Curious Facts You May Not Know about Hemingway, Cuba, & Key West

Charlie Chaplin enjoying a quiet moment in Key West.
Charlie Chaplin enjoying a quiet moment at the Hemingway House in Key West.

… Gregorio Fuentes is often credited as the inspiration for the old man in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Since he was almost Hemingway’s age when he worked on his boat, he was hardly old. Carlos Gutierrez was already an old man when Hemingway first met him. He was also the one who told Hemingway a Cuban tale about an old fisherman and his struggle with a marlin and sharks.

… Hemingway would often finish writing by two or so in the afternoon then head off to Sloppy Joe’s Bar to unwind.

… While Hemingway was away covering the Spanish Civil War, his wife Pauline decided to have a pool installed in their Key West backyard as a surprise. He was surprised all right! When he returned home, he pointed out Key West was an island and they could go swimming anywhere, anytime.

… Angry, he slammed a penny down by the pool and stormed off. “You spent my money building the pool; you might as well take my last cent.” Visitors to the Hemingway House can see that penny still preserved in cement by the pool.

… Though Hemingway blustered about the money, the house was actually a wedding gift from Pauline’s uncle, Gus.

… Ernest and Pauline often swam nude in the pool in the afternoon. Workers were admonished to stay away under threat of being fired.

… Pilar, the name of Hemingway’s boat, was the pet name Hemingway called Pauline while courting her.

… The five-toed cats that prowl the Hemingway House in Key West are actually descendants of the cats that roamed his property in Cuba. No word if they speak Spanish.

… Each cat living on the property is given a name. A cat cemetery is tucked into a corner behind the house. The graveyard is resident to the likes of Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, and Charlie Chaplin.

… The original bar where Hemingway hung out was originally located where Captain Tony’s is now. Back then it was called Sloppy Joe’s and was the former city morgue. Sloppy Joe ran his bar there from 1933 to 1937.

… With the help of Hemingway and a few friends, he moved it across the street one night  to its present location on Duval St. because the landlord raised the rent six dollars a month.

… Because of his health, doctors recommended Harry Truman spend some time in warmer climate. So he established a White House in Key West, spending 175 days there during his administration.

… Though it was a working White House with important business being done, Truman once remarked he had a good notion to move the White House there permanently.

… The embargo the United States has maintained against Cuba has been in effect for over fifty years. It was initiated during John Kennedy’s administration, meant to bring Castro’s regime to its knees. It mainly succeeded in making Cubans poorer and their life that much more miserable.

… While the United States and Cuba are working to normalize relations, most travel and trade restrictions remain in place till both houses of Congress give the nod.

… As harsh as life was under Fidel Castro, his predecessor Batista thought nothing of executing anyone who posed a threat to his power. Between 1952 and 1959, he tortured and executed between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

… “Do what you can with what you have,” Ernest Hemingway once said. And so the Cubans have. Since the embargo has been in place, they have tinkered with cars that are over a half century old, replacing worn-out parts with pieces from other cars. In the United States, they would be considered priceless antiques.

… Though cigars are an icon of Cuba, sugarcane and grapefruit are even more vital to Cuba‘s economy.

… Let the buyer beware. A cigar made from Cuban seed is not a Cuban cigar. With that being said, many fine cigars, rivaling and sometimes surpassing Cubans, are made with Cuban seed in Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador.

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2 thoughts on “Curious Facts You May Not Know about Hemingway, Cuba, & Key West

  1. Since it’s been a couple of years since I visited The Hemingway House it’s nice to look back on the adventure. I remember the house and especially the cats that even today are given names of famous people they think they look like. You’ve given us the chance to see where the brilliant writer worked and played, his life with Pauline and his concern for others.

    Like

  2. Great article! I’ve never been to Key West but I can see it in my mind which your great descriptions! Very good article and makes me want to hop in my car and visit the Hemingway house!

    Like

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