Hemingway, Cats Key West, Cuba, And A Penny

I start my day at the gym next breakfast and The New York Times Time Machine to the year 1961. This year on Twitter, I’m tweeting the daily history of the New York Yankees 1961 season. The 1961 Yankees season is recognized as one of Major League Baseball’s greatest teams. Propelled by the Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris home run chase of Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record set in 1927. An as great as the Yankees were that season, the Detroit Tigers kept pace and the pressure on the Yanks into early September

On July 3, I opened Time Machine to the 1961 New York Times, and on the front page was ‘Hemingway Dead of Shotgun Wound; Wife Says He Was Cleaning Weapon.’ This headline is not the first one from 1961 that stirs up the memory bank. Other than astronauts, political, and sports events, Hemingway’s death influenced my reading habits at that time. 

July 3,1961, front page The New York Times, Hemingway Dead.

We like visiting Key West Florida. We love the drive getting there. On our first visit and subsequent visits, we tour Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home. After the official tour, we revisit the house and the grounds. Around the grounds are burial markers for the six toe cats that roamed the property from the 1930s’ to this day; six-toed cats still roam grounds. All of Ernest Hemingway’s cats in Cuba also had six-toes. The Key West cats have one other distinguishing trademark. All were and still are named after famous people.  

A tradition dating back to the 1930s’
Six-toed cats still roam freely at Hemingway’s home, now museum.

Both of Hemingway’s homes have many stores and unique touches.  At Key West, it’s the pool. Ernest Hemingway himself planned the pool. Construction on the pool began while Hemingway was in Spain, covering the Spanish Civil War writing dispatches for The North American Newspaper Association. In Spain, he traveled with fellow reporter Martha Gellhorn. Hearing rumors of an affair with Gellhorn have been attributed to Hemingway’s wife Pauline’s extensive pool construction cost. Upon Hemingway’s returned from Spain in May 1938, he started complaining about the $$20,000 cost to build the poll. As the legend goes, he tossed a penny onto the patio, saying, “you’ve taken all my money; you might as well have my last penny, too.” Accounting for inflation $20,000 in 1938, translates to $381,836.88 in 2021 dollars. That famous penny is encased at the pool for all to see. Hemingway, after divorcing Pauline, married Martha Gellhorn in 1940 and left Key West foreve

 The urinal from Hemingway’s favorite bar Sloppy Joe’s he brought home as a kind of revenge over the pool.
Hemingway’s writing studio in Key West

Hemingway’s Cuban home has two features the first one is his fishing boat. After Hemingway died in 1961, the family donated or gave the house to the Cuban government. In 1962 it became a museum. The home was preserved intact. Hemingway’s fishing boat was an American flag, and it was the only American flag on display in Cuba for decades.

Hemingway’s fishing boat, Cuba

The second feature is in his bathroom. Every morning while visiting his Cuban winter home, he weighed himself and recorded his weight on the wall in pencil.

The bathroom wall.

Mom and dad would let me stay up on Friday nights when I did not have school the next day and watch The Jack Parr Show from 11:30 pm till 1 am and in the summer months. I believe this took place after Hemingway’s death. Jack Parr had on four Brooklyn Dodger players as a guest on the show. One or two were still playing for the LA Dodgers. In 1947, the Dodgers held Spring Training in Havana, Cuba. It was Jackie Robinson’s rookie year, and the Dodgers were building Dodger town at Vero Beach. The Dodgers did not want Jackie Robinson segregated from the team. 

So, the four players tell of their night out and meeting Ernest Hemingway. Lots of drinking telling of stories. As the night grew on, Hemingway invites the players to his home. The drinking and story tell continued. The players did not recall precisely how it started, but Hemingway and one of the players got into it. Hemingway then announces, let us settle this with a duel, and gets up and leaves the room.

The four players now realize this is out of control and gone too far. They immediately open the window and run away, never to reencounter Ernest Hemingway.

Whenever I walk past the door of the Charles Scribner and Sons, building on 5th Ave, N.Y. City I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Putting this together inspired me to reread A Moveable Feast and read Ernest Hemingway; A Biography by Mary Dearborn.

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