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|Papa & Pauline's Place
by Janet Groene
IF YOU'RE A LITERARY BUFF so much the better, but you dont have to read Hemingway to groove to a guided tour of one of Key Wests oldest and most interesting historic treasures. The next time you kick back in the Keys, put Papa on your to-do list.
Any story about Key West must begin with the warning that driving there can be cumbersome and parking impossible. Thanks to the air-conditioned, sea-kindly, high-speed boat that whisks passengers from Fort Myers Beach to Key West in 31/2 hours, theres also the choice of boating both ways or boating down and flying back. What with dolphin watching and other pleasures of a sea voyage, going to Key West by boat adds an entirely new dimension for even the most jaded Keys regulars.
The house that today is the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum was built in 1851 for Asa Tift, Key Wests wealthy shipwreck king. Much of it is original and, as time continues to prove, virtually hurricane proof. When you tour the islands Shipwreck Museum youll meet Tift himself.
Dressed in period costume hell tell you about the days when ships wrecked on the long reefs that stretch along the Keys coastline. After rescuing survivors, wreckers could help themselves to rich cargoes, making Key West for a time the wealthiest city in the United States. Tifts spacious home, built on one of the highest spots on the key, is surrounded by lush and lovely grounds and overlooks the majestic Key West Lighthouse.
Thanks to knowledgeable guides who dish on Hemingways rocky private life, visitors get all the juicy gossip about the stormy marriage and its bitter breakup. Youll see Ernests last penny, bedded in the patio after Pauline took him to the cleaners in their divorce, and the saloon urinal that Ernest passed off on his unsuspecting wife as a planter. Youll hear how he and his cronies snuck in and drank up the entire contents of a priceless wine cellar, replacing corks so Pauline wouldnt discover the theft until long after he had moved out.
Furnishings reflect the Hemingway lifestyle. Visitors can imagine intimate dinners with friends at the 18th century Spanish table while a fire crackles in the dining room fireplace. Crockery collected in Europe by Pauline still sits in the butlers pantry. In the living room, guests ranging from international glitterati to crusty, Key West fisherfolk chatted while surrounded by works of art.
Throughout the house see photographs of Hemingways friends, boat, and of himself as a wounded war hero. One lithograph shows his friend Gregorio Fuentes, cook and mate on board Hemingways boat Pilar. Some say Fuentes was the authors model for the Old Man and the Sea. To see a full-size replica of that boat, by the way, stop at the Bass Pro Shop in Islamorada.
Upstairs, see Hemingways bedroom and, over the bed, one of the chandeliers Pauline had added. Much to the discomfort of todays visitors she replaced all the homes ceiling fans with what she considered the latest fashion in lighting decor. Now the depression-era chandeliers are merely dated and declassé, monuments to the tastes of a bygone time.
Hemingways two sons by Pauline were raised in the Key West house and youll see their bedrooms as well as the nursemaids room. Dont miss the photo of Ernest in his World War I uniform. He was wounded in Italy, fell in love with his nurse and is said to have modeled a character after her in A Farewell to Arms. Throughout the home and grounds youll also see dozens of cats. They are descended from cats owned by the Hemingways, clearly identified because of a genetic fluke that gives them six toes.
PapaHemingway fled Key West for Cuba and went on to acquire Wife #3, leaving Pauline in possession of the Tift house. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the confiscation by Castro of his holdings there, Papa went to Ketchum, Idaho, where he took his own life in 1961 and left Wife #4 a widow. When Pauline died in 1951, the Key West house was rented fully furnished until Ernests death, when his estate sold the house to Key West businesswoman Bernice Dickson. She opened it as a museum in 1964 and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968. It is still owned by Mrs. Dicksons family.
Driving down? Key West is a tiny island and its narrow streets were laid out in the horse-and-buggy era. A new bridge from the mainland to Key Largo eases congestion as you enter the Keys but the 100-mile-long drive can be slow because of many long no-passing zones. Relax and enjoy the view of the shining Atlantic on one side while Florida Bay and its green mangrove islands slip by on the other.
Along the way, stop at the Rain Barrel to see local crafters, Theater of the Sea for a nature walk, the History of Diving Museum at Islamorada and many other points of interest. Once checked into one of Key Wests hotels or B&Bs its best to see the city on foot. City bus transportation is good and the trolley tour allows visitors to get off and on at points of interest all day.
For more information about the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, call 800-FLA-KEYS. Reservations for the Key West Express must be made 24 hours in advancecall 888-539-2628 for information.
from the January-February 2009 issue