Ernest Hemingway lived for 11 years, starting in 1928, in the house bought by his wife Pauline’s uncle. The author was productive here and wrote a good number of his best novels in the studio over the garage, still set up the way he had it with his manual typewriter and gate-leg table. The tour guides describe the catwalk that used to stretch from the second story porch to the writing studio, an addition Ernest insisted on so that he wouldn’t have to walk down one flight of stairs and up another every morning. His hunting "trophies" stare down from their spots on the walls, from where they kept company with the novelist while he wrote about his sporting life.
There is much of Pauline in the house: her tile collection, her custom-made cabinetry, her dressing-table porcelain. But the souvenirs of Ernest’s travels are more interesting. The headboard is from a monastery in Spain, originally a gate. There are also a 17-Century walnut Deacon’s Bench from a Spanish monastery, carved wooden African figures in the bedroom, Indian mirrors, Venetian hand-blown glass, an antique bottle safe (a bottle can be locked up in it), Cuban tile in one bathroom with a giant incense burner, a ceramic cat given to Ernest by Pablo Picasso, and the list goes on to describe a life on the inside of the art world. Hemingway is famous among literary critics for his knack for being in the right place at the right time. So were the others there, but Ernest seemed to gobble up the living with more flair. That’s the attraction of the house on Whitehead Street.
I had visited the home before in 1972, and I remembered that the tour guide then had mentioned that Ernest had brought from India the giant Banyan tree in the front yard. A ship’s captain gave him the first of his six-toed cats. And "Sloppy Joe," owner of his favorite bar, gave him the tiled urinal Ernest said he had put so much money down Joe ought to give it to him. (That’s what the cats drink from.) So, I got the picture that the writer didn’t like to have to let go of things familiar to him. The mementos of his remarkable living fill the house and the garden with interest. I left the home wondering how a man who loved living so much could shoot himself, and I remembered the
assessment of the biographer who knew him best. A. E. Hotchner in Papa
Hemingway suggests that dehydration drove him mad, a result of his being lost on the equator in Africa with nothing to drink but a bottle of gin. I subscribe to that argument.