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Hemingway House

Or there will be soon. The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West is developing an app that allows users virtual access to the property.

The sun-drenched island was supposed to be a brief stopover for Hemingway after he left Paris in 1928. Instead he found himself drawn to Key West’s rough-and-tumble charm, and it became his first home on U.S. soil after spending most of his adult life abroad. Three years later he moved into a two-story Spanish colonial-style house, today the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.

It’s one of our favorite literary sites, a delight for both bibliophiles and cat lovers. The museum’s app offers details about Hemingway’s days in Key West and an overview of his books, poems, and short stories. It also has a tour through the grounds, the house, and the studio where the writer penned his semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms and other works.

Marlene Deitrich

The best part: the app introduces Marlene Dietrich (in the photo above hanging out in Hemingway’s bedroom) and the other cats who have the run of the place. Legend has it that a ship’s captain once gave Hemingway a six-toed cat, and the 50 or so felines that live on the property today are its descendants.

The app is available in eight languages. You can sign up on the museum’s website if you’d like to receive an email notification when it’s released.

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

Novel Destinations features a chapter about Ernest Hemingway’s days in Key West in the 1930s, which Joni researched and wrote. After reading her descriptions of Hemingway’s haunts on the island, I was inspired to visit and recently had the chance to do so. On the plane ride there from New York I read Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, which uses Key West and Cuba as its backdrops, and is his only novel set in the U.S.

The highlight in Key West was the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, a two-story Spanish colonial-style house at 907 Whitehead Street. The rough-and-tumble charm of the U.S.’s southernmost city appealed to the writer, and it became his first home on U.S. soil after spending most of his adult life abroad. Located behind the house is Hemingway’s writing studio, where he worked on his semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms and other works.

The literary connection was enough to lure me to the Hemingway Home, but there was also another draw: the 50 or so cats that live on the property. Legend has it that a ship’s captain gave Hemingway a six-toed cat and the ones that live there today are its descendants. The cats have the run of the gorgeous grounds and the house, and the orange-colored Archibald even sleeps in Hemingway’s bed. That’s Archibald in the photo on the right at the cats’ drinking fountain; the bottom portion of the fountain is a urinal from a bar Hemingway frequented, Sloppy Joe’s.

Speaking of Sloppy Joe’s, my husband and I paid two visits to the raucous bar that has Hemingway’s photo and other memorabilia scattered throughout the place. I sampled the Papa Dobles, a cocktail invented for Hemingway and named for him. (If you’re flying in at night, the red neon “Sloppy Joe’s” sign is visible from the air.)

On the dining front, there was Blue Heaven (right), which serves up Caribbean-inspired food and has live music. Before the space was a restaurant, the courtyard that now serves as the dining area was the site of boxing matches occasionally refereed by Hemingway. Another restaurant recommendation is Santiago’s Bodega. Sadly there is no literary connection, but the tapas are excellent.

Look for Part 2 on my Key West adventures — and information about another famous literary figure who spent time on the island — next week…

–Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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