Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Ernest Hemingway, a twentieth century icon who wrote several classics who also was a war correspondent and all around adventurer, lived in a house he owned in Key West, Florida from 1931 to 1939.
The house is across the street from the Key West Lighthouse. Hemingway used to say that having a lighthouse so close to the house helped him find his way home after a night of heavy drinking.
Hemingway owned his Key West house until his death in 1961. The house, now known as Hemingway Home, was sold to Mrs. Bernice Dickson, who turned the house into a private museum.
Admission tickets can be purchased at the museum ticket office for cash only or tickets at Key West hotel concierge desks. Be aware that ticket prices can be higher when bought through a concierge service when compared to onsite purchases.
The museum is often crowded, especially in the winter months, the height of tourism in Key West.
After gaining admission, visitors must wait for the next available guided tour to start. On this day, tours were running every 20 minutes or so. Tours take 30 to 45 minutes.
Tours were crowded, elbow to elbow at times. Fortunately, the guide (man with sunglasses top center) was excellent at telling the story of the house, Hemingway and the cats. He spoke in a way that made him understandable no matter how many sardines were packed into the can.
Six-toed polydactyl cats roam the house and grounds and are often the subject of tour guides (like the guide in the above picture standing on the left). All of the cats living on the property are descendants of a six-toed cat given to Hemingway by a ship captain. The cats are legendary.
Having read two of Hemingway’s books, “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Islands In The Stream“, I was surprised by the real imperfect Hemingway. These two books, brilliantly, somberly and cohesively written, dealt with war and the resultant and often senseless loss that accompanies it. Hemingway’s personal life was a disorganized and messy dumpster fire. Like many brilliant writers, he is complex and flawed. I’ll never read him the same again.
Hemingway House is two stories. Narrow and steep stairways with decent handrails enable visitors to navigate between floors. This is an old house. Flooring in some rooms and the doorways between them feel uneven in places.
The house is air conditioned which makes inside crowded tours tolerable. Little shade and seating is available outside. Virtually no seating is available inside. Waiting for a guided tour to begin or waiting for friends lingering in the yard after the tour ends can be a struggle for people unable to stand for long periods of time in the heat/sun. Plan accordingly. The museum opens at 9:00 AM.
Hemingway House is on the Old Town Trolley Tour route with stops nearby. It is also on the Conch Tour Train route. Visitors driving their own cars will be unlikely to find nearby parking. Taxis and Uber/Lyft drivers will likely be able to drop/pickup near the entrance. Be prepared to walk.
We plan to return to Key West someday. Hemingway House will be on our list of tours.
Hope to see you on the road ahead.