Key West Resident Profiles: Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway at his desk in Key West

Today would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 115th birthday, and Key West always has a week long Hemingway Days celebration around this time of year in honor of the island’s most famous resident. The author only lived here from 1928 to 1939, but he was a legend in his own time and he definitely left a permanent imprint on the island.

Hemingway friend and fellow writer John dos Passos encouraged him to visit Key West for its interesting people and stellar fishing. After leaving Paris, Ernest and his second wife Pauline decided to visit the island. The newlyweds arrived in Cuba via an ocean liner, and from there they headed to Key West. Here they were to pick up a Ford Roadster that Pauline’s Uncle Gus purchased for them as a wedding gift.  The plan was to drive the car back to the mainland after a brief stay. But we all know that the brief stay became several years.

The Hemingways found the the delivery of the car had been delayed when they arrived at the Ford dealership on 314 Simonton Street, and the dealership insisted that they put Ernest and Pauline up at the Trev-Mor Hotel located above the showroom until the arrival of the vehicle, and the couple accepted the offer. It was two or three weeks before the car arrived, and during those weeks Ernest worked feverishly each morning completing what would be one of his most well known works, A Farewell to Arms.

The island appealed to Ernest because living in Key West was almost like living in another country. “It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms…” After renting apartments around the island for a few years, the couple bought what is now known as The Hemingway Home, located at 907 Whitehead Street, in 1931. They paid a measly $8,000 in back taxes to the city for the deed to the house with money given to them by Pauline’s wealthy Uncle Gus.

While living on the island, Pauline gave birth to the couple’s two sons together. In 1928 Patrick was born, and in 1931 Gregory was born.

Hemingway wrote prolifically during his time in Key West, publishing Death in the Afternoon, Winner Take Nothing, Green Hills of Africa, and several short stories. Surprisingly, there is only novel in which he writes about Key West, To Have and Have Not.

While he did make expeditions in this time to Africa and other places to gather material for his writing, Hemingway certainly enjoyed the Key West lifestyle. There was ample fishing, boxing, cock fighting and drinking at the local watering hole, Sloppy Joe’s.  Hemingway also made some life long friends on the island, including Charles Thompson, Joe Russell, and Eddie Saunders.

However, living in Key West had its drawbacks too. When the city mayor wanted to put the Hemingway’s house on the tourism map, they declined. But the mayor added it to the map anyway. And the gawkers grew from a few to many, prompting the Hemingways to put up the wall that now surrounds the compound so that they could keep their privacy.

In 1936 Hemingway met writer Martha Gellhorn in Sloppy Joe’s Bar while she was on vacation with her family. Ernest, always falling in love with beautiful women, eventually left Pauline and Key West and made Martha his third wife. The new couple ended up traveling to Europe to cover the wars and Ernest moved away from his beloved Key West to another tropical island not far away, Cuba. And even though he never again called Key West home, he would make periodic stops to the island utilizing his home on Whitehead Street much like a hotel until his death in 1961.

For more information on Hemingway and his life in Key West, I suggest reading Stuart McIver’s Hemingway’s Key West, James McLendon’s Papa Hemingway in Key West, and Michael Reynolds’ Hemingway: the 1930’s.

To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my  restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge

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