Hemingway Home and Museum

Hemingway Home

‘Listen,’ I told him. ‘Don’t be so tough so early in the morning. I’m sure you’ve cut plenty of people’s throats. I haven’t even had my coffee yet.’ ― Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not

Once upon a time, a Canadian twentysomething was registering for her senior year at a small liberal arts college somewhere in the American Midwest. Her timetable was jam-packed as she tried to squeeze in all the required courses she needed in order to graduate. When her advisor told her she had to fit in at least one American literature course (“you are not going to graduate with an English major from an American college without studying American literature!”), she was annoyed. Reluctantly, she registered for the course.

When she showed up to class, she discovered that the prof was a bore, the reading list a snore, and, to add insult to injury, every Friday afternoon she and her classmates were subjected to a reading quiz. A reading quiz?? What was this? High school?? In protest, the college student didn’t read any of the assigned novels. She managed to pass the course, albeit with the lowest grade of her academic career.

The summer following her college graduation, this college student (now college grad) picked up the unread American novels she had lugged back home to Canada. Since she was intentionally unemployed (as she called it), she had lots of time to read. So she read them all.

And that is how one Canadian college grad discovered Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway!! Who knew? For many years afterwards, she fervently declared to anyone who asked that For Whom the Bell Tolls was one of the best novels she had ever read. She was chuffed when a writing teacher once praised her work as being “just like Hemingway’s!” (She didn’t believe him, but she was chuffed.) And when the college grad (now editor and writer) found herself many years later on holiday in Key West, she made a beeline for the Hemingway Home and Museum.

Ernest Hemingway lived on and off in Key West from 1928 until 1940 with wife # 2 (Pauline Pfeiffer). They bought the 3000-square-foot house in 1931; it was, and is, the largest residential property in Key West. In 1937, after Hemingway took off for Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War with the woman who would become wife # 3 (Martha Gellhorn), Pauline built a swimming pool over his beloved boxing ring. After the divorce, Pauline continued to live in the Key West house with their two sons until her death in 1951.

The Hemingway Home and Museum opened in 1964. For the past 50 years, knowledgeable and affable guides have taken tourists and book-lovers alike through the home and garden, which is still furnished much as it was when the Hemingways lived there. Of particular note are the cats that live on the property; there are over 50 of them, all well fed and well looked after. Descended from a six-toed cat given to Hemingway by a sea captain, about half of them have six toes on their front paws.

Hemingway’s Key West period was his most prolific. In spite of the amount of time he spent fishing and drinking, he was able to write two novels, To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many short stories including “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

Hemingway had a writing studio on the second floor of a carriage house behind the main house.

Hemingway had a writing studio on the second floor of a carriage house behind the main house.

The studio overlooked the pool.

The studio overlooked the pool.

Kids, this is a typewriter. It's what people used to type with before there were computers.

Kids, this is a typewriter. It’s what people used to type with before there were computers.

Although the gate is left wide open, none of the cats on the Hemingway property ever leave.

Although the gate is left wide open, none of the cats on the Hemingway property ever wander off.

In fact, the museum staff has to be vigilant to keep the neighbourhood cats from moving in.

In fact, the museum staff has to be vigilant to keep the neighbourhood cats from moving in.

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