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The much-loved, furry tourist magnets that live at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West are famous for being polydactyls–they have six-toed front paws that make them look as if they’re wearing mittens. Like Fats Waller in the picture at left. Today’s New York Times has an article, “For Whom the Cell Mutates: The Origins of Genetic Quirks,” that delves into the science behind what makes a cat polydactyl, along with some insights about Hemingway and his writing. Although they care more about enticing literary travelers to pet them and napping in the garden, Fats Waller and his fellow residents have made it into science lore. “When found in felines,” the Times reports, “the condition, formally known as preaxial polydactyly, is now commonly referred to as a ‘Hemingway cat.'”

Along with visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and sampling the Hemingway-inspired Papa Dobles cocktail at Sloppy Joe’s while we were in Key West, my husband and I explored a connection to another literary legend.

Poet Robert Frost was a frequent visitor to the island in the 1930s and 1940s, often staying in a garden cottage (left) at the home of fifth-generation Key Wester, avid preservationist, and legendary hostess Jessie Porter. Porter’s Caribbean Colonial house — where playwrights Thornton Wilder and Tennessee Williams also visited — was built in the 1830s and is now the Key West Heritage House Museum and Robert Frost Cottage. The beautiful tropical garden has more than 200 varieties of orchids.

This past April I had the chance to tour the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire, which is where he lived as a struggling writer before moving to England and launching his career as a poet. It was interesting to learn more about Frost during my Key West visit, this time focusing on his later years. During one stay on the isle, Frost wrote the poem “The Gift Outright,” which he recited at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

Like Hemingway and Frost, I found Key West alluring. It’s hard to resist a place that has a nightly sunset celebration at Mallory Square (said to have been inspired by island regular Tennessee Williams) and such a laid-back, quirky vibe. Three days in Key West was not nearly enough, and someday I’ll be back to visit the cats at the Hemingway House and indulge in another Papa Dobles at Sloppy Joe’s. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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