Of the many Key West attractions and interesting things to do in Key West, it is the home of Nobel laureate and outdoorsman Ernest Hemingway that draws visitors from around the globe.
Things have changed some since Papa lived at 907 Whitehead Street, where he wrote in To Have and Have Not, "I hear they're buying up lots, and then after the poor people are starved out and gone somewhere else to starve some more they're going to come in and make it into a beauty spot for tourists." Although he was not exactly starved out, he left the home to his second wife Pauline. Fortunately this “beauty spot” has been faithfully preserved as the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
Hemingway came to Key West in 1928 at the urging of writer John dos Passos. During his 11 years here, Hemingway wrote the bulk of his works, including A Farewell to Arms, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Green Hills of Africa, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Death in the Afternoon.
The Spanish colonial-style house was built in 1851 by a marine salvage wrecker, and was one of the first in Key West to be fitted with indoor plumbing and a built-in fireplace. The house contains antiques, photographs, and memorabilia from Hemingway's travels, including chandeliers shipped from Paris. Sixty descendants of a six-toed cat given to him by a sea captain still roam the premises.
The home was a popular tourist attraction even when he lived there, prompting him to build a high surrounding brick wall that stands to this day. Commenting on the gawkers in Esquire, he wrote, “This is all very flattering to the easily bloated ego of your correspondent but very hard on production." The swimming pool below his writing studio window was the first in Key West, and a penny he pressed into the cement is still there.
To local Conchs, Hemingway was “Papa,” a regular at the saloons, boxing rings, and fishing piers. Capt. Tony's Saloon was the site of the original Sloppy Joe's in the 1930s. When Papa’s friend Sloppy Joe Russell moved his bar to another spot, legend has it that customers just picked up their drinks and walked them over to the new location. Russell once was the only one in town who would cash Papa’s royalty checks, and Hemingway repaid him by characterizing him in To Have and Have Not. The two gambled and shared fish tales together.
Papa loved to box and bet on cockfights at Blue Heaven saloon, now Rick’s Blue Heaven restaurant. Specials include best Key lime pie in the Florida Keys along with blackened grouper, yellowtail, and lobster.
Besides Hemmingway, Key West was muse to writers like John Dos Passos, Robert Frost, and Tennessee Williams. Many literary fans plan their Key West vacation around the Key West Literary Seminar in January. The Key West Island Bookstore carries new, used, and rare titles and specializes in Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and South Florida writers.