While Karen was visiting, we toured the Key West home of Ernest Hemmingway.
He lived extensively in Paris, Key West and Cuba throughout his adult life, and had four wives along the way. There is much to know about this house and Hemmingway’s life, but I’ll just touch on a few things that interested us.
The pool on the grounds is huge: 60 feet long, 24 feet wide, 10 feet wide at one end and 5 at the other.
It was built at a cost of 20,000.00, which was astronomical in 1938! The pool holds 80,784 gallons, and at the time it was built there was no fresh running water in Key West. Consequently, the pool construction involved drilling down to the salt-water table and installing a water pump to retrieve salt water to fill the pool.
The pool was very high maintenance until the 1940s, when Key West first had fresh water piped in and it was converted to a fresh water system. Using the salt-water pump, it took two to three days to completely fill the pool. During the summer months, the salt water would remain fresh for only about two to three days. The pool would them need to be completely drained, and another day or two would be required to scrub down and remove the algae and debris, then the cycle would start again. Maybe this was when pool boys got their start!
Hemmingway spent most of his time in Key West in his late 20s and early 30s. He was known around town more for his extensive boxing and fishing than for his writing. There was a boxing ring in the yard of his home, on the site where the pool was built. After construction of the pool, it was moved to the location in town which is now known as the restaurant Blue Heaven.
In 1935, a ship captain visiting Hemingway gifted him a six-toed cat named Snowball, and soon Snowball had populated the Hemingway estate with litters of six-toed cats. Cats normally have five front toes and four back toes. About half of the cats at the museum have the physical polydactyl trait, that give them six toes. They all carry the polydactyl gene in their DNA, which means that the ones that have 4 and 5 toes can still mother or father six-toed kittens. Most of the cats have extra toes on their front feet and can also have extras on their back feet as well. Sometimes it looks as if they are wearing mittens because they appear to have a thumb on their paw.
Hemingway named them after famous people of his time: Billie Holiday, Hunter S. Thompson, Rudolph Valentino, and Betty Grable. Decades later, there are 55 cats on the grounds; some of are descendants of the original cat, Snowball. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related! The polydactyl cats are not a particular breed. The trait can appear in Calicos, Tabbies, Tortoise Shell, White, Black, etc. They vary in shapes, sizes, colors and personalities.
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”