Friday, May 08, 2009

Six-toed Cats and Other Oddballs

Thursday we devoted the morning to intellectual pursuits such as studying the six-toed cats that roam freely at Ernest Hemingway's old home and playing "Real or Fake" at the Southernmost Beach while we ate lunch. I have lots of pictures of the six-toed cats, but Sweety wouldn't let me take pictures of the beach contest. I can report that there were no losers, but I think it was more of an exhibition than a real contest as there was no wagering.

Hemingway and a buddy built the brick fence to keep tourists from coming onto his property after he became a famous literary icon. The bricks were taken from Duval Street in KW which is now the main drag through town. I do not know if they just helped themselves to the bricks or he bought them, but the fence is only slightly more attractive than the proverbial "ugly mud fence" folks in our neck of the woods are always referring to. It leans about six inches from top to bottom toward the street. You can see the quality of the mortar work in the picture.

The six-toed cats came about when Hemingway's two boys befriended a visiting sea captain who had a six-toed cat on board because sailors thought the cats brought good luck. Today, there are 46 cats on the property, all descendants of the original named Snowball. Some kind of genetic abnormality causes the extra toes. Some have even had seven toes. About one out of three cats has the extra toes.

It is hard to get the cats to show their feet to you, but perhaps you can see how wide this guy's front feet are.

Our guide told wonderful stories about Hemingway's life. Hemingway was quite a rascal, to put it gently. One of the best stories involves the beautiful swimming pool in the back yard. His wife at the time wanted a swimming pool, but when Ernest got the bid it was over $20,000 at the height of the Great Depression. The island of Key West is built on solid limestone and the pool would have to be hand dug. He told the contractor to forget it. Hemingway soon went to Europe and took a young female writer with him. When is wife found out about the situation, she called the pool contractor and ordered the pool to be built. Later, when Hemingway's longtime fishing buddy and bar owner, "Sloppy" Joe Russell was moving his bar, Hemingway asked if he could have the urinal from the mens' restroom. He placed it in the back yard next to the swimming pool and filled it with water for the cats to drink from. His wife was appalled and told him to get that thing out of the yard. He told her he would get rid of his pool when she got rid of hers. She had the gardener put spanish tiles around the edge, put a large urn in it and plumb it as a fountain. The cats still drink from the urinal.

I hope you get a chance to learn more about him by visiting his home when you are in Key West. He was always fighting depression, but when Castro took over Cuba in 1959, Hemingway could not deal with the fact that he could no longer fish off the coast of Havana. He also agreed to electro-shock therapy for his depression. This erased a good deal of his memory. He would sit for hours in his office staring at a blank sheet of paper, unable to think of anything to write. He took his own life with a shotgun in 1961.

We then hit the road south to the famous Southernmost Point in the continental United States. This giant marker that looks like some kind of concrete atom bomb is the very distinctive indicator of this location.

We then went to lunch a couple of blocks away at the Southernmost Beach Cafe where Sweety took control of the picture taking machinery so I can't show you the contestants in the "Real of Fake" competition. We do have this picture of the beach taken from our table.

This is the winner of the most decadent key lime pie contest.

After a little shopping, it was back to the B&B for some R&R.


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