Deep sea fishing in Key West, and with a shot gun committing suicide in a small bedroom closet was how I understood Earnest Hemingway. That, and he was a pretty good writer. Wikipedia reports suicide. Mrs. Mary Hemingway the widow, and police investigation say, accident. President Kennedy mourned the death of Ernest Hemingway, whom he called one of America’s greatest authors and “one of the great citizens of the world.”
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN is about sixty miles south of where we lived for sixty-five years. It caught my attention that days before his death Hemingway was discharged from the Mayo Clinic after two months of treatment for hypertension. Another Minnesota connecting is that the last of Earnest’s four wives, Mary Walsh was born in Walker, MN which is where we summered in 2020. It was no coincidence that three of Hemingway’s wives were journalists: He clearly had an affinity for smart, ambitious women.
Touring Hemingway’s house was enlightening. For example, I didn’t know Earnest covered the “D Day Landing”, and his then wife Martha hid on board the ship so she too could be close to the war action. Yes, there were many cats, and the staff was very friendly. I thought the floor plan was very bright with many windows, and the bedroom offered the best cross ventilation. There is a great story about the Hemingway swimming pool built by then wife Pauline. I expected more memorabilia, and staging through out the house.
My understanding of Earnest Hemingway has changed. He loved deep sea fishing, he lived like a rock star and with exception of his first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, his wives were like literary groupies. It was Hadley that endured years in a cold apartment with no running water in Paris. It’s no surprise she misplaced a suitcase full of his writings at a train station in Europe.
Mr. Hemingway was an ardent hunter and an expert on firearms. At age 62 he was found dead in his foyer with one spent shell and a double-barreled shotgun by his side. This happened at his home in Ketchum, Idaho; not Key West.
Elizabeth Hadley Richardson 1921-1927 was the first wife of American author Ernest Hemingway. The two married in 1921 after a courtship of less than a year, and moved to Paris within months of being married. In Paris, Hemingway pursued a writing career, and through him Hadley met other expatriate British and American writers. Hadley was eight years older than Earnest.
Pauline Marie Pfeiffer 1927-1940 was an American journalist, and the second wife of writer Ernest Hemingway. Pauline had the pool built while Earnest did a war correspondent gig during the Spanish Civil War.
Martha Ellis Gellhorn 1940-1945 was an American novelist, travel writer, and journalist who is considered one of the great war correspondents of the 20th century. She reported on virtually every major world conflict that took place during her 60-year career.
Mary Welsh Hemingway 1946 -1961 was an American journalist and author, who was the fourth wife and widow of Ernest Hemingway.
Wreckers and Cigars
Coral reefs that protected Key West, also have caused many ship wrecks. Before 1820 it was a free-for-all. The shipwrecking industry turned official when the Keys became part of the United States in the 1820s. These salvaging professionals became known as “wreckers.” The wrecking process went like this: When a ship was damaged from the reef, wreckers would race out from the island to lay claim on the sinking vessel. The first to arrive became the wreck master, in charge of divvying up the work (after saving the sinking crew, of course). The recovered cargo was brought ashore, a judge would hear from both the ship captain and the wreck master to determine how to divide the bounty. Key West became the richest city per capita in the 1850s largely due to shipwrecks.
We parked near Mallory Square where crowds gather along with street vendors, jugglers, and performing arts for the sunset celebrations. The day we visited Key West an accident occurred at mile marker 88 on Hwy 1. Internet and cell service were nonexistent from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm. The electronic pay station wouldn’t take our parking fee, dang. When service was restored, we discovered we had parked in a fifty dollar all day parking spot, it was a great spot right up front were all the action is. We moved the truck and did not stay for the sunset celebration. Restaurants, stores, and ATM’s were all affected, nothing was functioning. Cash with hand written receipts was the course of action. “Cash on the barrel head son.” It was just like the wrecker days. As time passed greater navigation abilities took over, and the wrecker busines became a thing of the past, and then, cigar manufacturing took over.
Key West was once the largest producer of Cuban cigars – Cigar making in Key West dates back to 1831, when William H. Wall opened a small factory on Front Street that employed about 50 workers to roll cigars. The Cuban Revolution of 1868 brought Cuban refugees to the island in droves, escaping Spanish repression. Businesses were able to pay less for Cuban cigars made in the states – just 90 miles from Cuba – so business boomed. The cigar industry of Key West reached its zenith in 1890 when something over one hundred million cigars were made. The output fell off in 1894 but it has gradually and steadily increased, and in 1911 the hundred million mark has again been passed.
Hand-rolled cigars require precision, but they also require speed. Tobacco leaves absorb moisture and oil easily, so the cigar maker must work deftly so that the cigar doesn’t absorb sweat. Another interesting aspect of the factories in that time was the hired lectors, who would read to the factory workers during their shifts. The lector would read books, newspaper articles from New York to Cuba, and literary classics. This obviously helped to pass time, and made for well-read cigar makers.
The Pool Penny
Legend has it that whilst Hemingway was away working as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, he met and fell in love with wife number three, fellow war journalist, Martha Gellhorn. Back in Key West, second wife Pauline Pfeiffer heard about the affair, and replaced the author’s beloved boxing ring with the pool out of spite.
The swimming pool was exorbitantly expensive for its time, costing over $20,000 in 1938. When Hemingway returned and found out about the costs, he supposedly flung the penny on the ground, saying “Pauline, you’ve spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that!”