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Hemingway Aura Still Big Draw in Trendy Key West


KEY WEST, Fla. – Ernest Hemingway first visited Key West, Florida, the southernmost tip of the United States in 1928 with his second wife, Pauline. He was 29 years old and had already achieved success as an author with his novel The Sun Also Rises.

Key West Hemingway House. Copyright Andy Newman Keys TDC.Pauline's rich Uncle Gus purchased a 90-year-old spacious Spanish colonial house for the Hemingways and the writer owned it until he died in 1961.

It was here, at 907 Whitehead St., that the late Pulitzer Prize winner wrote some of his most famous novels and short stories. Now a museum and registered National Historic Landmark, it is a favorite shrine for Hemingway aficionados around the world.

Since 1979, the house on U.S. Highway 1 has been the kick-off point for the annual Hemingway Days' Festival, five raucous days celebrating the author's July 21st birthday. The island is still winding down from the 1999 Hemingway birthday centennial celebration, when all stops were pulled. There was even a Pamplona-style running of the bulls, though the bulls were small and behaved like frisky cows.

The famous Hemingway House contains many of the original furnishings, rugs, tile and chandeliers brought by Hemingway and his wife from Spain, Africa and Cuba. Highlights include a 500-year-old bench from a Spanish monastery and a ceramic cat from Picasso, a longtime friend. The cat is bolted down and wired with an alarm.

Hemingway was very fond of cats and kept 50 to 60 of them in his Key West house. Copyright Werner Bertsch. And speaking of cats, descendants of Hemingway's six-toed cat still roam the property.

The house described in Islands in the Stream is a blend of the Key West house and the Hemingway home in Cuba, La Finca de la Vigia (Lookout Farm). "The house was built on the highest part of the narrow tongue of land between the harbor and the open sea. It had lasted through three hurricanes and it was built solid as a ship."

Scenes from the James Bond thriller License to Kill were filmed on the second-floor balcony where Timothy Dalton shot it out with bad guys firing at him from the nearby lighthouse.

Surrounding the house are luxuriant plants from all parts of the world, including a banyan tree in the front yard that was six feet tall when the Hemingways planted it. It's now nearly 60 feet tall.

Hemingway had the first swimming pool in Key West. Pauline had it built while he was away on a trip in the late '30s. Upon his return, learning that she had paid $20,000 for the pool (the original house only cost $8,000, including $2,000 in back taxes) he took a penny from his pocket and pressed it into the wet cement at the head of the pool. "Here, take the last penny I've got," he said, jokingly. The penny is still there.

Pauline also removed all ceiling fans from the house and replaced them with crystal chandeliers.

Hemingway penned nearly 80 percent of his writing while living in Key West, including the well known novels A Farewell to Arms, Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and For Whom the Bells Toll.

Hemingway's study. Copyright Werner Bertsch.He rose early and walked across a catwalk to his study in the loft of his pool house. "If the words are coming hard I often quit before noon," Hemingway told an interviewer. "If it's going well, I usually work longer." The catwalk was blown away in a tropical storm; a winding metal stairway now leads to the study.

Hemingway met writer Martha Gelhorn when she came to Key West to interview him. After his divorce from Pauline, they were married. Pauline, who died in 1951, and their two sons lived on in the Key West house. Following Hemingway’s death in 1961, the house was acquired by Bernice Dixon who subsequently turned it into a museum.

Dixon died in 1990 and ownership of the house was turned over to surviving relatives. Little of the Hemingway mystique remains. When I was there, the guide who narrated the house tour had a ponytail and an earring. He was from Australia. An older gent, selling tickets at the front gate, was a Truman Capote look-alike, complete with floppy fedora. Japanese tourists have taken to the Florida Keys in a big way. Because many Japanese students read Hemingway novels in school, most find their way to Hemingway’s home.

Downtown, at 428 Green St., in the historic district just off Duval, Captain Tony's Saloon is reported to be the original Sloppy Joe's where Hemingway did most of his serious imbibing. It served as the model for "Freddy's" in To Have and Have Not.

Hemingway look-alike winner Don Duncan outside of Sloppy Joe's. Copyright Andy Newman Keys TDC.The present Sloppy Joe's, just two blocks up the street, is something of a Hemingway shrine nonetheless, filled with noisy tourists anxious to bask in the Hemingway aura. Posters, paintings, news clipping, framed Life magazine covers and Hemingway photos cover the walls. His picture appears on napkins and coasters, on the pocket of a gift shop polo shirt (US$30) and on a bottle of rum (US$13).

