No way Jimmy and I were passing up the chance to tour Hemingway’s Key West home at 907 Whitehead Street.
Okay, now that we’re on the same page when it comes to walking in this literary giant’s shoes, I can continue. This house is after all Key West’s number one tourist attraction and a National Historic Landmark since 1968. If you’re a cat lover, the tour comes with a bonus; actually, about 45 bonuses give or take a few.
Their presence in the Home and Museum of Ernest Hemingway certainly heightened the feeling that any moment Hemingway might come dashing in from an afternoon of fishing with his good friend Joe Russell of Sloppy Joe’s Restaurant and Bar fame (Russell owned the bar) to a house full of guests he’d willingly entertain with stories he hadn’t yet written.
It was the ultimate man cave reflective of Hemingway’s lean, hard, athletic narrative prose honed during his years as a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War, World War I and World War II. It was where so much of his genius was allowed free reign. To quote Hemingway, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Yep, it’s always been blood, sweat and tears for me, too, one word painfully begetting another, then another, interspersed with periods of raucous writing when thoughts outstrip words. I’d have to be a hemophiliac to even come close to a ghost of a whisper of Hemingway’s talent.
By most accounts, Hemingway was a complex man, his moods hilarious, artful, poetic, romantic, abusive, irreverent and playful. He grew restless when he wasn’t travelling. It was the travelling that provided impetus for much of his writing.
The portraits and photographs in his home reflected his dashing good looks, and hinted at the charisma that undoubtedly attracted the four women he married over the course of his lifetime; Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Walsh.
Following Hemingway’s death in 1961, the house again sat vacant for almost a year before it was purchased in a blind auction for $80,000 by Mrs. Bernice Dickson, owner of the Beachcomber Jewelry Store in Key West.
Mrs. Dickson lived in the home until 1964, when she decided to move to the rear guest house and open the main house to the public as a museum. She vacated the property entirely in 1968. Her family continues to oversee operations of this historical landmark.
That penny is still embedded in the flagstones at the north end of the pool.
I should be so lucky.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Bottom Line on Ernest Hemingway's House and Museum:
Verdict: If you’re going to come to the very edge of the U.S., why in the world would you want to miss this National Landmark? The charm and legend behind this house is enchanting; I loved getting an inside look at the life and legend behind Ernest Hemingway. Kids will probably be bored to tears, although the cats should help keep them entertained.
How to Get There: Whitehead Street runs parallel to Key West’s famous Duval Street one block south of Duval. Hemingway’s House and Museum is at 907 Whitehead Street, between Petronia and Olivia Streets.
Insider Information: Guided tours run every 15 minutes and are worth the wait; our guide was extremely knowledgeable and very entertaining. After the tour, you're free to roam the house and gardens for as long as you wish. Facilities behind the museum bookstore are minimal and may require a bit of a wait if you’re part of a crowd. If cats are not your thing, you may be put off by the numbers roaming freely. There’s even a pet cemetery on the grounds.