The Cats That Usurped Hemingway’s Key West House

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. The Hemingway home is one of the must-see destinations in Key West even if you were only a day-tripper like us.

visiting Hemingway's House in Key West Florida

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.

Ernest Hemingway

See?  This quote just proves that Hemingway was a crazy cat man.

Hemingway's Key West House
Kitty does not look amused.
Hemingway's Key West House
Here’s a cat on top of a mini version of Hemingway’s Key West house built as a cat house.

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.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's Key West House
Just doing a perimeter check.
Hemingway's Key West House
Stop looking at my toes, people. Nothing to see here.
Hemingway's Key West House
Hemingway had curtains embroidered with cats. ‘Nuff said.

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).

Hemingway's Key West House
Hemingway’s bed. Bet this saw a lot of action.

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.

Hemingway's Key West House
A detail of the pool.

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.

visiting Hemingway's Key West Home

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.

Hemingway's Key West House
A beautiful house from the outside as well.
Hemingway's Key West House
This water fountain is actually the urinal from the men’s room of a bar in Key West that Hemingway liked to frequent.

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.

Hemingway's Key West House
A cat paying his respects to Willard Scott buried in the Pet Sematary.

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.

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Key West is such a beautiful place, and these photos of Key West will convince you to visit. If you only have one day in Key West, check out the best things to do in Key West Florida.! Key West in a day is perfectly doable! #keywest #florida #photography #itinerary
Key West is such a beautiful place, and these photos of Key West will convince you to visit.  If you only have one day in Key West, check out the best things to do in Key West Florida. Key West in a day is perfectly doable! #keywest #florida #photography #itinerary

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24 thoughts on “The Cats That Usurped Hemingway’s Key West House”

  1. Very nice read! I didn’t know Hemingway loved cats. I wonder if his beloved Snow White was a certain breed. Her descendants surely look like ordinary cats.

  2. The house looks very pretty. I hope there is enough space for 50+ cats. Come on, that is crazy. It reminds me of one of my childhood neighbors. She had like 20 cats and they were all over the street. I do not enjoy seeing dark colored coats covere din cat hair (doesn’t matter if it is a gal or guy).

  3. I loved the cats at the Hemingway House, we had such a good time when we went there, and it looks like you guys had a blast as well. Great read! Love Key West!

  4. Wow, never knew that about Hemingway! Many people prefer dogs over cats or simply don’t like cats but I love them! I love dogs also and I always had either a dog or a cat at my house haha. This was very interesting read, thank you for sharing this! xx

    adventurousmiles.com

  5. Hemingway was such a nutter! I love learning new things about him. I’d be so fascinated to visit his house! I really like his reasoning behind his passion for cats too. Cool post!

  6. Love this! I didn’t know he was a cat lover, but it makes sense because he also loved women (many) and cats are alot like women…if you can get along with a cat you can understand women much better 😉

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