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  • Writer's pictureMel Dick

Hemingway House and His Bar.

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

I haven't done a post to my blog for several days. It has been a busy time, my family left a week ago, we had friends from Sandpoint stay for several days this week and unfortunately, my brother and his family were unable to join us yesterday due to a close member of their family contracting COVID-19. Last night it started to rain and it is expected to continue for several days as tropical storm Eta moves through the area.

A highlight of the week was touring the Ernest Hemingway House. Hemingway, perhaps one of the best U.S. authors that ever, spent the 1930's living in Key West. During that time he wrote what many believe his greatest works, including a Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, The Green Hills of Africa and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. I've said before that Key West has character and is full of characters. During his time in Key West Hemingway clearly would have been one of the "characters".

Hemingway's friends Charles Thompson, Joe Russell (also known as Sloppy Joe), and Capt. Eddie “Bra” Saunders, together with his old Paris friends became known in Key West as “The Mob.” The Mob would go fishing in the Dry Tortugas, Bimini, and Cuba for days and weeks at a time in pursuit of giant tuna and marlin. Everyone in The Mob had a nickname, and Hemingway was often referred to by his friends and family during this time was “Papa", a moniker that eventually stuck with him throughout his life. Hemingway’s Key West was a town unlike any place he ever experienced. It was filled with interesting people, ranging from well-to-do businessmen and lawyers, to down-on-their-luck fishermen, to shipwreck salvagers. Throughout his career, Hemingway freely used the people and places he encountered in his literary works. Hemingway was a frequent visitor to the area's bars, notably Sloppy Joe's, perhaps Key West's most famous bar. More on Sloppy Joe's in a later post.

Hemingway's house has many features, and to this day, is the largest residential property on the island. The property features a pool, built in 1937-38, at the staggering cost of $20,000. It was the first in-ground pool in Key West, and the only pool within 100 miles. The exorbitant construction costs once prompted Hemingway to take a penny from his pocket, press it into the wet cement of the surrounding patio, and announce jokingly, “Here, take the last penny I’ve got!” Tourists are invited to look for the penny, still embedded between flagstones at the north end of the pool. Hemingway loved boxing. He had a boxing ring at his home where he would get in the ring and go toe to toe with some of the area's best boxers.

The house and its grounds are inhabited by dozens of cats, commonly called Hemingway cats. Around half are polydactyl, sporting six toes on each paw. The cats bear the names of celebrities, such as Humphrey Bogart or Marilyn Monroe, and have their own cemetery in the house's garden. Legend has it that all cats on the property are descended from Snowball, a white six-toed cat given as a gift to the Hemingways by a sea-captain.

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