Today's Key West is a startling contradiction to the one that appealed so much to Hemingway. The yacht harbor seems more like a sea-going trailer park. Men of a certain age walk the streets holding hands. There's a Burger King on MacDonald's Avenue. Yet much of the past remains. Flame trees still catch fire at sunset. Fading rays of sunlight splash off the windshields of gleaming blue and white yachts. Fishing boats are everywhere, on land and in the water, with buoys and tangles of line draped about. One fisherman ties his boat down with the care and attention of a parent tucking in a child at night, while another hoses down the deck of his boat in total abandon, finally turning the hose on himself.

Key West has seen a lot of changes since Hemingway's death. The former Monroe County Movie Theater on Duval Street where To Have and Have Not and Old Man and the Sea used to pack them in is now a gay disco. The home of the man who cherished his privacy is now the island's top tourist draw. The end came for Ernest Hemingway on the night of July 2, 1961. After time and war and wounds had taken their toll, the man who had squeezed a trigger all of his life finally squeezed it on himself.

When You Go:

Airlines serving Key West, either directly or via Miami, are:

Airway International (Tel: 305-526-3854)

American (Tel: 1-800-433-7300)

Comair (Tel: 1-800-354-9822)

Continental (Tel: 1-800-327-8376).

For drivers, U.S. Highway 1 connects with the spectacular Overseas Highway in Key Largo, continuing on down to Key West.

Where to Stay:

Sheraton Suites, 2001 S. Roosevelt Blvd. (Tel: 305-292-9800), is just across the boulevard from Smathers Beach. Pier House.

One Duval Street (Tel: 305-296-4600) is located on a private beach in the heart of Old Town.

Marriott’s Casa Marina, Reynold’s Street (Tel: 305-296-3535 or 1-800-626-0777) is old and grand and the hotel of choice of many Key West regulars.

Hyatt Key West, 601 Front Street (Tel: 305-269-9900 or 1-800-228-9000) is right on the gulf in Old Town.

Where to Dine:

Benihana (S. Roosevelt Blvd., Tel: 305-294-640) is an oceanfront Japanese steakhouse, part of the national chain.

Casa des Artiste (1007 Simonton St., Tel: 305-294-7100), French and elegant, offers such culinary specials as Raspberry Duck and Lobster Tango Mango.

The Hog's Breath Saloon (400 Front St., Tel: 305-296-4222) is as famous for its T-shirts as it is for its conch fritters and key lime pie.

Camille's on Duval is the place to go for breakfast and to commune with the locals.

For Information:

Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum Web site at www.hemingwayhome.com or contact Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce, 402 Wall St., Key West, FL 33040, Tel: 305-294-2587.

For information on Key West, visit the Keys' Official Tourism Council Web site at www.fla-keys.com

To learn about Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, visit www.literarytrips.com

Renting Hemingway’s Room:

When the revolution in Cuba deprived Ernest Hemingway of his island retreat, he returned to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he previously spent time at the Sun Valley Lodge working on For Whom The Bell Tolls. With bedroom, bath, parlor and sundeck overlooking Sun Valley's Olympic skating rink in one direction and the spectacular Northern Rockies in another, the sunny, corner suite rents from US$169 to US$329 depending on season.

Hemingway worked with his portable typewriter out on the deck. Mary Hemingway later described the room as "unmistakably Ernest's habitat. One of his green-and-white eyeshades hung from the back of a chair. A pair of still muddy boots was slowly drying, keeping their proper distance from the corner fireplace. Three or four books were doing the splits, face down, on chairs and tables and another table held an improvised bar with a few bottles and glasses on a waiter's tray."

Courtesy of Sun Valley Resorts.A framed photo of Ernest and Mary with friends Gary Cooper and his wife taken at the resort, and a bronze bust of Hemingway situated somewhat incongruously atop the TV set, are permanent reminders of the room's famous occupant.

Hemingway buffs will also want to visit the Dunchin Bar, just off the downstairs lobby. Hemingway rarely gave interviews, but those reporters savvy enough could usually find him at the bar and in a talkative mood each evening at about five. Eventually he bought a home in neighboring Ketchum. The town's modest cemetery became his final resting place.

The parlor suite that Ernest Hemingway occupied at the Sun Valley Lodge (Room 206) is the famed Idaho resort's most popular. Contact Sun Valley Lodge, Tel: 800-786-8259 or 208-622-4111; Fax 208-622-3700.

