The Hemingway Home
One of the main attractions in Key West
is located at 907 Whitehead Street in the heart of Old Town Key West. This is, of course, the address of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
where he lived and worked for over ten years. The house was originally built in 1851 by Asa Tift, a marine architect and salvage wrecker, and became Ernest Hemingway's Florida
home in 1931. In 1964 it was opened to the public as a museum by the current owners, the Bernice Dickson Family.
The two story Spanish Colonial style home was constructed of native rock taken from the grounds and has the first pool built in Key West. When the house was built, it was made from limestone blocks cut directly from the site of the house. As a result it has a true basement, 9 feet deep, under the house. The basement is used today as a storage space and never gets wet. This is because the house actually sits on a low hill, about 16 feet above sea level.
Hemingway's personal touches are still throughout the house to this day. Many of the unique furnishing are European antiques collected during their lives in Europe. The trophy mounts and skins were souvenirs of Hemingway's African safaris and hunting expeditions out west. The author's presence can still be felt in his studio where he wrote some of his most well known works; it has been preserved as if he's expected back there from a trip any day now.
Hemingway owned the home from 1931 until his passing in 1961.
The pool, built in the late 1930's, is 65 ft long and 9 ft deep it is still the longest pool and first residential pool built in Key West, it is filled from a saltwater well in the old smokehouse.
Hemingway himself planned the pool, but his job as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War interrupted his plans and Pauline was left to supervise the construction. When Hemingway saw the finished pool upon his return to Key West from Spain he was astounded at the final cost of $20,000.00. This was a lot of money back then and prompted Hemingway to take a penny from his pocket give it to Pauline and say laughingly, "Well, you might as well take my last cent." Hemingway's "last cent" can be seen in the cement of the pool patio even today.
The Six Toed Cats
Very visible and living links to the past are the descendants of Hemingway's cat Snowball. The story goes that Hemingway had a sea captain friend who owned an unusual six-toed tomcat. Upon his departure from Key West, the captain gave the cat to Hemingway. Today many of the numerous cats that grace the grounds still possess the unusual six toes. They are fed by the property staff and it is illegal to take or harass them. There is also protective netting around the property that keeps the cats from getting loose.
The Drinking Fountain
Hemingway's House in Key West has the most famous cat drinking fountain in the world, he himself had it built for his beloved cats. The top of the fountain is an old Spanish olive jar that he brought from Cuba and the trough below came from Hemingway's good friend Joe Russell's bar "Sloppy Joe's." It is actually one of the bar's urinals that was given to Hemming way when Joe moved his bar across the street due to a dispute over money. Pauline hated it and added the decorative tile to disguise it. The ironic thing is that the cats don't like it much either and rarely use it.
Throughout the years, Key West has been home to many writers and artists, but none of their presence and influence left it's mark like Ernest Hemingway's.
The Rest of the Property
There is a brick walkway that weaves its way throughout the property; these bricks were shipped to Key West from Baltimore to pave the Key West city streets. Hemingway bought enough in 1935 to have a privacy wall built around the property; he wanted his family away from the view of crowds of tourists that were starting to stare through the chain-link fence.
A concrete patio covers the main rain cistern which was used for drinking water but is no longer needed since; Key West now gets water from the mainland through a pipe built by the US Navy during the 1940s.
The building where Hemingway had his studio was originally a carriage house; he put his studio on the second floor. A stairway has been built, for tourists, from the patio on the ground floor to the second floor writing studio, but originally there was a gate cut into the house's veranda railing and a cat walk lead over the old cookhouse building and his studio. He was a morning writer and this made it easy to get out of bed and walk directly over to the studio. The cookhouse and catwalk blew down in a storm in 1948.The studio remains as Hemingway used it -- his Royal typewriter and Cuban cigar-maker's chair, the things he collected and loved all are still in place today. It was in this studio that he worked on Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, To Have And Have Not, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and many of his most-famous short stories, such as "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber."
Hemingway in Key West
In 1928, upon the advice of a Paris friend, John Dos Pasos, Hemingway and his new bride Pauline came to Key West via Havana Cuba. Another reason for the stop in Key West was because they had been given a new Ford Roadster by Pauline's wealthy Uncle Gus, he is also the one who bought them the house on Whitehead St. The Hemingway's liked Key West so much that they decided to stay and Hemingway's first American home was established. He soon settled into a daily routine, he wrote during the early mornings when the temperature was coolest, and took time to explore his new surroundings in the afternoons. He finished writing a war story he had started on the passage to Key West. The novel, which was published in fall of 1929, was "A Farewell To Arms".
It was on one of his afternoon explorations that Hemingway met the local hardware store owner Charles Thompson. This is the man who is credited with introducing Hemingway to what would become one of his greatest passions, big game sport fishing.
Hemingway made many more dear friends in Key West, along with Charles Thompson, there was Joe Russell (also known as Sloppy Joe), and Capt. Eddie "Bra" Saunders, together with his old Paris friends they became known as the "The Key West Mob". They would go fishing for days and weeks at a time in search of the great catch, a giant tuna or Marlin perhaps. It was also during this time that Hemingway became known as "Papa".
After Ernest and Pauline Hemingway divorced in 1939, Hemingway took up residence in Cuba. Key West Florida
became an overnight station during the 40's and 50's for Hemingway until his death in 1961. After Pauline's death in 1951, the Key West house was rented fully furnished and then when Hemingway died in 1961, the house was sold to Mrs. Bernice Dickson, a local Key West businesswoman. She lived in the main house until she opened it as a museum in 1964, she moved into the carriage house in back of the main house. The home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968 and is still the property of Mrs. Dickson's family.
Numerous books were based on the people and places he encountered while living in this house. Hemingway's Key West was a town unlike any place he ever experienced. It was filled with interesting people from the rich, to the down-on-their-luck fishermen and wreckers. In his novel "To Have and Have Not" which is about Key West during the depression, Hemingway used most of these people as characters.
The Guest House
The first floor of the carriage house was converted into an apartment by Pauline and is where Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary stayed when they visited the property after Pauline's death. They lived in Cuba but they stayed at the Key West house quite often; the last time was in 1960. Today this building, right off the pool, is the property's offices and bookstore.
By Beverly Martinez-Collins – PlacesAroundFlorida.com