At Home with Hemingway in Florida

On May 6, 2012 by Kennethrobinson

Image: Andreas Lamecker

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast” or so said American author Ernest Hemingway – the same could perhaps be said of visiting Florida. Certainly Hemingway himself seemed to relish his time in the Sunshine State, and it was here that he composed many of his major works – works that would go on to become classics of 20th century literature and earn old Ernest the Nobel Prize. Indeed, the memories that you make in this most popular of US holiday destinations will no doubt last a lifetime, offering you a “movable feast” of delights to carry with you long after you’ve left these sunny climes and touched back down on the drear tarmac of the UK.

Whilst you are here however, and if you perhaps fancy a day away from the great stretches of glorious beach, dazzling sunshine and warm, tropical seas then maybe you’ll opt to take in a bit of culture. If you’re a bookworm yourself you might be interested to make a visit to the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, the former residence of the legendary author in Key West, Florida. In 1968, the house was honoured with the designation of becoming a US National Historic Landmark and it is now open to the public as a fascinating museum.

Home to the famously no-nonsense and the macho writer, many features of the residence stand in testament to his sensitive side, being home for example to a celebrated menagerie of six and seven-toed cats, reputably descended for the feline friends that Hemingway had a soft-spot for during his time here. There are those who say the cat story, like so much else about this enigmatic author is something of a legend, whatever is the case, Ernest lived here from 1931 to 1939 writing many of his best-loved works in the scenic surrounds. A Farewell to Arms, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber all saw the light of day in this charming location.

The house itself is built from elegant, pale limestone in the classic local style of a southern colonial mansion. Despite being situated a mere 16 feet above sea level, the house still occupies the second-highest spot on the island – appropriate enough for a man with a lofty intellect but who was of course renowned for his down-to-earth manner. Visitors to the house can wander around the grounds, shaded by lush green palm fronds, or take a look at Hemingway’s writing desk, recreated in the authentic style that it would have been in whilst he was living and working here. Indeed you can almost imagine him sat there in the sun-dappled shade, tapping away furiously at a noisy typewriter, chugging heartily on his pipe.

Knowledgeable tour guides will lead you around, regaling you with fascinating anecdotes of the author’s exciting and eventful life. There are lovely gardens to enjoy, often awash with colourful flowers, as well as charming architectural details and authentic period furniture that really gives you the feel of the house as Hemingway would have known it. Another historical feature is the famous pool, the first in the whole of Key West and at the time, and in the 1930s the only pool in 100 miles – fascinating to think when the Key West area now sports pools by the dozen.

True to his earthy sense of humour, Hemingway placed a converted urinal that he obtained from a renovated bar as a prominent water fountain for the garden. The fountain remains to this day, providing welcome refreshment to feline residents of the house. This is just one of the intriguing and idiosyncratic details to be discovered at the house, so if you’re touring Florida and you happen to be in the Key West area, then why not enjoy your holiday with a good book, or two. Get down to the Hemingway house for a spot of inspiration.  The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, is located at 907 Whitehead Street, Key West.