Visiting Hemingway’s House in Key West

Last week we visited Key West, Florida, for a few days. There are two very famous Key West citizens whose presence is felt all over the island. One is Jimmy Buffett, the American singer and songwriter, author, actor and businessman, who is best known for his music, which often portrays an “island escapism” lifestyle. He started his career partly in Key West, and “Buffett-stuff” is all over the island. The other famous Key West citizen is Ernest Hemingway, who lived there in the 1930ies.

We visited Hemingway’s house, which is now a well-preserved museum dedicated to his life and legacy. Here is a view of the house.

I found it riveting to be walking through the rooms where he lived, including his bedroom and the master bathroom, the sleeping quarters for the nanny, and the room where his kids slept.

But most inspiring was seeing his writing studio. Here I am at the foot of the stairs. The studio door is at the top of the stairs above my head:

Here is another view of the building from the other side:

I was able to enter the studio. I was alone while there, behind a fence to keep out tourists, of course. I had plenty of time to just reflect.

This room, museum staff told us, is largely untouched as it was when Hemingway wrote there in the 1930ies. This is his actual chair and table. You can see one of the 54 cats on the property under the chair on the left. It is said that all the cats are descendants of Hemingway’s cats. He went up into that studio before breakfast every day to write at least 700 words. 70 percent of Hemingway’s work was written in this room, including the following novels:

  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Death in the Afternoon
  • Green Hills of Africa
  • To Have and Have Not
  • The Fifth Column
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Snows of Kilimanjaro

It turns out, I have only read one Hemingway book: The Old Man and the Sea, and I have read that several times. I have no review of it published here, since the readings were all before 2007 when I started this blog.  I once tried to read The Sun Also Rises, but could not finish it. Here is my short review.

Being in that studio inspired me, and I decided to give it another shot and read some Hemingway.

After the visit to the Hemingway house, we went across the street to climb the historic lighthouse:

Here is a look back to Hemingway’s property from the top of the lighthouse:

If you find yourself visiting Key West, I strongly recommend you visit this museum. The entry fee is $18 per person – cash only – yes, but it’s well worth it.

2 thoughts on “Visiting Hemingway’s House in Key West

  1. barbara carlson

    Being in a room where a famous, perhaps great, author wrote has a special flavour, eh? A frisson of some kind.I have read “around” Hemingway, autobiography of one of his wives — Martha Gellhorn. As well, a few of his books in my youth. I heard so much about them, I felt I’d read all the others.

    Decades ago I stood at the stand-up desk writing desk of Winston Churchill. In those days, tourists weren’t so crappy & numerous that they had to be kept behind ropes. I was able rest my elbows on the table’s edge. I was alone in the big room.
    He is one of my very few heroes, so when I descended (floated down) a wide, carpeted staircase, I slid my hands along warm hand-worn wooden railing and felt a connection — but it was so blasted hot and airless in the non-air-conditioned house
    with its unopened windows… I almost fainted… but partly from pleasure, as I realized I was holding my breath to remember that moment.

    Unfortunately it was the hottest day of the century when we visited Chartwell, his country home in Kent. Churchill’s large studio was at the bottom of a grassy knoll, only 50-60 yards away We thought we could get down to it, but the walk back up would surely kill us.

    I have deeply regretted this — until last year when I read that after the war, Churchill was invited to view the room, in the deep underground bunker where Hitler & Eva killed themselves. Winston carefully walked down one flight, asked how far it was still to go — and decided to go back to the surface, where he sat (for some time) in a rickety chair suspected Hitler himself had sat on at night to get some air.

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