Hemingway Mystique Remains at Key West Sites
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Had it not been for a tardy delivery of an automobile, Ernest Hemingway's 10-year love affair with Key West might never have happened.
Key West was to have been just a stopping-off point for Hemingway when he arrived on the ferry from Havana in 1928. But the Ford automobile that should have been waiting at the docks was delayed, so the embarrassed car merchant offered the author accommodations at the Trevor and Morris Apartments located above the dealership. During his stay there, Hemingway worked on "A Farewell to Arms" and became captivated by the island's easygoing ambiance.
What he discovered fed his exuberance for living, heralded the beginning of the most prolific period of his career and inspired him to use Depression-era Key West as the locale for "To Have and Have Not" - his only novel set in the United States.
In a short time, Hemingway moved into a Spanish colonial villa at 907 Whitehead St., which was his home through December 1939. Now a registered National Historic Landmark, the home is open to the public as a museum honoring the island's most famous literary resident.
Ernest Hemingway wrote many of his best-known works in the second-story writing studio that adjoins the house. Among them were "Death in the Afternoon," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "The Green Hills of Africa," "The Fifth Column," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." Following his death in 1961, the unpublished manuscript that was to become "Islands in the Stream" was found in a vault in the property's garage.
Behind the house shimmers the azure water of Key West's first swimming pool. Hemingway's second wife, Pauline, had it built as a surprise for her husband, who was away covering the Spanish Civil War. When he learned that the pool had cost the enormous sum of $20,000, Hemingway took a penny from his pocket and angrily tossed it to the ground, saying she had spent his last cent. Pauline had the penny imbedded in cement at the edge of the pool, where visitors still can see it today.
Guided tours of the Hemingway home are offered daily. Visitors also can view the author's writing studio and enjoy the grounds for as long as they like. Many spend time making friends with the multitude of six-toed cats that roam the grounds - descended, so the story goes, from a sea captain's feline given to Hemingway.
While the Whitehead Street home is the most famous Key West property connected with Hemingway, the island that had such a profound influence on him is rich with other sites that recall his presence and pastimes.
One of the most famous is Sloppy Joe's Bar at 201 Duval St. Originally situated at 428 Greene St., which now is the venue for Captain Tony's Saloon, Sloppy Joe's was owned by Hemingway's good friend and fishing companion Joe Russell.
Hemingway and Russell became friends when Russell cashed a royalty check that the local bank had refused. A charter-boat captain and speakeasy operator, Russell eventually became the model for Freddy in "To Have and Have Not." Fishing with him, Hemingway once caught an astonishing 54 marlin in 115 days.
The author called himself a "silent partner" in Sloppy Joe's and made it his favorite hangout. There he drank with his "Mob" of literary lights and local buddies, even after the bar was furtively moved to its Duval Street location following a rent dispute between Russell and his landlord.
Hemingway met Martha Gellhorn, who would become his third wife, at Sloppy Joe's - and a number of his belongings, including uncashed royalty checks and sections of the original manuscript of "To Have and Have Not," were found stored there after his death.
Those seeking to follow in Hemingway's footsteps also can visit the site of Mrs. Rhoda Baker's Electric Kitchen at 830 Fleming St. There the author and his compadres enjoyed Mrs. Baker's cooking - including "club breakfasts" costing 20 cents.
Nearby Lands End Village, at the foot of Margaret Street, was once dock property owned by Hemingway's close friend and fishing buddy Charles Thompson.
Another of Hemingway's sporting pursuits was refereeing boxing matches. The one-time Key West Arena, located at the corner of Thomas and Petronia streets in Bahama Village, was the site of many of those open-air fights. Today the popular Blue Heaven Restaurant, where the food is "Caribbean casual," is located at the former arena site.
The apartment/auto dealership complex where Hemingway first lived, located at 314 Simonton St., today is known as Casa Antigua. Now a private home with a magnificent atrium garden, the property also houses a Caribbean gift shop. The garden is open for tours and visitors can glimpse the apartment where Hemingway stayed. Casa Antigua is the site of the annual awards presentation for the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition directed by Ernest's granddaughter, an acclaimed author.
When Ernest Hemingway left Key West in 1939, his literary reputation and his larger-than-life persona were securely established. Just as he had been enriched by his years on the island, so was the island enriched by his presence. Credited with establishing Key West as a literary haven, Hemingway left a legacy that remains vibrant today.