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  • Writer's pictureNatalija Ugrina

Super Weird Florida: Hemingway's Polydactyl Cats

Ernest Hemingway, the iconic American author known for his succinct writing style and adventurous spirit, was also a cat enthusiast. However, what set his feline companions apart was a unique feature – polydactylism. Polydactyl cats, with more than the typical number of toes, became a distinctive and beloved part of Hemingway's life. In this episode of Super Weird Florida, we explore the fascinating world of Hemingway's polydactyl cats and the legacy they left behind.

Hemingway's House in Key West
Hemingway's House in Key West

Hemingway's Love for Cats:

Hemingway's affection for cats was evident throughout his life. Cats appeared in many of his works, and he often incorporated them into his daily routine. It's said that Hemingway first encountered a polydactyl cat in a Key West bar, where a ship's captain gave him a kitten named Snowball. This serendipitous meeting marked the beginning of a lifelong bond between Hemingway and these extraordinary cats.

Polydactyl Cat taking a nap in Hemingway's House
Polydactyl Cat taking a nap in Hemingway's House


Polydactylism is a genetic anomaly that results in cats having more than the usual number of toes on their paws. While the typical cat has 18 toes (five on the front paws and four on the back), polydactyl cats may have several extra digits. Hemingway's cats were often referred to as "Hemingway cats" or "Hemingway's six-toed cats" due to this distinctive feature.


The Hemingway House in Key West:

One of the most famous associations between Hemingway and his polydactyl cats is the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida. Hemingway lived in this Spanish colonial-style house from 1931 to 1939, and it is now a museum dedicated to the author and his feline companions. The house is home to approximately 50 to 60 cats, many of which are polydactyl.

in front of Hemingway's House in Key West
in front of Hemingway's House in Key West

The Legend of the Six-Toed Cats:

Legend has it that the first polydactyl cat, given to Hemingway by the ship's captain, had an influence far beyond his lifetime. The story goes that many of the cats residing in the Hemingway House today are descendants of Snowball. These cats, with their unique genetic trait, have become a symbol of good luck. Locals believe that polydactyl cats bring good fortune, and this belief has contributed to the enduring popularity of these cats in the Key West community.

Preserving the Legacy:

The Hemingway House has taken great care to preserve the legacy of the author and his beloved polydactyl cats. The cats are well cared for, and the house serves as a living tribute to Hemingway's passion for these unique feline companions. Visitors can tour the property, marvel at the charming cats, and learn about the history and significance of polydactylism in Hemingway's life.

The Polydactyl Paradise:

The Hemingway cats have become local celebrities, each with a name reflecting their individuality. From Archibald MacLeish to Zane Grey, the names resonate with literary and historical significance. The cats, living in a state of regal grace, capture the attention of visitors who find themselves captivated not just by the literary relics but also by the feline guardians that inhabit this literary haven.

The phenomenon of polydactylism, while fascinating, goes beyond mere aesthetics. The six-toed gene is a genetic anomaly, and it's a trait that has been passed down through generations of Hemingway's cats. Each cat, a living connection to the author's time in Key West, contributes to the unique charm of this historic residence.

Cat Cemetery
Cat Cemetery

Cat Tales and Legends:

Every cat has its own story, and the Hemingway cats are no exception. Some are known for their playful antics, while others exude a dignified air befitting their literary namesakes. The cats, unburdened by the constraints of time, weave themselves into the narrative of Hemingway's home, creating a living, breathing homage to the author's enduring spirit.

Visitors often find themselves enraptured by the tales of these feline residents, tales that become as much a part of the Hemingway experience as the creaking floorboards of the historic house.

The Cat-astrophic Effect on the Garden:

cat taking a nap in Hemingway's house

The cats, while beloved, are not without their mischievous charm. The lush gardens surrounding Hemingway's home have borne witness to the playful antics of these polydactyl companions. From leisurely strolls to clandestine naps amidst the foliage, the cats have left their mark on every corner of the property.

Garden tours become a delightful expedition, not just for the flora enthusiasts but also for those eager to catch a glimpse of the resident feline population. The intertwining of nature and cat lore adds a layer of enchantment to the already magical ambiance of Hemingway's Key West refuge.

Beyond the enchanting world of Hemingway's polydactyl cats at the Hemingway House, Key West offers several other spots that provide a glimpse into the author's life and legacy. Here are five additional Hemingway-related destinations to explore in this vibrant Florida city:

1.Sloppy Joe's Bar:

  • No visit to Key West is complete without a stop at Sloppy Joe's Bar. A popular haunt for Hemingway during his time in Key West, this iconic establishment was a regular watering hole for the author and his circle of friends. Hemingway's favorite drink, the Papa Doble, is still served here, allowing visitors to toast in the same spirit as the legendary writer.

  • The legendary Sloppy Joe's Bar, a stone's throw from the Hemingway House, hosted the author's convivial encounters and now pays homage with the annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. Witness the convergence of Hemingway's legacy and Hollywood allure in a spectacle that could only be staged in the weird and wonderful state of Florida.

2. Blue Heaven:

3. Higgs Beach:

  • Hemingway was not only a prolific writer but also an avid fisherman. Higgs Beach, where he spent many hours pursuing his love for angling, offers a serene escape. While there, you can imagine Hemingway casting his line into the turquoise waters and find inspiration in the same beautiful surroundings that once fueled his creativity.

PILAR Key West
PILAR Key West

4. Hemingway Rum Company:

For those interested in a taste of Hemingway's preferred spirits, a visit to the Hemingway Rum Company is in order. The company produces Papa's Pilar Rum, named after the author and his beloved boat, Pilar. Explore the distillery, learn about the rum-making process, and perhaps pick up a bottle as a memento of your literary-inspired journey.

Hemingway Rum Company
Hemingway Rum Company

5. Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters:

  • Gain a new perspective on Key West by climbing to the top of the Key West Lighthouse, which Hemingway frequented during his time on the island. The breathtaking views offer a glimpse of the landscape that inspired some of his writing. Explore the Keeper's Quarters to learn about the maritime history of Key West and the role the lighthouse played in the community.

6. Captain Tony's Saloon:

  • Tucked away in the heart of Key West's historic Old Town, Captain Tony's Saloon is a legendary gem with ties to Hemingway and the island's colorful history. Once known as Sloppy Joe's (before its relocation), this establishment played host to Hemingway and his cohorts during their spirited Key West sojourns. Steeped in nostalgia, the bar is adorned with memorabilia that transports visitors back to an era of carefree revelry and literary camaraderie.

Captain Tony's Saloon
Captain Tony's Saloon

In conclusion, soaking up the Hemingway vibes in Key West is a literary adventure that goes beyond the pages of his novels. The allure of the Hemingway House, with its polydactyl feline residents, is just the beginning. From sipping a Papa Doble at Sloppy Joe's to dining amid roosters at Blue Heaven, every spot oozes with the spirit of the iconic author.

Don't miss the chance to cast your thoughts into the sea at Higgs Beach, imagining Hemingway's contemplative moments. And for those who fancy a sip of adventure, the Hemingway Rum Company promises an intoxicating journey through the writer's spirited legacy.

For a panoramic perspective, ascend the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters, where the views mirror the expansive landscapes that fueled Hemingway's imagination.

So, whether you're a die-hard fan or just a casual admirer of Papa's works, these Key West hotspots offer an immersive experience into the world of Hemingway. Document your journey, share it with fellow literary enthusiasts, and let the echoes of Hemingway's Key West adventures resonate in your own travel tales. After all, in the Conch Republic, every corner has a story, and every story has a touch of Hemingway magic. 🌴📚✨ #HemingwayInKeyWest

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