Ernest Hemingway's Haunted Key West Home
Once Ernest Hemingway's private residence, this beautiful Key West property is now the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. The house was originally built in 1851 by marine architect Asa Tift. It was purchased by Hemingway in 1931 from the City of Key West for $8000 in back taxes. The house was boarded up and abandoned when they bought it, but Ernest and his wife Pauline fixed the property up and added a great many of their own touches to the place, including the chandeliers, a pool, and a number of pieces of furniture that they had shipped from Europe. The chandeliers are still there as well as much of the original furniture.
As the story goes, though Hemingway was all for the pool and even designed it himself, it was left to Pauline to oversee its construction. Ernest was away at the time of development, working as a war correspondent covering the Spanish Civil war. As construction continued, costs began to mount. The final bill for the project in 1938 was a staggering $20,000—just over $342,000 in today's currency.
Legend has it that, in a burst of anger over the expense, Hemingway said to his wife, "Pauline, you've spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that." At which point he threw a penny down on the unfinished pool deck. How much truth there is to this story is uncertain. There is, however, a penny embedded in the cement on the north end of the pool to memorialize the moment.
The ten years that Hemingway lived in Key West with Pauline and their two sons, Patrick and Gregory, were some of the most productive of his distinguished writing career.
The couple divorced in 1940, however, and Ernest moved to Cuba with his new wife, Martha Gellhorn. Pauline and the kids stayed in the Key West house until her death in 1951, after which Ernest rented out the main house. He returned frequently to Key West during the 1940s and 1950s, until his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1961. After that, the house was sold by his estate to a Key West couple who opened it as a private museum. Their family still owns and operates the museum to this day.
Given the Hemingway's love of Key West, it is not surprising that many people believe that the couple's spirits still inhabit their beloved home and grounds there. It is purported that Hemingway often quipped to his friends in Key West that it was there, in that house, that he would be spending his afterlife. Many believe he is.
It wasn't long after Hemingway's death that people reported seeing his ghost in and around the house. Early sightings were reported by some Key West residents who were not yet aware of the famous author's untimely demise. Walking by the house, they noticed Ernest on his second story veranda. He waved to them and they waved back. It was only later when they mentioned to some friends that they had seen Ernest at the house that they learned of his tragic death at his home in Idaho.
In the years since, he has been seen quite often on the same veranda, frequently giving a wave to passersby. Tour guides and guests have also seen Hemingway wandering the house and walking around the grounds. He most frequently appears, however, in his loft writing room, where he is known to have written some of his best works. People have also reported the sound of a typewriter clicking away in the early morning—the time of day that Hemingway preferred to write.
It appears that Hemingway's spirit is not alone in the house. Staff and visitors have also reported seeing Pauline. She has been seen most often in her favorite spot at the top of the central staircase, where she used to enjoy looking out the window at her husband writing in his loft, or her children playing outside. Neighbors have also witnessed her standing beside the entry gate smoking a cigarette; something she often did in life. Cigarette butts of the brand that Pauline used to smoke have often been found littering the sidewalk following one of these sightings.
Hemingway's Six-Toed Cats
At some point during his years in Key West, Ernest Hemingway made the acquaintance of a sea captain—most likely in a bar over cocktails. The captain owned an unusual six-toed tomcat that caught Hemingway's interest. Before sailing from Key West, the captain left the cat for Hemingway. To this day, many of its six-toed descendants still reside at Hemingway house.
One of these cats, which must have been as attached to the place as Ernest and Pauline, stayed on even after death and is frequently seen roaming the grounds and guarding the cat cemetery at the museum.
At Home Even in Death
A visit to Key West and Hemingway House makes it easy to see why Ernest and Pauline loved the place so much that even after death they could not leave it. And though Pauline was the second of Ernest's four wives, it appears that she will be the one he is destined to spend eternity with, joined forever by the love of a place and home, as well as by a time when they were both truly in love.
Questions & Answers
Did Ernest Hemmingway have children?
Ernest Hemingway had three sons. The oldest, John, he had with his first wife, Hadley, and, as I mentioned in the article, he had two sons, Patrick and Gregory, with his second wife, Pauline.
© 2018 Stephen Barnes