A tour of the Hemingway House in Key West

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. “ ~ Ernest Hemingway

On our recent visit to Key West, hubby and I got tired of sitting at the hotel swimming pool, so went for a walk along Duval Street. We had read that Ernest Hemingway’s house and museum wasn’t far away, and when we spotted the lighthouse, knew we must be almost there.

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Neither of us had thought to bring the camera, so all photos were taken with our cell phones. The house itself, built in 1851 by Asa Tift a marine architect and salvage wrecker, is just what I would choose if I could have a home in Key West; two storey with shady balconies all round. I would definitely add air conditioning though. It was so hot in there even with a variety of fans blowing in every room.  Hemingway’s wife Pauline had apparently had all the ceiling fans taken down and replaced with chandeliers. Style for her obviously came before comfort!

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Hemingway lived here from 1931 to 1939. It was bought on auction for him and his second wife Pauline as a wedding present from her uncle. The story goes that she wanted this particular house because of its location next to lighthouse, which made it easy for her husband to find his way home after drinking the night away with his cohorts at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. In 1939, Hemingway left his wife and two sons, moved away from Key West, and married American journalist Martha Gellhorn,  After the war, Martha found herself displaced in favour of Mary Welsh a war correspondent for Time and Life magazines.

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Our guided tour was rather crowded, and I would like to go back out of season and take more time to look at all the exhibits and meet more of the fifty or so six-toed (polydactyl) cats who live there. This orange one was very lively and besides nibbling at the pot plant on the dining table, kept pawing our guide because he knew that she had some tidbits in her pocket.

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A feature in the back yard is a urinal which Hemingway rescued from Sloppy Joe’s Saloon during renovations.  He brought it home one night much to his wife’s disapproval, and had it converted it into a water fountain. It gets filled with water from a large Cuban jar, and serves as one of many drinking water sources for the resident cats.

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Hemingway was a great fan of boxing, and had his own boxing ring in the back yard, where he would spar with local amateur boxers. In 1937 he decided to build a swimming pool on this site.

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This project was an expensive and  laborious feat, as a massive hole had to be dug out of solid coral. It cost $20,000, and was the only pool within 100 miles in the 1930’s. You can read more interesting details about it here.

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There is a large green bench near the pool, which I’m tagging for Jude’s August ‘Colourful Bench Challenge‘.

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Here are a few scenes from inside the house. Click a photo to see the gallery.

I almost forgot to show you the fountain detail at the front entrance. I read that it was designed by the previous owner Asa Tift to replicate an iron clad warship. I don’t see the resemblance though. Do you?

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Hemingway was a prolific writer who in 1954 was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He was a hard living, hard drinking man who lived an extravagantly flamboyant life. He was a bullfighter, a deep-sea fisherman, a great white hunter, a war hero, a rebel and without doubt a fearless and very tough guy. He tragically died at the age of sixty-two at his home in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho at 7am on July 2nd 1961, from a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head, the same way his father Clarence had died in 1928.

“Live life to the fullest. It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”  ~ Ernest Hemingway 1899-1961

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128 comments on “A tour of the Hemingway House in Key West

  1. I’m a great Hemingway fan so I enjoyed seeing where he lived and reading more about his antics. I’ve used that very quote (top) as the basis for a post and have been known to say that if I had half his talent and a quarter of his success I would think of myself as a superstar!! 😉

  2. Ahhh … I’ve read these backwards. My previous comment about the 6 toed cats was answered. For sure, I will have to take a trip to see them and the lovely house. I would like air conditioning too. I like HOT weather but in the summer months it can be unbearable. Thank you for a wonderful tour, Sylvia. Well done even if it is with a cell phone. The photos turned out great. 😻

  3. I was so excited yo get some juicy “inside scoop” on the life of Hemingway while there on Key West. I saw a movie about his relationship with Ms. Gellhorn. It was fascinating and also, sad. I love that you walked to this lovely home and also, enjoyed the cat fact and urinal for cats to drink from. I have been in older historical homes than this, where they bothered to pipe on central air. 🙂 very cool post. . . Enjoy your time there!

  4. Melanie once did a post of this house and when I read about the cats I went Wow! I thought we were pushing it having 21 cats.

    Hemingway was quite a character, but to commit suicide. Tragic. You can never tell, I guess?

  5. Thank goodness for cell phones. Fifty cats sounds about right… as long as you have a fulltime crew to look after them! A lot of litter boxes…. whew!

  6. A fascinating tour and 50!!! cats!!! all with 6 toes, amazing. What a life that guy lived and it is so good to have a memorial like his house. You did a great job with the phone photos and all the back ground history. I really enjoyed this tour with you Sylvia.

