Tuesday, February 23, 2010 12:14 PM

Hemingway Cats

For Valentine's Day, our pal Miss P. gave us a box of note cards called, "Hemingway Cats" based on the paintings of Canadian artist Lucie Bilodeau (who currently lives in Massachusetts!). Besides being a great gift, it piqued my interest on this subject. I know, as most people do, that besides being able to string words together like nobody's business, Hemingway lived a colorful life. This intense attraction to cats, though, was news to me. So, I decided to do a little research.

Hemingway's obsession started when a sea captain presented him with a six-toed kitten whom he named "Snowball". Many of the cats now residing at the Hemingway Home and Museum are descendants of this first polydactyl, or multi-toed cat. All the cats that now reside on the Florida keys (well, most of them, at least) are descended from cats that originally were seafarers, since they were used aboard ships to control the mouse and rat populations. Hemingway apparently fell in love with the mitten-like paws of little Snowball and his entire estate soon became overrun with the little critter's bloodline.

Today, there are approximately 60 cats living at the Museum, about half of which are polydactyl, according to Wikipedia. Just to spice things up, Hemingway named each of his cats after a famous artist, celebrity or politician. The staff at the Hemingway Home and Museum have kept up this practice. Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, writes of meeting a "marmalade tom" named Bill Clinton when he and his crew did their tour of the Home and Museum. He notes, as many other tourists who have visited the site have, that the cats are the most interesting part of the tour. Other famous names living on in furry infamy are those of Gertrude Stein, Lionel Barrymore, Audrey Hepburn, Emily Dickinson, "Hairy" Truman and the especially photogenic Archibald MacLeish.

The cats are all well taken care of, healthy, happy and roam the grounds freely. A little too freely, it seems; a dispute involving the museum, a neighbor's complaint and the United States Department of Agriculture nearly brought the Hemingway Cats' sojourn on the great man's estate to an end. More on that story tomorrow.
Chat later!

Above photo of "One of the many six-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida" by WKnight94, courtesy of WikiMedia Commons. Photo taken 10 August 2006.

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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