Six-Toed Cats, A Spanish Birthing Chair and His Last Penny

My friend Sue and I visited Ernest Hemingway’s  home in Key West Florida.  

A portrait of Ernest Hemingway at his home in Key West

Hemingway lived in  Florida with his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer from 1931-1939. Hemingway met Pauline in Paris where she worked as a journalist for Vogue Magazine.

Pauline’s wealthy uncle Gus Pfeiffer basically bank rolled Pauline and Ernest since he had no children of his own and liked being associated with a famous writer. Gus bought the Key West house for them. Pauline and Ernest had two sons Gregory and Patrick. 

The study where Hemingway did his writing at the Key West house

My friend Sue was interested in Hemingway because she had read The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain last fall during an extended stay in Paris. The Paris Wife tells the story of Hemingway’s first marriage and Sue had explored some of the Hemingways’ Paris haunts.  I was interested in Hemingway because I had studied the Hemingway short story Hills Like White Elephants with my high school students and had read his memoir A Moveable Feast. 

Sue climbs the stairs to see Hemingway’s study above the property’s pool house

Hemingway’s study above the pool house on the Key West estate was once connected to the balcony of the main house by a cat walk so Ernest could just stroll across in the morning and start writing. He wrote at least seven of his novels, a play and many short stories here.
Ironically the Hemingway home in Key West is popular as a wedding venue, even though Hemingway found it hard to stay married for long. A photo display in the house shows the Pulitzer and Nobel prize- winning author surrounded with photos of all four of his wives. 

At the end of Pauline and Ernest Hemingway’s bed was an old-fashioned Spanish birthing chair. Spanish women would sit on them and grip the handles on either side during labor. The chair folded up when not in use.  Hemingway had a collection of these chairs and liked to carry one with him because he could unfold it and plunk it down anywhere to use as a seat.  He was known to take one to the bullfights when he was in Spain and it garnered him lots of attention since the people in Spain all knew what the chair was really for. 

cat at hemingway house in florida

One of the cats I photographed on our visit to Hemingway’s House.

There were lots of cats wandering the former Hemingway property.The legend surrounding the cats is that Hemingway met a sea-captain in Florida who owned an unusual six-toed tomcat, which intrigued Hemingway. When the captain left Key West he gave  the cat to Hemingway. Many of the cats that still live on the property have the  unusual six toes.

Ernest Hemingway had a boxing ring installed in the backyard of the Key West house. Our guide said that while Ernest was in Spain working as a news correspondent during the Spanish Civil War his wife Pauline took down the boxing ring and put in the lavish salt water pool after she heard Ernest was having an affair in Spain.  

Penny in the cement by the Hemingway swimming pool.

Pauline spent some $20,000 on the pool -much more than the whole house had cost. Ernest arriving home from Spain in the midst of pool construction accused Pauline of spending, “his last penny” on the pool and flipped a penny into the wet cement around the pool. It remains embedded there. 

Our tour of the Hemingway house was quick since Sue and I knew our husbands were waiting for us. The four of us planned to view the Key West sunset from a rooftop patio before having dinner. Even though our visit to the Hemingway home was brief we learned lots of fascinating stuff about one of America’s greatest writers. 

One of the most interesting things for me about our visit to the Hemingway House was discovering that Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois. I’ve visited Oak Park and have written blog posts about two other famous Oak Park residents.

Carol Shields

Frank Lloyd Wright



Filed under Books, Culture, Florida, History

3 responses to “Six-Toed Cats, A Spanish Birthing Chair and His Last Penny

  1. Joanne Ewert

    Several years ago my husband and I visited Havana, Cuba. Among the several downtown spots of interest was the La Floridita cocktail lounge where Hemingway would spend his afternoons drinking their famous daiquiris, according to a plaque posted on the wall. His bar stool is roped off to preserve the velvet seat covering. The most interesting feature to me was the original grand piano in that bar. It has become so very beaten and weathered in appearance over the years and needs a loving refurbishing. As we stood beside it, an aged round Cuban woman dressed in a simple cotton print shirt-waist dress sat down and played the most beautiful rendition of Moon River, hands flowing over the worn yellowed ivories in one melodic swirl after another. It was amazing! I asked if she knew Hemingway. She smiled, slowly nodded, lowered her dark eyes and began another long medley of mesmerizing themes. Did she play for him in the 1950’s? A memorable experience.


    • What a wonderful story! Am I related to you Joanne? I know my mother had many Ewert cousins that she often spoke of very fondly, especially in the last weeks of her life when she recalled happy family times from her childhood with such clarity.


      • Joanne Ewert

        We are related, indeed. Your mother Dorothy and my husband’s (Ted Ewert) father Milton Ewert were first cousins. Your grandfather Peter Schmidt and my husband’s grandmother Katie Ewert were siblings, living just a half mile apart west of Drake. I remember your mother well, since I was also from Drake, even though I was just a young girl when she married “the handsome man from Manitoba”! Your grandparents, Peter and Annie, were very respected and loved by the extended family and the community. We were recently at a reunion of the Katie and Edward Ewert extended family (13 siblings who lived to adulthood) and the stories about Uncle Peter and Aunt Annie were told around the tables. The connections continue…..a close friend from my childhood was Elisabeth (Schroeder) Reimer, also connected to your family. Added to that, we attend Nutana Park Mennonite Church where Karen and Joel attend. Keep up the great writing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.