At first glance, Key West looks like a tropical spring breaker paradise. Drinking in the streets, kitschy and downright distasteful gift shops, sun tans and sun burns and brightly colored everything. So, most people think the southernmost point of the US is just good for heavy intoxication and fabulous food (really, really fabulous food) but there are so many interesting historical and environmental things to do as well which makes this island so much fun. Today, we bring you one of those “off the beaten path/aka Duval Street” things to do while soaking up the sun.
Ernest Hemingway spent a significant portion of his writing career in Key West where he worked on a number of his most famous works. The Hemingway house is absolutely beautiful, and if I correctly remember from the tour, the home’s foundation is one of the highest spots on the island which is pretty important when it comes to hurricanes and flooding.
The grounds are pretty dense tropical foliage, well manicured, lush and so green! Here’s a glimpse of the corner balcony.
The grounds were almost as fascinating as the incredible stories the tour guide had about what mischief Hemingway was always getting into.
The house itself was beautiful with intricate furnishings and elegant detail work from interesting tile work to gorgeous chandeliers. A lot of the house was set up a bit like a museum and there were a ton of portraits of Hemingway from local artists. The portrait above is of Hemingway during his Key West years.
Here is one of the incredible chandeliers made of Murano glass.
Here is the Hemingway bed which is actually two single beds that were rigged together with wire by Hemingway. Since there weren’t any beds this size, they couldn’t find a headboard to fit it. This headboard design is actually based off the gate to a monastery in I believe Spain that they visited.
From the bedroom, Hemingway constructed a walkway over to what had previously been the carriage house. They converted the top into a study and here Hemingway constructed his masterpieces. Having no access besides through the bedroom, he was relatively isolated while working. I could get on board with having a little place like this although I might leave the dead animals off the walls. (oh Hemingway)
The porch was probably my favorite spot. It looked out over the grounds and the swimming pool and there was a nice cool breeze and shade from all the trees. It was wide and the perfect spot to sit and read a book, maybe by Hemingway himself.
Here is the Hemingway pool, which was quite famous at the time considering it was the only in ground swimming pool for 100 miles and possibly the only private pool in Florida. They had to dig into solid coral and also dig down to the salt water table to provide a way to fill it since there were no lines of fresh water into Key West at the time. All fresh water was collected from rain for the most part. It would take 2 days to fill it and only stay clean for a matter of a few days before they’d have to drain it, clean it and fill it up again. It was also lighted, making it a little bit magical.
The cost of the pool in the 1930s was $20,000 and Hemingway is attributed with saying to his wife “Pauline, you’ve taken all but my last cent and you may as well have that too” before throwing a penny on the flagstone patio by the pool. The penny is encased in cement.
This was a pretty funny story as well. If you’ve ever been to Key West, then you’ve probably heard of Sloppy Joe’s bar. This is a pretty fun place with live music and pictures of Hemingway all over the walls. Joe and Hemingway were really good friends and its part of the Sloppy Joe claim to fame. Well, the bar really was there for a long time but then the landlord upped the rent and Sloppy Joe went nuts and ripped out everything in the whole place to move to a new location, including the urinals off the walls in the bathroom. Well Hemingway happened upon Joe hauling the urinal to the new bar and in his fairly inebriated state decided that he had a right to that urinal as much as the next guy since he spent quality time with that urinal over the years so he decided to take it home. Well he got it all the way into the garden before leaving it in the dirt and heading inside. In the morning, his wife came out to find it there and tried to get rid of it to which Hemingway refused. So she tried to pretty it up and turn it into a fountain but if you look closely, it is still just a urinal. The cats like it anyway.
The Hemingway cats are a famous part of the island, known for their too many toes. At the moment they have something like 46 cats, all descended from Snowball, Hemingway’s favorite cat. He had a thing for the 6 toes and all of the cats on the property have the gene though not all have the extra toes. My advice: Don’t step on them, they don’t like it. They also don’t move out of the way, they kind of own the place.
And we’ll leave you with this banana tree and that funny little thing that hangs down from the bananas. Hope you’re having a good week! We’ll give you a little update on the bathroom this week and maybe bring you some more Key West History.