Originally built in 1851, the house was in disrepair when Ernest & Pauline Hemingway bought it at a tax auction in 1931 and began a major restoration all through the early 1930’s. The house was their home until 1939 ~ Ernest and Pauline divorced in 1940 ~ and Ernest moved to Cuba. He continued to visit Key West and retained title to the house until his death in 1961.
Built in the Spanish Colonial style, the house is surrounded by beautiful windows, breezeways, verandahs and tropical shutters to manage the heat, rain and trade winds that are part of Key West weather.
Guides give walking tours of the house, and tell poignant stories of Hemingway’s family life, in addition to the pointing out the historically significant items in the house. This was our guide ~ Bob from Boston ~ pointing out important items in the dining room. The photos behind him were an amazing gallery of The Lost Generation, and famous family friends.
I loved this movie poster in the dining room.
And the hallway bar cabinet with assorted cocktail glassware was certainly a photo opportunity!
The house was one of the first on the island to be updated with indoor plumbing and running water, and this bathtub would be at home in a lot of modern bath suites ~ including the cat napping in the corner. The Hemingway cats are descended from a polydactyl (six-toed) cat named Snow White, who was a gift to Ernest from a ship captain friend. These cats are feline royalty, with the run of the house.
Ernest named his cats after famous people of his time, and the practice continues at the house today. We met Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and several others. Some were friendly and others were Clearly. Not. Interested!
When the original Sloppy Joe’s Bar was being renovated, Ernest brought home one of the urinals from the bar ~ saying he had seen so much of his money go down the plumbing there, he might as well have a souvenir! Pauline turned it into a water feature in the garden and it serves as a fountain for the cats.
Pauline also had a pool built in the limestone bedrock behind the house in 1938, while Ernest was serving as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.
The pool cost a true fortune ~ and though it was all from Pauline’s money ~ Ernest put his “last penny” in the wet cement of the pool deck. It’s still there today.
Writing in his studio in the morning and adventuring around the island and surrounding waters in the afternoon and evenings. The studio is still set up as it was in Hemingway’s day ~ complete with the cat napping in the window sill.
It’s generally thought today that Ernest Hemingway suffered with debilitating bipolar depression, and he committed suicide on July 2, 1961. Seven members of the family died by taking their own lives. I learned a bit about the author, his family and his writings during a visit to the University of South Carolina Library a couple of years ago, on a trip with my book group. Though we went that day primarily for the Fitzgerald collection, finding the Hemingway exhibit was a real bonus. The displays included letters, magazines and original manuscripts with his notes, and first edition books. Here are a few photos from that day ~~~
I’ve visited the Hemingway House before in Key West, so of course was interested in the South Carolina library exhibit. Things I learned at the library exhibit clicked with things I heard on our most recent tour of the house. I love it when points in my bluwaterlife come together over time ~ it certainly keeps things interesting 🙂 .
The weather was classic Key West the day we visited the house ~ sunny and hot when we arrived, then changing to breezy tropical trade winds, followed by a 20 minute storm deluge, then back to a sunny, steamy tropical afternoon. That’s the weather the house was built for ~ it didn’t seem to affect the house or the cats. I guess that is why they live there and we just get to visit.
We’ll continue on our Florida Keys road trip series for a few more weeks. Hope you stay along with us for the journey ~~~