It was by recommendation of fellow expatriate, John Dos Passos, that Ernest Hemingway first visited Key West in the 20’s. When he arrived, after a long ocean passage from Paris, his first priority was putting the petal to the metal in that brand new Ford Roadster his new wife’s rich uncle had bought for them. But the delivery was late. The dealership insisted that the couple take up comfortable accommodations in the apartment above the garage until the car was ready. It took three weeks. But during this interlude, somehow miraculously, Hemingway completed his novel “A Farewell to Arms.”
Apparently, Key West contained some pen magic.
(At least I hoped so. Maybe there was some left inside his house on Whitehead Street. If not, at least there are the cats.)
Mr. Hemingway decided he’d stay.
The lovely Hemingway Home was purchased (thanks Rich Uncle Gus!) for Ernest and Pauline in 1931. It’s a Spanish-style mansion built in 1851, from rocks native to the island. When they moved in, the place needed much renovation, but the Hemingway handy-work is very much present in the place today. The furniture is mainly European antiques collected during their time in Paris. The mounts and skins from the legendary African safaris and Western hunting expeditions still grace the walls. The studio where Hemingway produced some of his most famous works still stands mostly unchanged. But the most tangible links to the past are living and breathing and walking the halls of the home – those forty-something six-toed descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cats. And they all have names.
Maybe there’s some pen magic; maybe it’s just Cat Lover’s Paradise.
Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat named Snowball by a ship captain and, as Key West is a small island, most of the cats on the island ended up related. And The Hemingway Home has stayed in the family ever since.
Photos Courtesy Rob O’Neal