said to Pauline, "You may as well take my last penny, too." Look for the penny. It is embedded in cement and covered with glass near the pool.


 Screenshot of Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', 1943
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Immediately behind the house is the infamous urinal Hemingway purchased from Sloppy Joe's bar. An old Spanish olive jar tops it off. It has been converted into a water fountain. It is not a fountain for humans. This fountain is strictly for the Hemingway cats. As you follow the walkways some of which are veiled by swaying palms and boarded by lush flora you will be amazed at just how much beauty a mere one acre area of tropical gardens contains. Don't forget to follow the trail to the bridge and admire the Koi Pond.

In 1939 Ernest and Pauline were divorced. He moved to Cuba. Upon Pauline's death in 1951 the house was rented out even though Hemingway yet owned it. After Hemingway's death the house was sold to Bernice Dickson. In 1964 she converted the house into The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.

Ernest Hemingway writes while on a fishing trip, 1916
Walloon Lake, Michigan
Copyright: Public Domain
Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection,
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and Museum, Boston
Hard at work writing, even at a young age.

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo
by Lloyd Arnold for the first edition of "For
Whom the Bell Tolls", at the Sun Valley
Lodge, Idaho, late 1939.
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain 



Writing, at its best, is a lonely life....For [the writer] does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day. -- from Hemingway's message to the Swedish Academy on receiving the Nobel Prize in 1954

Pay tribute to one of America's finest authors. Pick up an Ernest Hemingway book today and read it. Perhaps you can visit his home and gardens afterward. The Hemingway Home and Museum enchant thousands each year. Wouldn't it be nice to travel to tropical Key West and walk in Hemingway's ingenious footsteps?


Ernest Hemingway Biography
Hemingway Bibliography
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park
Ernest Hemingway from Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Photographs of the Grounds of the Hemingway home
Dave's Members Garden Blogs

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

Pleasant gardening

  About Stephanie Boles  
Stephanie BolesStephanie 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.

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