String of Pearls: Ernest Hemingway’s Cats

Ernest Hemingway’s Home and Museum

Key West


January 2018

The largest single residential property in Key West is at 907 Whitehead Street.  Fifty-four cats live here.  The 54 cats are almost as famous as their ancestor’s owner, Ernest Hemingway, who also lived here.

Lisa and I toured the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum and before we go much farther, I am compelled to tell you that I don’t like Hemingway’s writing and even though I never met him, I don’t like the man either.

He wrote this…

The age demanded that we dance

And jammed us into iron pants.

And in the end the age was handed

The sort of shit that it demanded.

Great stuff, huh.  This is why I don’t like his writing.

Then there is this…

The first great gift for a man is to be healthy and the second, maybe greater, is to fall [in] with healthy women.  You can always trade one healthy woman in on another….  If you leave a woman, though, you probably ought to shoot her.  It would save enough trouble in the end, even if they hanged you.

Yeah, a real charmer.

Ernest Hemingway wrote novels, short stories and journal articles and he won a bunch of literary prizes.  A lot of people consider him to be a strong influence on fiction of the 20th century and they rate some of his works as classics.  His public image of a life of adventure didn’t hurt.

When you enter the house you read a sign…


Walk through the house and you see almost every square inch of wall space decorated with a photo of Hemingway, often with famous people or one of his four wives.  Knowing the size of his ego, it’s easy to imagine the place decorated thus when he lived here.

In one room is a partially written paragraph on a white sheet of paper still in the typewriter.  I read the paragraph.  I don’t like it.

On the other hand, 54 cats live here.  Them I like.  Here are quick Ernest Hemingway cat facts, which I find far more enchanting…

.  Most of the cats who live here are polydactyl, which means they have extra toes.

.  Most of the cats who live here are descendent from one polydactyl cat named Snow White.

.  The cats are named by the staff who give them names of famous people

.  Hem installed a cat drinking fountain.  It had been a urinal.  You can find this story in my column The Dead Live Here.

.  At the back of the house is a cat cemetery.

All right, I’ll give you this one.  Some guy from the newspaper was interviewing Hemingway.

Interviewer:  How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway:  It depends.  I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer:  Was there some technical problem there?  What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway:  Getting the words right.

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