A Catalude at the Hemingway House in Key West

Rudolph Valentino on Elizabeth

Polydactyl Rudolph Valentino at Hemingway House on Elizabeth Weintraub’s lap

Read carefully: tops, bottoms and shoes required for entrance. You don’t see a sign like that every day posted at a business, much less at a museum but hey, this is Key West. After spring break last year, the Hemingway House staff found it necessary to post such a notice at its ticketing desk. This house is such an attraction in Key West that tourists lined up down the street to get inside. Most of them were probably there solely to pet the 6-toed cats and couldn’t give a hoot about Hemingway or recall anything he wrote, if they even read his novels in the first place.

Hemingway House in Key West

Hemingway House in Key West

They hold weddings at the Hemingway House. It doesn’t seem like a romantic way to start a future together, getting married at the home of a philanderer, much less a guy who had 4 wives and thought nothing of shooting enormous animals through the eyes and then mounting them on his wall, but what the heck. I guess we all romanticize history in our own ways.

Much of the home remains in its original condition, high ceilings, crown molding, hardwood and tiled floors. The first floor is laid out in kind of an odd manner in a circle, with its tiny kitchen and smallish bath at the back of the home. Each room contains some item pertaining to Hemingway such as artifacts, framed photographs, personal letters, war medals and books. The grand staircase leading to the second floor is surprisingly narrow, maybe 24-inches-wide at best. There is another building out back, and up those stairs to a large room is where the magic happened: Hemingway’s writing. A cat now nestles in his inbox. Many descendants of his cats remain on the property.

Black Cats at Hemingway

Black cats at Hemingway House

What I can humbly admit was the highlight of my visit and quite possibly one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me is when Rudolph Valentino, one of the polydactyl cats, jumped without an invitation into my lap. Many of the other cats in the household — about 45 are in residence — were ornery and grumpy, as you would be if somebody kept poking you and shoving a camera into your face 8 hours a day.

Rudoplph sat in my lap quietly, purring, inviting me to pet him, so I did what he wanted. Then, he stood up on my lap and began kneading my knees, extending and contracting his giant claws, which resulted in shredding my t-shirt. Still, I sat there and let him do it. This is what cats do to you.

Other tourists came by. I warned one little Asian girl who reached out to pet Rudolph that he bites. Another tourist stooped down to take my picture with her cellphone, yeah, right, my eyes flashed and I held out my hand to demand: Five bucks, please. Rudolph insisted I return both hands to petting him as one hand was no longer sufficient.

If you are wondering if the penny is indeed embedded by a post near the 65-foot pool, it is indeed.

Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub and Adam Weintraub

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