Today's Key West is a startling contradiction to the one that appealed so much to Hemingway. The yacht harbor seems more like a sea-going trailer park. Men of a certain age walk the streets holding hands. There's a Burger King on MacDonald's Avenue. Yet much of the past remains. Flame trees still catch fire at sunset. Fading rays of sunlight splash off the windshields of gleaming blue and white yachts. Fishing boats are everywhere, on land and in the water, with buoys and tangles of line draped about. One fisherman ties his boat down with the care and attention of a parent tucking in a child at night, while another hoses down the deck of his boat in total abandon, finally turning the hose on himself.

Key West has seen a lot of changes since Hemingway's death. The former Monroe County Movie Theater on Duval Street where To Have and Have Not and Old Man and the Sea used to pack them in is now a gay disco. The home of the man who cherished his privacy is now the island's top tourist draw. The end came for Ernest Hemingway on the night of July 2, 1961. After time and war and wounds had taken their toll, the man who had squeezed a trigger all of his life finally squeezed it on himself.

When You Go:

Airlines serving Key West, either directly or via Miami, are:

Airway International (Tel: 305-526-3854)

American (Tel: 1-800-433-7300)

Comair (Tel: 1-800-354-9822)

Continental (Tel: 1-800-327-8376).

For drivers, U.S. Highway 1 connects with the spectacular Overseas Highway in Key Largo, continuing on down to Key West.

Where to Stay:

Sheraton Suites, 2001 S. Roosevelt Blvd. (Tel: 305-292-9800), is just across the boulevard from Smathers Beach. Pier House.

One Duval Street (Tel: 305-296-4600) is located on a private beach in the heart of Old Town.

Marriott’s Casa Marina, Reynold’s Street (Tel: 305-296-3535 or 1-800-626-0777) is old and grand and the hotel of choice of many Key West regulars.

Hyatt Key West, 601 Front Street (Tel: 305-269-9900 or 1-800-228-9000) is right on the gulf in Old Town.

Where to Dine:

Benihana (S. Roosevelt Blvd., Tel: 305-294-640) is an oceanfront Japanese steakhouse, part of the national chain.

Casa des Artiste (1007 Simonton St., Tel: 305-294-7100), French and elegant, offers such culinary specials as Raspberry Duck and Lobster Tango Mango.

The Hog's Breath Saloon (400 Front St., Tel: 305-296-4222) is as famous for its T-shirts as it is for its conch fritters and key lime pie.

Camille's on Duval is the place to go for breakfast and to commune with the locals.

For Information:

Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum Web site at www.hemingwayhome.com or contact Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce, 402 Wall St., Key West, FL 33040, Tel: 305-294-2587.

For information on Key West, visit the Keys' Official Tourism Council Web site at www.fla-keys.com

To learn about Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, visit www.literarytrips.com

Renting Hemingway’s Room:

When the revolution in Cuba deprived Ernest Hemingway of his island retreat, he returned to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he previously spent time at the Sun Valley Lodge working on For Whom The Bell Tolls. With bedroom, bath, parlor and sundeck overlooking Sun Valley's Olympic skating rink in one direction and the spectacular Northern Rockies in another, the sunny, corner suite rents from US$169 to US$329 depending on season.

Hemingway worked with his portable typewriter out on the deck. Mary Hemingway later described the room as "unmistakably Ernest's habitat. One of his green-and-white eyeshades hung from the back of a chair. A pair of still muddy boots was slowly drying, keeping their proper distance from the corner fireplace. Three or four books were doing the splits, face down, on chairs and tables and another table held an improvised bar with a few bottles and glasses on a waiter's tray."

Courtesy of Sun Valley Resorts.A framed photo of Ernest and Mary with friends Gary Cooper and his wife taken at the resort, and a bronze bust of Hemingway situated somewhat incongruously atop the TV set, are permanent reminders of the room's famous occupant.

Hemingway buffs will also want to visit the Dunchin Bar, just off the downstairs lobby. Hemingway rarely gave interviews, but those reporters savvy enough could usually find him at the bar and in a talkative mood each evening at about five. Eventually he bought a home in neighboring Ketchum. The town's modest cemetery became his final resting place.

The parlor suite that Ernest Hemingway occupied at the Sun Valley Lodge (Room 206) is the famed Idaho resort's most popular. Contact Sun Valley Lodge, Tel: 800-786-8259 or 208-622-4111; Fax 208-622-3700.