A Visit to Hemingway’s House in Key West

Despite suffering through reading and discussing and writing about The Old Man and The Sea for what seemed like weeks and weeks in high school, I became a fan of Hemingway in my early 20s.

It was in my early 20s that I realized my Mom has decent taste in books.  I took an independent study course in German Literature and after reading everything on the syllabus asked my Mom for her recommendations.  She is, after all, from Germany.  She suggested Thomas Mann’s The Buddenbrooks, which I loved.

At the end of the semester I asked her to recommend more writers, from any nationality.  When she said “Hemingway,” I inwardly groaned and outwardly asked which novel I should start with.  She thought about it for a few seconds and said A Farewell To Arms.

So off to the library I went.  I really enjoyed A Farewell to Arms and on the next trip to the library checked out For Whom the Bell Tolls, which I liked almost as much.  I thought about calling my high school English teacher and asking him why he didn’t choose A Farewell to Arms for us to read.  It seems like it would have been of more interest to 14-year-olds than The Old Man and the Sea. (Note: I plan to re-read the book one of these years because I think I might enjoy it more now as a more “mature” reader.)

My appreciation for Hemingway survived college and graduate school even though a few professors along the way took pot shots at Hemingway as a person, at his subject matter, and at his style.  I was one of those innocents who became an English major because I loved reading and writing.  I assumed that my professors loved books and appreciated a diversity of subject matter, style, etc.  I had a lot to learn.

The first shot at Hemingway came during my first literary theory seminar as an undergraduate.  The class was team-taught by a professor from the English Department and a professor from the Modern Languages Department.  I don’t remember what theorist we were discussing, but one of my classmates enthusiastically made a comparison to Hemingway (who she obviously adored) and the professor from Modern Languages sneered–yes, he actually sneered–as he replied, “Phft!  Hemingway.  See spot run.”

We all sat there rather stunned for a bit, not making eye contact, while the Modern Language professor smirked.  After a few beats the professor from the English Department started talking about something else.  At then end of class some of us comforted our wounded classmate with assurances that we, too, loved–or at least respected–Hemingway.

That seminar was my introduction to the politics of literary theory, English department politics, and inter-departmental rivalry.  I look back on that seminar as a battle of egos between the two professors.  By the time I finished my graduate school years, my love of reading was almost sucked out of me.  Becoming a bookseller renewed my book-loving soul, but that’s a topic for another post.

Let me just add that during our junior year my fellow English-major-roommate and I thumbed our noses at that professor by volunteering at the Hemingway Foundation in Oak Park, IL.  I also enthusiastically taught The Sun Also Rises during my own tenure as a college English instructor.

The point of today’s post is to share some pictures from my visit to Hemingway’s house in Key West last summer.  I was cleaning up my hard drive recently and thought it would be a fun to share some of them with you.  I am not a Hemingway fanatic (although I probably could be if I let myself go) but it was a thrill to finally visit his house.  While the rest of the family went shopping on the strip, I had a few hours to mosey around Hemingway’s house and property. 

I hope you enjoy these images!

907 Whitehead Street, Key West, the house where Hemingway lived from 1931-1938 and owned until his death in 1961.
Hemingway’s front door.

Cats are free to roam and lounge anywhere they please here. Hemingway loved cats and you can read an article about the cats who live at the house here.

The funky Hemingway cat toes!  Technical term: polydactyl.

The master of the lard on the master bed.  This fellow did not like to be petted and finally had to gently scratch a little girl who was annoying him to get her off his back.  Even her parents were annoyed with her.  Call it an interactive tour.  I think his name is Archibald MacLeisch.

Cats really are everywhere at Hemingway’s.  The gray cat in the hallway is laying at the top of the main staircase.  Across the hall from the bedroom is the bathroom.  
Looking into the house from the back window.  The gray cat is laying below, just out of view.  On the right side wall are bookshelves covered with Plexiglas. For an interesting look at Hemingway’s reading life click here for a 441 page PDF that you can download.
Kathleen Norris’s Maiden Voyage was faced out on the one of the bookshelves.

Looking toward the lighthouse from the second floor.  The master bedroom is to the right.

Back of the house on the second floor.  Open door to the left leads into the master bedroom.

Stairway leading into the back yard.

Hemingway’s writing space is on the second floor of the carriage house which is directly behind the main house. Note the two sets of stairs leading to the studio door.  Hemingway had a cat walk installed that lead from the second floor balcony near his bedroom door directly to his studio door.  I can picture him walking across the cat walk with his morning cup of coffee, ready for a morning of writing.  The cat walk was eventually taken down due to damage but I think that happened after he moved out of the house. The first floor of this building houses the bookstore/gift shop complete with a pressed penny machine!  We collect pressed pennies during our travels, and scoring a literary pressed penny was a double treat.
Standing at the top of the staircase, looking into the studio.

This iron decorative “cage” juts into the room a bit so you can get the full view of his writer’s retreat.

View from the cage of the left hand side of the room.

View from the cage straight ahead.

Close up of Hemingway’s Royal typewriter.  This is how writers suffered prior to ergonomically designed chairs, desks, and keyboards.
View from the cage of the right hand side of the room.
Self portrait reflected in a mirror.

A small bathroom is to the right and a bit around the corner.
Heading out of the studio you have two directional options.  To the left is the pool and gardens.  To the right is more gardens and an area for weddings and events.
Here’s the pool.  Hemingway’s wife Pauline had it installed while he was off traveling and he wasn’t very happy with the price tag for it when he got home.  Rumor has it that he yelled at her for spending his last penny at which time he took a penny out of his pocket and pressed it into the wet concrete.

Kitty prints in the cement.

A replica of Hemingway’s house that houses…cat litter boxes.

A path through the gardens.

It was over 90 degrees F and humid as all get out and this little white cat wanted to cuddle with me.  She finally settled for the other side of the bench while I sat and looked through the treasures I’d just purchased in the bookstore/gift shop.

Toe thumb.  Reminds me of a dancer standing with her foot turned out.

Little huts are scattered around the property to provide shelter for the cat’s dining pleasure.
This fountain/water bowl is at the front of the house.  

Check out more pictures and read about Hemingway’s house at the house’s official website here. I didn’t take very many pictures because I wanted to experience being in the house rather than documenting it.  It is a beautiful place and visitors are free to roam about at their own pace or take a tour with a guide.  I did a little bit of both.

–The End–

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