The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida, is the first literary landmark I’ve toured twice. Why? The cats. The 50 or so furry ambassadors greet and interact with visitors, as much of a draw as the house’s literary pedigree.
If you’d like to read about my first visit there, click here. It’s more of a traditional take on touring the house and Hemingway- related bars and restaurants on the island. This time around, it was about finding out what was new (mostly feline-related) and taking in details I’d previously missed. Here are some random impressions about Hemingway’s Key West, Take Two.
Fats Waller (named for the jazz musician) is one of the three most recent residents. We made fast friends, and I even briefly considered smuggling him out in my oversized handbag. He has six toes, as do many of the other cats, a trait passed down from their ancestor and Hemingway companion Snowball.
Sadly, I learned that the beautiful, fiery-orange Archibald, who reigned as the top cat, has passed away. The distinction now belongs to Marlene Deitrich (above right). She wasted no time in claiming the perk that comes with this lauded position: dibs on the bed in Hemingway’s bedroom. She looks annoyed—I think we disturbed her nap.
How adorable is this feline-sized replica of the house? Of course, the cats actually have the run of the real thing so I don’t think they’re as enamored with it as I was.
The tour was just as fascinating the second time, a testament to the excellent and entertaining (human) guides—who are more than willing to keep the tales flowing if you stop by the porch near the front door after seeing the house and grounds. One of the guides, with his rugged, weathered face and sailor cap, looked like he could have stepped from the pages of a Hemingway novel. He had a (tall?) tale of his own: He was heading south when his boat broke down in Key West; two decades later, he’s still on the island.
Sloppy Joe’s and Captain Tony’s are the most well-known of the island’s pubs associated with Hemingway. But just down the street from the writer’s abode is the Green Parrot, where he pulled up a barstool and threw back a few. Far from bustling, crowded Duval Street, Key West’s main thoroughfare and home to those other famed watering holes, the Green Parrot is more of a local hangout.
Head to the Dry Tortugas to get a sense of the vast open waters Hemingway liked to fish. The cluster of seven islands lies about 70 miles off the coast of Key West and is now a national park reachable only by boat or seaplane. A planned week-long outing once went awry for Hemingway and his “Mob”—a group of fishing buddies that included John Dos Passos and saloonkeeper John Russell of Sloppy Joe’s—and they were marooned at Fort Jefferson on Garden Key for seventeen days. Luckily, legend has it, their supply of canned goods, coffee, and liquor—along with fresh-caught fish—saw them through until they could safely return to Key West in their small fishing boats. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt