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Ernest Hemingway House

Ernest Hemingway House

SITES TO SEE, TOURS, UNITED STATES

I’ve always loved visiting the Florida Keys. Pelicans, iguanas, blue skies, hot sun and ocean all around, what’s not to like?   I can see why Ernest Hemingway fell in love with Key West and made it his home in 1931.  

After many visits to Key West including walking by his house, I finally toured the house Ernest Hemingway lived in from 1931 until 1939.

 

Ernest Hemingway House Entrance, Key West
Ernest Hemingway House Entrance, Key West

 

When we arrived, we were immediately taken with the lush gardens and old-style architecture. Built in 1851, Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, bought the sprawling mansion in 1931 for the grand sum of $8,000.

 

Ernest Hemingway's House (photo credit Hemingway's Museum)
Ernest Hemingway’s House (photo credit Hemingway’s Museum)

 

Inside the house, much of the Hemingway’s original decoration and furniture is still present, with additional touches of Hemingway-themed paintings on the walls. During his time in the Keys, Hemingway had become an avid sports-fisherman.  He enjoyed spending this time fishing alongside with some of his other friends (including Joe Russell, who opened the still-beloved ‘Sloppy Joe’s’ bar on Key West’s Duval Street).  Many of the decorations and paintings throughout the house reflect this passion and explain the inspiration for one of Hemingway’s most famous books, The Old Man and the Sea, in which a Cuban fisherman, long without a catch, battles with an enormous marlin in open waters.  The Old Man and the Sea was the last work published by Hemingway before his death. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952.

 

Ernest Hemingway with his catch of the day
Ernest Hemingway with his catch of the day.
Living Room at Hemingway's House Key West
Living Room at Hemingway’s House, Key West
Family Portraits at Hemingway's House Key West
Family Portraits at Hemingway’s House, Key West
Portraits of Ernest Hemingway inside his house, Key West.
Portraits of Ernest Hemingway inside his house, Key West.
Ernest Hemingway's Kitchen, Key West
Ernest Hemingway’s Kitchen, Key West
Ernest Hemingway's Bathroom inside his Key West house
Ernest Hemingway’s Bathroom inside his Key West house
Ernest Hemingway's Dining Room inside his Key West house
Ernest Hemingway’s Dining Room inside his Key West house
Hemingway's Kids Bedroom, Key West
Hemingway’s Kids Bedroom, Key West
Ernest Hemingway's Bedroom, Key West
Ernest Hemingway’s Bedroom, Key West

 

The house is cheerful, painted pale yellow-white, with beautiful green shutters framing its many high, arched windows. Outside, the upper floor is wrapped with a spacious verandah, showing views of the grounds, the neighborhood and a nearby lighthouse. The interior is full of light, with high ceilings, and no ceiling fans.   Pauline had a passion for chandeliers, and upon moving in, she had all of the ceiling fans (which she deemed unforgivably tacky, despite their practicality in the tropical climate) ripped out, and replaced with chandeliers.

 

Ernest Hemingway's House Side View, Key West
Ernest Hemingway’s House Side View, Key West
Veranda Upstairs on Ernest Hemingway's House, Key West
Veranda Upstairs on Ernest Hemingway’s House
Dining Room Chandelier, Ernest Hemingway's House, Key West
Dining Room Chandelier, Ernest Hemingway’s House, Key West
Lighthouse View from Ernest Hemingway's House
Lighthouse View from Ernest Hemingway’s House

 

Hemingway loved cats and kept them most of his life. Today, there are a large number of well-cared-for cats roaming the estate. They aren’t just ordinary cats either, they are mostly six fingered. The story goes that Hemingway had become friends with a ship’s captain during his time in Key West.  The captain had a cat with the unusual trait of being polydactyl, i.e. an extra toe on each food. Hemingway admired the cat and the ship’s captain gave it to him.  Many of the cats at the Hemingway home are direct descendants of that original pet, and the average number of toes per cat is pretty high!

Several small cat-houses and food and water stations punctuate the property. Each cat is named, tracked, and well cared for. Many are somewhat aloof, but we found several eager for a cuddle.

 

Hemingway's Six-Finger Cat in the Living Room, Key West
Hemingway’s Six-Finger Cat in the Living Room, Key West
Hemingway's Six-Finger Cat cleaning itself in the Living Room, Key West
Hemingway’s Six-Finger Cat cleaning itself in the Living Room, Key West
Hemingway's Six-Finger Cat in the Living Room, Key West
Hemingway’s Six-Finger Cat in the Living Room, Key West

 

Something I found interesting about the house is that it sits 16 feet about sea level, and was built out of limestone quarried from the site. It’s the second-highest site on the island.  As a testament to its construction and location, it has survived many hurricanes. It even has a basement which has never flooded.

One of the most striking features of the grounds was the swimming pool.  Hemingways’ pool was the first private, residential swimming pool built in Key West, and is the largest to this day (it’s 65 feet long). Surrounded by grass and tropical plants, and boasting the occasional decorative statue around its edge, the pool is a thing of beauty.  But there’s a story behind its construction…

 

Hemingway's Pool, Key West
Hemingway’s Pool, Key West

 

Keep in mind that Hemingway only paid $8,000 for the entire estate in 1931, it was Pauline (his second wife) who had the pool put in during the winter of 1937-1938, at the tremendous expense of $20,000.  She had the pool build while Hemingway was away and without informing him.   When he returned and found the lavish pool, he was so angry that he told her that she was spending too much and “could be spending his last penny.” He threw a penny on the ground which is somehow still there, protected under glass on the concrete ground by the pool.  Ernest and Pauline divorced shortly after, and Hemingway moved onto his third wife, Martha Gellhorn.  Ladies, you might want to think about this story before you have the house remodeled while your husband is out of town….

 

Hemingway House penny, Key West
Hemingway House penny, Key West

 

Above the pool, in an outbuilding that was originally a carriage house, is Hemingway’s writing studio. The author liked to write in the morning, and so he had a sort of sky-tunnel built leading from the main house directly to his second floor studio, so upon rising in the morning, he could walk across and immediately begin his day’s work. The studio and has been preserved as Hemingway left it, with his leather writing chair, his books, his table and his typewriter.  Visitors can view it from the doorway, cats are free to enter and wander.

 

Ernest Hemingway's Writing Studio, Key West
Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Studio, Key West
Ernest Hemingway's Writing Studio filled with books, Key West
Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Studio filled with books, Key West
Ernest Hemingway's Writing Studio Table, Key West
Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Studio Table, Key West

 

Hemingway moved to Cuba in 1939, and divorced from Pauline a year later. The author owned the Key West house until his death in 1961. Pauline had lived there until her death in 1951. Sadly, Hemingway committed suicide with a shotgun in 1961 after a few years of deteriorating mental health (Bi-Polar Disorder). His father, sister and brother all died by suicide as well.  Living in Ketchum, Idaho, with his fourth wife, Mary, Hemingway was 66 when he died.

 

Museum is open daily 365 days a year from 9 a.m.-5 p.m
Admission / Location: 

Adults:            $13
Children:          $6
(5 and under):  FREE

 

 

About the author

Carmen Edelson is the Founder and Senior Editor of Carmen's Luxury Travel. Carmen has been traveling the world for over a decade. Our travels allows her the opportunity to pursuit her itch to travel to the best luxury destinations, and experience those first class tastes from around the world.

23 Comments

  1. Kate O'Malley
    September 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm
    Reply

    I have heard the story of Hemingway’s cats, you kind of think of these stories as being urban myth- Until now! What a magnificent home.

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Hi Kate, I know who would think that a six-finger cat really existed. My daughter was fascinated with seeing them all over the house. It’s a lovely house to explore.

  2. Cat
    September 5, 2014 at 9:45 pm
    Reply

    Wow such a well-kept house! Must be so nice to be surrounded by beautiful ocean and cats all the time 🙂

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 12:40 pm

      Hi Cat, He couldn’t of picked a better location to live. It’s several blocks from the ocean and surrounded by lush tropical trees and gardens. The cats seem to love it there, what’s not to love.

