Meet the Cats of Ernest Hemingway’s Old House
Ernest Hemingway: writer of immortal stories, booze-drinker, four-time husband, soldier, and…cat lover? You probably didn’t know that this great American writer was something of a feline fanatic. (Here are some more facts you never knew about him—and your other favourite authors.) It may seem a little unusual that a man who so loved hunting lions would enjoy the company of smaller cats. But if you visit the Hemingway Museum in Key West, which was once the author’s home, you’ll encounter dozens of kitties descended from Ernest’s original pets.
In 1927, Ernest Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer, his second wife. Pauline’s uncle bought her and Ernest what might be the best wedding gift ever—a Spanish Colonial house in Key West, Florida. Ernest would spend nine years in this house, and would produce works like “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and For Whom the Bell Tolls there. It was also while living in this house that he would become the owner of a cat named Snow White, a gift from a visiting sailor. Snow White wasn’t just any cat: his front feet each had an extra toe. Sailors believed that these six-toed cats, also known as “polydactyl” cats, brought good luck. (Ever wonder why people think black cats are bad luck? We’ve got the answer.)
After Hemingway brought Snow White home, the number of kitties living at the house continued to grow, throughout the rest of Hemingway’s life and beyond. Today, there are 54 cats living on the property, all descended from Snow White. Several of these cats have six toes just like their ancestor, and all of them carry the polydactyl gene, meaning that they could all produce six-toed kittens.
Inside the Hemingway Museum
Today, the Key West house functions as a museum for Hemingway aficionados—though it’s arguably just as famous for its cats. Stroll through the house and grounds and you’re bound to encounter many members of the house’s 54-cat-strong feline population. They venture both inside and outside the house. You’ll see cats prowling through the palm trees that surround the dwelling, snoozing on a railing, or even taking a catnap on one of the beds. (Read on to find out which museums around the world are an absolute must-see.)
The museum’s general manager and curator help take care of the cats, feeding them with Purina cat chow. A Key West veterinarian makes sure all of the cats are healthy, and the house’s limestone walls keep them safe from the elements. In fact, all 54 four-legged residents recently made it through Hurricane Irma unscathed. Nope, these cats aren’t going anywhere. (Find out the 10 best places to see exotic animals.)
Check out 7 Purr-Fect Destinations for Cat Lovers.
Originally published as Yes, Ernest Hemingway’s Florida House Is Now Home to Over 50 Six-Toed Cats—Here’s Why on ReadersDigest.com.