24 Apr A Trip Back in Time at the Hemingway House in Key West
Key West in the 30’s was a very different place than it is today. Ernest Hemingway made the small island his home from 1931 until 1939, and it was here that he wrote some of his great works such as The Snows of Kilimanjaro, To Have and to Have Not and Green Hills of Africa. For a house steeped in such deep history, I found myself wishing the walls could talk, but by taking a tour, you will get at least a glimpse into the famous past of the Hemingway house.
The Hemingways moved into the house in the 30’s while Ernest was married to Pauline, his 2nd out of 4 wives. Pauline worked for Vogue in Paris when she and Hemingway met, so it comes as no surprise that she had style. Her main task when they moved into their Key West home was to fix up the house and place her mark on the property. What was the first thing to go, you might ask? Ceiling fans. Pauline wanted to get rid of the fans because she felt they were trashy, and she replaced them with chandeliers; I wonder how it felt during the sweltering summer heat with no air conditioning! Apparently, the house has great ventilation, but this is one instance where I would think comfort should outweigh design; sorry Pauline.
Touches from the Hemingways lives can still be found throughout the house–many of the decorations are European antiques from their time in Europe and the mounts and skins are souvenirs from their hunting trips in the American West and safaris in Africa.
Hemingway spent many of his Key West years with his four friends who became known as “The Mob” around town, and each one had a nickname; Ernest became known as Papa, a nickname that stuck with him for much of his life. The Mob would go on long fishing trips in search of giant tuna and marlin–they would spend weeks in places such as the Dry Tortugas, Cuba, and the Bahamas.
The house was one of the first on the island to have indoor plumbing, and it was the first to have indoor plumbing on the second floor. During that day and age, it was quite a feat.
Also, thanks to Pauline, their house was also the first home on the island to have a swimming pool. Ernest and Pauline had discussed installing a pool, but due to the large price tag of $20,000, Ernest felt it was an unnecessary expense. Even with his complaints, Ernest still made up plans for the pool, and when he went on assignment as a Spanish Civil War correspondent, he had Pauline oversee the pool’s construction. Due to the rising costs, Hemingway exclaimed, “Pauline, you’ve spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that!” Whether this story is true or not, you can still find a penny that Ernest supposedly embedded out back by the pool.
We visited the house with our friends and fellow travel bloggers Heather and Alex from Outside The Den; we were all excited to have a peak into Hemingway’s writing studio. The studio is in a separate building behind the main house and upstairs from what is now the gift shop. Bright and airy, the studio was adorned with vintage decorations from Hemingway’s past, but I wonder how close it looks to when he used it as a writing studio. I would have loved to visit the writing den when it was actually in use!
Another unique feature of the house is the peculiar fountain out back–at first glance, it looks like just a funky fountain. But, the actual story behind this item is that it is a urinal that Hemingway took from the original Sloppy Joe’s Bar, which was one of his regular haunts. Pauline practically had a fit when she saw what Ernest put in the backyard, but she decided to let him keep it and added some embellishments to disguise the urinal.
Perhaps the most unusual (and also my favorite) aspect of the famous home is the 40-50 polydactyl, aka six-toed, cats that reside there. Every cat on the property is a descendent of the original six-toed cat, Snowball. Not every cat actually has six toes, but they all posses the gene. Hemingway named all his cats after famous people, so the tradition is continued still today. There is even a little cat house as well as a cat cemetery in the garden to remember all the cats who once roamed the property.
I always love taking a journey into the past and visiting famous residences of people who intrigue me.