  3. Chris Boothman
    September 5, 2014 at 9:49 pm
    Reply

    I can imagine that was a really cool experience to wander around Hemingway’s house. I mean, as travelers and wanderlusters around the world is there anyone better than the legend himself to explore his home surroundings and see exactly how he lived. I can picture living in a house like that with stunning views of open space and the ocean and having the perfect setting to write amazing tales of your travels.

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Chris, Just living in that house and being in the surroundings of Key West would of been enough to inspire me to write. 🙂 It’s a surreal experience working around the house and seeing how he lived. I can’t believe they only paid $8k for the house.

  4. Brianna
    September 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm
    Reply

    I’ve been here twice, I love the six toed kitties!

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Hi Brianna, It’s a great place worth seeing again. My husband haven’t been to the house yet. I’m looking forward to taking him next time we are in the Keys.

  5. Stephanie Mayo
    September 5, 2014 at 10:54 pm
    Reply

    As a huge Ernest Hemmingway fan I’d love to visit his house, perhaps pause in his writing room to try and channel his brilliance or just be awed. It’s simply stunningly beautiful and I LOVE the cats!

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 1:16 pm

      Hi Stephanie, Hemingway wrote 70 percent of his works in his writing room while standing. I learned so many fun facts about him during the tour. The cats are adorable and just want to be played with.

  6. Brittany @ Paws for Beer
    September 6, 2014 at 3:56 am
    Reply

    I had no idea about the cats – that’s funny that they are decedents. While I was in Chicago this year I saw Hemingway’s home where he was born but I sadly did not have time to stop and tour.

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Hi Brittany, The cats seem to be the highlight of the tour. They have over 46 cats around the whole house. I would love to take the tour in Chicago to see where he was born. It sounds fascinating.

  7. Ryan O'Rourke
    September 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm
    Reply

    Man, Hemingway is everywhere! I’m normally not much for museums, but if I’m in a place where I can visit a writer’s home, I’m there with bells on! Love getting a glimpse of his writing studio—I can only imagine how many brilliant lines were written in those quarters 🙂

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      Hi Ryan, He wrote the majority of his novels in his writing studio. We really enjoyed hearing some of his stories and walking around the house which gave us a good insight into the life.

  8. William Tang
    September 6, 2014 at 5:32 pm
    Reply

    Cool! I walked by the house on one of my cruise stops to Key West and on the outside it looked beautiful. Thanks for sharing the photos of the tour inside!

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Hi Will, Next time you’re in Key West make sure you take the tour. It’s very interesting and well worth the money.

  9. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels)
    September 7, 2014 at 3:32 am
    Reply

    Looks to be a very cool tour. I dig that house, especially the dining room. I’ll have to make a stop there when (if?!) I finally make it to Key West.

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Hi Francesca, The house is fabulous with plenty of personal artifacts of Hemingway. Walking around on a sultry summer day gave us a sense of what life may have been like. I can’t imagine why Pauline (his second wife) took out the ceiling fans and put in chandeliers. At least with ceiling fans the house could stay cool.

  10. Lauren
    September 7, 2014 at 6:44 am
    Reply

    I’ve always wanted to visit here for the polydactyl cats! I saw it on an Animal Planet TV show of all places, about the cats and have wanted to visit ever since! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Hi Lauren, I’ll have to look that up. The only place I’ve heard of having polydactyl cats is at Hemingway’s house. I’m curious now to see if they exist anywhere else.

  11. Sammi Wanderlustin'
    September 7, 2014 at 7:59 am
    Reply

    This is such an interesting read, I’m a little bit obsessed by Hemingway after reading the Sun Also Rises this summer, and would definitely love to visit… only problem is I’m pretty terrified of cats!

    • Carmen
      September 7, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Hi Sammi, Don’t worry about the cats. The majority of the cats were laying around the house sleeping or relaxing. None of them came right up to us. My daughter loves cats so she went over to pet them. I’m highly allergic to cats, so I kept a distance.

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