What do you think when someone mentions Key West? Probably crystal clear waters, partying until the wee hours of the morning, and beaches.
You probably don't think about American literature. Key West is a place to relax and let loose, not ponder often the front-runners for the Great American Novel.
Or so you might think!
None other than that heavy-hitter of American literature himself--Ernest Hemingway--had a house in Key West (it was one of many he owned at the peak of his career) and wrote many of his best-known works here, including For Whom the Bell Tolls, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," and Death in the Afternoon.
He arrived at the house completely by chance; he was passing through the Keys after coming from Cuba and fell in love with the place. So, he and his wife Pauline (the second of four spouses) lived there with his three children (two by Pauline and one from an earlier marriage); Hemingway often returned to the house throughout the rest of his life.
On first glance, Hemingway lived this life that so many people envied--he went on safari in Kenya, he lived in Paris, Cuba, Spain, and Africa for varying period, he was an excellent sportsfisherman, he was wildly famous for his writing while he was living (not an easy task for most literary contributors).
Yet, he was terribly unhappy. He had four marriages and rocky relationships with his three sons. Towards the end of his life, he was receiving treatment for alcoholism and depression, the latter of which ultimately led him to commit suicide when he was 62.
With everything that he dealt with, it's easy to see why a beautiful house on (then scarcely populated) Key West would appeal to him--he could fish each day, write each night, and relax in the hopes of escaping all that haunted him.
Even if you're not interested in Hemingway as a writer, I'd still suggest visiting the property from an architectural and historical perspective. It's the largest single-family owned property on Key West to this day--though it's not the Hemingway family who owns it, as Ernest's son sold it after his death. The woman who bought it from the Hemingway sons put it in a trust so that future generations could continue to enjoy this property.
Take the tour of the house and gardens: you'll be able to see many of the Hemingway family's belongings including prints, furniture, and decor. I was intrigued by the pool out back, as it was highly unusual to have a water feature like that in the 1930s. It was, in fact, the only pool within a hundred miles when the Hemingways lived there!
|Hemingway by the pool|
Oh, and about those six-toed cats--they're real, and they actually have six toes. Count them! The original six-toed cat came to Ernest Hemingway by a local ship's captain, and he gave it, and all of its descendants, a place to live. There are about 40 cats still on the property today, all of whom are related to that original kitty.
One final note: while Hemingway died in 1962 and left Key West as his primary residence in 1940 or so, his spirit is still very much alive and loved on the island. A local bar, Sloppy Joe's, holds a Hemingway lookalike contest every year, and the winner is always a dead ringer for the writer.
|Hemingway in his later years|
Visiting the Hemingway House has been the highlight of two of my Key West trips (yes, I went back for a second go-round. Once an English nerd, always an English nerd.), and I highly recommend that you take time away from your sunbathing, parasailing, and bar hopping to check it out!
I was in no way compensated for my review of the Hemingway House. I really did love it!