Key West has always attracted characters. From early settlers who salvaged goods off sunken vessels to present day drifters who exist on tips from their nightly acrobatic and juggling performances at the Sunset Celebration, this tiny island seems to welcome all manner of souls. While this wealth of local color ensures Key West will always be a popular tourist destination (where else can you see a half naked man riding down the main drag on a motorcycle, with a cat sitting on his head?) it has another effect: Key West has attracted some of the world’s greatest writers.
With no slight intended to Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, Gloria Swanson, or Sally Rand – all famous authors who lived or spent time in Key West – Ernest Hemingway was undoubtedly the island’s most famous resident writer. Hemingway ended up in Key West by accident. During a trip between Cuba and the U.S., he stopped in Key West to pick up a new Ford Roadster that his wife’s wealthy uncle had purchased for them. The car had not yet arrived and the Ford dealership insisted the couple stay in the apartment above the showroom while waiting for it. By the time the Roadster arrived, Key West had charmed Ernest.
The Hemingways purchased a home and settled into island life. Ernest spent mornings writing and afternoons at Sloppy Joe’s Saloon, chumming it up with the locals. Evenings, he retired to his private studio above the old coach house to record the stories he’d heard while perched on his favorite bar stool. From from wealthy merchants to down-on-their-luck fishermen and wreckers, Hemingways books are filled with Key West characters. His contentment was so great in Key West that more than half of his published novels were written during the ten years he resided on the island.
Today the historic residence has been converted into the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. The house and grounds provide a fascinating glimpse into the life of the author – visitors are allowed to wander through rooms filled with his collection of hand-carved Spanish furniture, peer into the studio where he wrote “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” and roam perfectly manicured yards in search of one of the six-toed cats descended from a single six-toed feline gifted to Hemingway by a local sea captain.
Hemingway’s House is located at 907 Whitehead Street, in the center of Old Town Key West. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children (under six free).
Photos courtesy of Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels