All About the Ernest Hemingway House
The Hemingway house, once home to famous author Ernest Hemingway, is a popular historic landmark in Key West, Florida. Tourists and locals are able to visit the house to this day, as it has been converted into a museum where people can learn about Hemingway as they stand where he once lived. Hemingway was said to have written some of his best work in this home over the course of eight years, including his beloved novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. The life of Ernest Hemingway included many moves to and from different places, but while the author relocated often, his Key West home was one of the places he stayed the longest.
The Hemingway house was built by Asa Tift in 1851. He was a wreck salvager and marine architect who built the home out of limestone 16 feet above sea level. With its high elevation and sturdy framework, it was able to survive hurricanes and other severe weather conditions with limited damage or flooding. It was built facing the Key West Lighthouse, another attraction that would become popular with modern tourists. After Tift's passing, the home was abandoned and boarded up until Hemingway and his wife came along. They carried out an extensive renovation project, including making the home one of the first on the island to have indoor plumbing. Hemingway's wife, Pauline, also had a swimming pool installed, the first in the Florida Keys.
Hemingway and the House
The Hemingways acquired their Key West home in 1931 when it was given to them as a wedding gift by Pauline's uncle. When searching for a house to live in long-term, Pauline had come across the foreclosed building, and despite describing it as "a damned haunted house," she convinced her uncle to make the purchase. The house cost a total of $8,000, which would be around $156,000 in today's dollars. The author and his wife stayed in the home for a total of eight years after living on and off in Key West for the previous three. The interior was mainly designed by Pauline, but all of the hunting trophies Hemingway brought home from his safari trips were also displayed. Among the activities that Hemingway partook in at his residence, aside from writing some of his best works, were swimming nude in the pool and holding boxing matches on the lawn. He was also said to have kept peacocks on the property. After his eight-year stay at the residence, he moved to Cuba in 1939, shortly before divorcing Pauline in 1940. She remained at the house until she died in 1951.
After Ernest Hemingway died by suicide in 1961, the title to the house was passed down to his three sons, who auctioned the house off for $80,000. The new owners planned to live in the house, but they were overwhelmed by the public's fascination with the former home of the famous author. In 1964, they decided to open the house to the public as a museum. The museum does not have every original piece of furniture or décor from Hemingway's time at the house, as he and his family took much of what was there before the house was sold. But many of Hemingway's possessions did remain, especially larger, heavier fixtures in the home. The museum aims to depict the house as it was when Hemingway was living there, including re-creating his writing studio, which can only be viewed from behind a screen. The house is open seven days a week for tours and has become one of Key West's most popular attractions.
Hemingway loved cats, and he had many of them at his Key West home. Many of these cats were the progeny of a white, six-toed cat named Snow White, given to him by Capt. Stanley Dexter, who believed that polydactyl cats were good luck, a common superstition among sailors. Over time, Hemingway accumulated as many as 150 cats between his Key West and Cuba homes. Today, there are around 60 cats living at the Key West property at any given time, about half of which also have polydactyly, and some of these are descendants of Snow White. The museum spays and neuters the majority of the cats but does allow for one litter to be born each year to keep the population going. The yard also features a drinking fountain for the cats, converted from a urinal once used in a bar Hemingway frequented. Cats can be spotted all around the property today, drinking from the fountain and wandering the museum grounds.
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- Ernest Hemingway's Key West Home
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- The Story of Hemingway's Six-Toed Cats
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- Visit the Hemingway Home & Museum
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