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The Many Homes of Ernest Hemingway

By Audrey Golden. Feb 11, 2016. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Literature, Nobel Prize Winners

What would it look like to take a trek across the country (and outside the country, too) to visit all of the homes and favorite haunts of Ernest Hemingway? The novelist and short-story writer made his homes in seemingly disparate parts of the United States and the Caribbean, not to mention the years he spent living abroad as an expatriate in Paris, France. We’re intrigued by the varied climates that captured the writer’s interest, particularly in relation to his relatively domestic beginnings in Oak Park, Illinois. So, if you were going to take a tour through Hemingway’s life, what homes would need to make your list?

The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois

Hemingway.jpgIt makes good sense to start at the beginning. Ernest Hemingway was born in a second-floor bedroom of a Queen Anne house in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899. According to the website for the home and accompanying museum, the house actually was built by the writer’s maternal grandparents. Hemingway lived in the house until he was six years old. On the lower floors, the writer’s grandfather performed Bible readings while his mother gave music lessons. On the upper floors of the house, Hemingway’s father maintained what the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park describes as a “mini-museum” of “wildlife specimens.”

Visitors to Oak Park can tour this house, still largely steeped in cultural practices and decor of the Victorian age. Adjacent to Hemingway’s birthplace is The Hemingway Museum, in which the Foundation maintains exhibits exploring the life of the writer. Key objects in the permanent collection, according to the Foundation, include “Hemingway’s childhood diary and the famous letter from nurse Agnes von Kurowsky—later portrayed in A Farewell to Arms—terminating their engagement.”

The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida

Hemingway loved fishing, and his home in Key West gave him access to the waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic. The house was built, according to the Key West museum’s website, in 1851. While the home still has books and pieces of furniture that belonged to Hemingway, the home is perhaps best known for the many cats living on the property. The author not only loved fishing, he also loved his polydactyl (or extra-toed) cat. The felines that now roam outdoors around the property are descendants of Hemingway’s cat. The last time we visited the home, there were dozens of them crossing the footpaths that run through the property. 

Hemingway House Cuba

Ernest_Hemingway_at_the_Finca_Vigia_Cuba_1946_PD-9.pngGiven that travel restrictions to Cuba are loosening for Americans interested in visiting the island, the Hemingway House Cuba should make your list of upcoming destinations. As the website for the property notes, the house and museum are known in Cuba as “Museo Hemingway at Finca La Vigía.” The home is in a relatively small suburb of Havana, just about nine miles outside of the capital. Hemingway bought the home in 1940. Visitors can tour the home any day of the week, and they can also get information about Hemingway’s favorites bars in Cuba.

Hemingway Preserve in Ketchum, Idaho

The Nature Conservancy owns Hemingway’s Ketchum house, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Place, according to the website. As the Nature Conservancy explains, Hemingway was interested in the property due to its proximity to Sun Valley Resort and the Sun Valley Ranch. The author vacationed in this area for many years, where he enjoyed duck hunting in the fall. Hemingway and his wife purchased this house in the late 1950s. As Hemingway lore goes, the Conservancy details how the writer was “a compulsive collector of paper from manuscripts to grocery lists,” and he “wanted a place where his documents would be protected from humidity and fire.”

The house was indeed a spot protected from the elements, constructed with heavy-duty cinder blocks. The home in Ketchum was the place in which the Nobel Prize winner experienced his final moments in this life; he committed suicide on the property in 1961. His widow lived at the location until her own death in the 1980s. The home is not open to tours, but visitors to the preserve can experience the natural elements that drew Hemingway to the area more than 50 years ago.

Touring all of Hemingway’s homes can help give readers insight into the writer’s private life, as well as deeper knowledge about the author’s interest in the varied climates of the Americas, from Havana, Cuba to Ketchum, Idaho. We recommend starting with his birthplace in Oak Park, Illinois, but the rest of the route is up to you.

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Audrey Golden
World literature scholar and erstwhile lawyer. Lover of international travel, outdoor markets, and rare books.


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