  7. Such a tragic end to such a full and diverse life. Thank y ufor the tour and such interesting info. You know a wife is concerned when she wants to live next to a lighthouse for her hubby can find the way home.

  8. I never tire of our tours of the Hemingway house while staying in Key West, Sylvia, and now I can add yours. His legendary life and stories are fascinating and the cats are a joy to be around. Nice pictures.

  9. A very nice tour of Hemingway house in Key West. The first light house picture you have here is fantastic. I did not know that he shot himself. That was really sad for such a talent person.

  10. one of my favorite haunts , when im there, i go every time:). i remember the very first time.. id never seen so many docile cats in all my life:) and of course the extra toe:)))) great captures Syvia

  11. Being a great fan of Hemingway I love everything about him and his literature….
    This post is a real treat , the photos are beautiful and the reading enormously interesting…
    Thanks for this share!

  12. We used to go to the Florida Keys every Christmas break and spent New Years Eve in Key West . I loved going! We went to the Hemingway House but that was all when I was in high school so all I remember about it is the yellow color and the cats! Loving your a Key Wesf posts Sylvia!

  13. I was in love with this guy for the longest time. And that’s the best excuse I’ve ever heard for buying a house next to a lighthouse, Ad! 🙂 Great photos! I’ll just have to join you and Viveka down there to see it for myself. The things a girl has to do! 🙂

  14. Been there, done that. Magic. Tho’ I do remember buying a huge post card, filling it in, paying for the stamp (for my colleagues in the UK) and queuing for ‘hours’ to post it (just opp. his house, I think) which annoyed my hosts. It never turned up!!

  15. what a wonderful read, Sylvia! Hemingway was exceptionally gifted but a troubled man. so sad that this american icon ended his life so tragically! great photos and narration. thank you! 🙂

      • Hemingway technique called “iceberg techniques” only the top visible – so the idea is to let the text with a special energy to create a cool realism – characters do not directly express their feelings – but the emotions that implied through action and speech, they are the actual pivot points… 🙂

        The John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, has an extensive collection of books and manuscripts, and holds more than 10,000 photos of Ernest Hemingway.

        The Old Man and the Sea (1951)
        A Farewell to Arms (1929)
        For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

        The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1932)
        Winner Take Nothing (1933)
        The Sun also rises. (late 1920s)

  16. What a fascinating read, and great photos from your phone Sylvia! That sky, so blue!! I can’t see any likeness of an iron clad warship, I admit. Hemingway was indeed a talented but tortured man who has always fascinated me. Thank you so much for taking me along with you on this tour, I thoroughly enjoyed it and learning more about him and this gorgeous house (which yes, like you, I would at the very least have ceiling fans in!) 🙂 xx

  17. Oh Sylvia, thank you so much for visiting the house and for taking all these great photos and for the wonderful tour. I would have loved to visit the house on my trip but it was closed (story of my life) and I didn’t even spot one of the six-toed cats 😦 And you found a bench as well – brilliant! Key West is a fascinating place. I took the little road train around to get my bearings and then spent hours just wandering. I’d love to return for a longer stay. I forgive you for not visiting Jimmy Buffets 😀

    Hemingway was quite a guy!

  18. Your post gave me chills and moved me at the same time Sylvia. When I was in Key West my brother visited the house while I visitied Sloppy Joe’s.. I’ve always regretted that decision although Sloppy Joes I’m sure was way cooler and the margaritas far tastier than a drink from this ex-urinal. I’m a huge Hemmingway fan at it was so tragic the way he died. A self-fulfiling prophecy I’m sure. Superb post Sylvia! 🙂

    • Your comment made me smile, Adrian. I can just imagine you sitting in Sloppy Joe’s slurping up those Margaritas whilst your brother was lapping up the stories and atmosphere In Hemingway’s house. I regret now that we didn’t think to go to Sloppy Joe’s. Next time it will be on my list. I so agree with you about getting the chills. He was a brilliant but very complex man, and must have suffered tremendously within himself. So tragic.

  19. Sylvia, Wow… this very high up on my bucket-list …. thank you so much for sharing. Just as I’m imaging it should be. Have been thinking for years .. to visit Florida, never got around to it … and special Key West. No wonder he could write like he did. Stunning images … interesting with all the interior images. Lovely post and thanks, Sylvia … now I have to go.

  20. Sylvia, your phones take great photos. I really like the one of the light house. I’ve been to Key West and around the outside of Hemingway’s home, would like to go back for a tour. What a brilliant, tortured man. Thanks fort the tour. 🙂

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