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Hemingway Cats in Key West, Florida

The Old Man & the Polydactyl Cat

Not only was Ernest Hemingway fond of cats, but his name has become synonymous with a particular feline genetic mutation, one that causes cats to have extra toes. While these polydactyl cats are not an actual breed, they are often referred to as, “Hemingway Cats,” in his honor.

It all started down in Key West, where Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930’s with his second wife, their kids and, rumor has it, a polydactyl Maine Coon named Snowball. The cat was given to him by a local sea captain. While it’s unclear how many cats shared Hemingway’s Florida home, his affection for cats is well documented.

Check out Ernest Hemingway and his Cats for some really cute photos. I can’t tell how many toes the cats in these photos have, but I love how they’re wandering around, sitting on the author’s typewriter and writing projects. There’s even one of Hemingway sharing a piece of corn on the cob with a kitty!

Hemingway’s Cats Protected in his Will

Although Ernest Hemingway committed suicide back in 1961 while living up in Idaho, his will stipulated that his polydactyl crew of cats down in Florida continue to be cared for after his death. Today, more than 50 cats dwell in his Key West home, which is also a museum in his honor. Since Ernest liked to name the cats after movie stars and famous historical figures, the Hemingway Home and Museum staff (which includes a veterinarian as well as cat-caretakers) continues this playful tradition.

Hemingway House Museum in Key West, Florida (photo by Tui Snider)
Hemingway House Museum in Key West, Florida (photo by Tui Snider)

Hemingway Cat Law Suit

In December of 2012, the Hemingway Home and Museum lost a lengthy legal battle with the United States government. As a result, the museum is required to obtain a Federal Animal Welfare License for the cats and have them regulated by the government as if they were circus animals. I haven’t delved into the legalese too deeply, but it seems a bit strange. When I visited, the animals were happily lounging, looked healthy and seemed well-fed, but they certainly weren’t performing by any stretch of the imagination; they were just being cats!

Hemingway cat in Key West, Florida (photo by Tui Snider)
Hemingway cat in Key West, Florida (photo by Tui Snider)

Other Bloggers Love Hemingway Cats, Too!

I’m not the only blogger who is enchanted by the Hemingway cats. Check out these wonderful posts I found on the web:

Jacob over at The Carpet Bagger visited the Hemingway Home and Museum and noted that, “The historical tour pretty much degenerated into tourists petting and snuggling with cats while ignoring everything the guide had to say.”

Lucy Burdette who writes at Jungle Red Writers befriended one of the cat caretakers at the Key West museum and describes the behind-the-scenes tour she took when she visited.

Christina Hardcastle of Christina Hardcastle Photography shares a great set of photos she took when she visited the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida.

Hemingway cat in Key West, Florida (photo by Tui Snider)
Hemingway cat in Key West, Florida (photo by Tui Snider)

What about you?

Have you ever been to Key West, visited the Hemingway Home and Museum or seen a polydactyl cat?

To read about more weird, offbeat, and overlooked places, check out my Amazon Best Seller, Unexpected Texas.

For ghost hunting hot spots, check out my recently-released travel guide to haunted places, Paranormal Texas. Happy travels!

Published inBlog on Writing & Life


  1. What a great post, Tui. I’d love to go there – hate the weather down there, though, so I’m not sure it will happen. :D
    I saw something about the Hemingway House and the cats after the hurricane that hit down there – folks were worried about the house and the kitties. Wish I could remember where I saw it! As I recall, they were hunkered down there and seemed OK.

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