'THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY
HOUSE & MUSEUM
Where Hemingway lived and wrote from 1931–1939
This site is dedicated as a Literary Landmark by the Association
of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations on the
occasion of the first One Island One Book event, when the
citizens of KeyWest celebrated the novel To Have and Not Have.'
Asa Forsythe Tift (1812–89), one of the richest men in the USA, built this house between 1849 and 1851. His wife and three children died in an epidemic of yellow fever in the mid-1850s, he didn't re-marry and died in the house.
The house fell into disrepair until – according to some sources – Gus, the uncle of Hemingway's second wife Pauline (née Pffeiffer) – bought it for them for $8000 in 1931. The Hemingway House website tells a different story: Hemingway bought it with back taxes.
The living room. Furniture in the house is the original.
The living room was initially divided by a wall which Pauline had removed.
The master bedroom, complete with cat.
The original kitchen.
And the original bathroom.
The swimming pool cost Pauline $20,000, which was of course much more than the cost of the house itself. It was not only the first in Key West, but the first within a hundred miles. Although funded by his wife, legend has it that Hemingway said she'd taken everything but his last cent, and threw a penny in the pool.
The extension where Hemingway did his writing.
Hemingway's writing table, with typewriter and once-living trophy from an African safari.
Hemingway obviously took great pride in killing animals.
Another side of his writing room, with pictures of him at different ages.
One of the many cats that have the run of the house, which are all descendants of the famous six-toed cats. The bar next door to the Hemingway house is even called The Six-Toed Cat. This one is called Eleanor Roosevelt.
And some cats presumably enjoyed paddling in the cement.
There's even a cat cemetery, with dates of the animals often named after writers, actors, and so on, such as Marilyn Monroe, Edgar Allan Poe, Simone de Beauvoir, Jimmy Stewart, etc. Visitors can spend as long as they like on their visit here, and we took part in one of the guided tours, which was interesting but unsurprisingly probably almost as much time was spent talking about the cats as Hemingway himself. It's as though Hemingway has taken a back seat here: most people, after all, see the cats as the huge attraction here. I didn't expect a university lecture of course, but just a few words about the man's importance to literature wouldn't have gone amiss, such as his Spartan style, his paring away of excess fat, his admiration for such writers as Zane Grey, etc.
Opposite is Key West lighthouse. Legend also says that this is how Hemingway found his way home after a night's excess of alcohol. You come to expect such remarks about Hemingway, who went out of his way to create a larger-than-life myth of himself. But as a person who has spent most of his life respecting animals to the extent that I would never dream of eating any of them, I shall probably always find it very difficult indeed to like Ernest Hemingway the man.