I feel it is deeply unfair when a woman has an unabashed love of cats she’s known as a crazy cat lady. When a man, however, is a cat lover no one comes up with such a pejorative nickname. Relatives of mine (ahem! my brother) are crazy about their cats. He’s got three cats who are deeply loved and cosseted. Does anyone accuse him of being a crazy cat person? No. So I shall do some finger-pointing and call out the American swashbuckling hero, general hard-drinking/hard-loving, larger-than-life novelist, Ernest Hemingway, as a crazy cat man. Hemingway’s Key West house is now a visitor destination and home to a whole lot of cats.
Hemingway and His Cats
Hemingway’s Key West house is filled with cats. You turn around, and there’s another cat that you are practically tripping over. There are 50+ cats in residence in the house. Some of them are descendants of Snow White, Hemingway’s polydactyl (six-toed) cat given to him by a sea captain as good luck. Hemingway’s sons chose the name for this cat but subsequent cats were named after the author’s famous friends.
One cat just leads to another.
See? This quote just proves that Hemingway was a crazy cat man.
Hemingway liked cats because he admired their intelligence and independence.
A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.
No animal has more liberty than the cat. The cat is the best anarchist.
Hemingway and His Women
It seems Hemingway was more faithful to his cats than to the women in his life. He was notorious for his messy love affairs. He had four wives and three kids. Three of his wives became friendly with each other (probably bonding over what a pain he was).
When he ran off to Europe to be a war correspondent and took his mistress with him, his second wife tore down his boxing ring in the back garden and built a very expensive pool. It was actually the only in-ground pool in the Florida Keys in the 1930’s. The Florida Keys are islands made of solid coral and digging out the pool cost some serious labour and expense. The town of Key West would not allow the use of dynamite to create the pool so it was dug out by hand over the course of a year.
The Hemingway house is a popular wedding destination (because Hemingway himself was so good at marriage??). It’s probably the same people who go on to play My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dione at the wedding reception. Newsflash: it’s a song about love and loss inappropriate for the first few hours of wedded bliss.
Beyond just his love of cats and women, the man had a fascinating personal story. He knew he had manic depression but in those days no one knew what to do with that sort of illness. His doctors told him to drink to get over his mood swings. As everyone now knows, alcohol is a depressant and pretty much exactly what he shouldn’t have had.
Hemingway’s Key West House
Hemingway’s Key West House was built by a local wealthy salvage merchant in the mid-19th century. Key West during that time had a lot of money thanks to the salvage trade and all the ships that run aground along this treacherous stretch of ocean. The merchant’s family all died thanks to yellow fever and the house was abandoned.
By the time, Hemingway’s rich second wife’s uncle bought it for the couple, the house was in a serious state of disrepair. The Hemingways restored the house and what you visit now is very much how it would have looked when they were in residence. After Hemingway’s death, his sons sold it to a local Key West resident who opened it up as a museum.
The property has a cat cemetery where the names of the cats that have lived on the estate are buried.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is today a National Historic Landmark. You don’t need reservations to visit. It is suggested you go early in the day as it is very popular and lines to enter can stretch down the street. There are guides who will take you around the house and explain the history of the house and its inhabitants, including the cats.
I highly recommend visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Although my children have not read Hemingway (yet), they loved seeing all the cats. It’s definitely one of the must-sees when visiting Key West even if you have only one day to spend there.