the Hemingway House

All right! You want the details.

The Hemingway House at 907 Whitehead in Key West was Papa’s residence from 1931 until 1940ish. He bought the house with his second wife, Pauline, and left her to live in Cuba (in sort of a gradual manner, which is why I say 1940ish). Pauline would live in the house til her death in 1951, and Ernest would continue to use it, on his odd visit to the island, from that point until his death in 1961. It’s now a museum, with the Hemingways’ original furniture and books largely intact, we’re told. One of its more famous features is the population of polydactyl (six-toed) cats that still roams the grounds freely; they have forty-something today. Papa had one original cat, Snowball, who eventually populated the place pretty thoroughly. (Our B&B, the Wicker Guesthouse, also had a few polydactyl cats gracing its grounds, just a block from the Hemingway House. One assumes they’ve taken the island over for their own, to some extent.)

Our photo tour begins with a cat. Husband was rather good at making friends with them.

That’s Husband’s hand there.

Most special to me, of course, was the connection to Ernest Hemingway’s life and writing. This is his writing studio, in a separate building, up a flight of stairs: at this very typewriter (says our guide) Papa created much of his best work, including my personal favorite, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Husband was careful to also record the urinal in Papa’s workshop.

More cats… did you hear me say FORTY-SOMETHING on the grounds? You could literally trip over them.

This is Husband’s lovely photo of the outside. Thank you, Husband! The House’s website has a number of pictures of the exterior from different years, which are nice to see as a series; I know from these pictures, for example, that it was not so lushly vegetated when Papa bought the place. (The other side, not pictured here, is a veritable jungle.) I have to keep going back to study all these exterior shots to try and convince myself that he was really here, right here where I am now… what a special thing to experience. On the morning we left Key West, I went back to stand and study the house and try to feel his presence.

But! Our trip didn’t end with touring the grounds. I’m always looking to have more Hemingway books – by, and about. I had saved up a little list of the holes in my collection, so that I could try and do some buying at the Hemingway House’s bookstore. I didn’t find everything I was looking for – their biographies, for example, were just the most well-known ones (Baker, Meyers, Lynn, Reynolds) who I already own. (I’m searching for some that were cited in Hemingway’s Boat, including Samuelson, V. Hemingway, P. Hemingway, Hotchner…) But I did fill a few holes:

That is, I bought four books by EH himself: Men Without Women, The Nick Adams Stories (a posthumous collection), To Have and Have Not, and The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War. (The Fifth Column was his one and only play, and I’ve never read it!) I also got Bernice Kert’s The Hemingway Women, which I’ve read references to for years. All in all, a good haul!

I had a very special time visiting a place where Papa himself lived and walked and worked. This was my first, but hopefully not my last trip: I want to see the family home in Oak Park, IL, and also the finca in Havana if they ever let us go.

As an aside, here’s another literary connection: at the start of Tripwire by Lee Child, my other hero Jack Reacher (who actually has a bit in common with Hemingway, at least as he wanted us to see him… hmmm) is making his living by digging swimming pools – by hand – in Key West. Husband also being familiar with this fact, our running joke was to ask each other every time we saw a pool (and there are a lot of them!) whether Reacher had dug that one? Good fun. πŸ™‚

What about you? Have you made any literary pilgrimages? Do you have any in mind?

6 Responses

  1. I can’t wait to go see his house! Thanks for sharing. And I love the cats. Enjoy your new books. I’m looking forward to your reviews.

  2. Thank you ma’am! Won’t be anytime real soon but I am looking forward, someday, to reading & reviewing. Glad to have you. πŸ™‚

  3. Even the bathroom looks like a writer’s sanctum…LOL

    Love the desk….and bookcases.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. […] the idea that he lived right there. I’ll give you the full Hem House report shortly. [EDIT: Here's my report.] Then we rented bikes and rode out to the area where the fishing charters depart, so […]

  5. […] bought this print from the Hemingway House in Key West, and took a second shopping trip to find a beat-up real-wood frame for it. Again […]

  6. […] a Hemingway shrine in the living room, and we’ve traveled together to Key West and visited the Hemingway House there. He stumbled on the second one. I’ve been reading a lot of Haven Kimmel lately, but […]

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