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