Friday, October 1, 2010

Writers in Key West

Without a doubt the most famous resident -or former resident- of Key West was Ernest "Papa" Hemingway-- .  

  Calvin Klein owned the Octagon house in Old Town on 712 Eaton Street although he apparently became bored with the island after a year or so and sold this lovely property at a loss rather than live there a moment longer...
  And President Harry Truman came to Key West many times during his tenure in the White house and had a "Little White House" in Key West in which to repose. 
But perhaps the qualifier might be the most famous writer who lived for some length of time on the island. Or perhaps it was that Hemingway brought fame to the island... 
for Hemingway was completely enamored with Key West and only left after he became enamored with another woman (something he did with some regularity- see wife number two, three, and four) making the small island a decidedly tight squeeze for his (second) wife, himself and his mistress. 

But I am putting myself in front of the horse that is pushing the cart. . .
Hemingway's home was initially a reject when Pauline first saw it. She visited the house with her friend Lorrine Thompson but wasn't charmed by the piece of drywall that hit her in the head. When she returned at Lorrine's urging to give the house another chance, she saw the place in a little different light and began renovations that even by today's standards are lovely.  
The Hemingways had not a few Dos and one might imagine the tales that were told by the Tallest teller of them all as he stood at one end of the table- his wife perhaps sitting at the other end wishing that his fictions were left to his typewriter.
The Hemingway's kitchen is small yet functional even by modern terms. One could easily cook in this kitchen today.  
And this is the studio of a writer's dream! Writer's block? Take a little nap on the reclining chair...
or, just down the stairwell is the pool Pauline built to keep her Writer home and happy. When Hemingway saw the cost of the pool, ($20,000!) he handed Pauline a penny out his pocket, laughed and said, "Well, you may as well have my last cent." You can still see the penny built into the cement around the pool today.    
Unfortunately there are simply too many tourists here today so we'll bid our ados to Hemingway and head down the street, but not too far away...
 This is the Key West Heritage House which is the second oldest house in Key West. It was made into a museum by Jeanne Porter and used to be a tourest stop but was apparently closed to touring in April of this year, more's the pity for Maurice and I as we had planned on touring the house and getting some interior shots.   
So next best thing: We were peaking into the back yard and taking a few shots  when the grounds keeper came up. After Maurice spoke to him for a moment or two he gave us "permission" (that wouldn't stand up in court)  to take a quick peak. 
As I was taking pictures of the lovely tropical garden, I turned and found this--
The cottage where Robert Frost frequented when he came to Key West to escape winter's frosty blast. He was a friend of the aforementioned Jeanne's mother Jesse Porter and he occasioned the island over a period of years. 
But since we're technically trespassing, we should probably be leaving now . . .  Besides it's time to head to New Town where we will find another home which stands in quiet contrast to Hemingway's busy, tourist filled house which is perhaps in keeping with how Hemingway lived. 

On the other side of the island (at least other side at that time) lived another famous American writer who would be a bit more at home in Key West today than he was even then.
 Tennessee Williams came to Key West when he was 30 years old and lived at 1431 Duncan St. It was the only home he ever owned (although he rented others for long periods of time in other locations) and the house was listed as his primary residence until his death in 1983.  
(note: the year on these pictures is wrong although the month and day is correct)
His home is unmarked and untoured. You would have to google his name to find the address but once you show up outside the house you might wonder if you're at the right place, so unobtrusive and modest the property.

A one room bungalow, the property sits only a few feet from the street as do many of the homes in Key West although it reportedly has a pool in the back. Perhaps this particular feature has been sold off or filled in because there didn't seem to be room for a pool but I could be mistaken. Tennessee Williams himself apparently called his little home at the End of the World "Mad House."   
In many ways I found myself more struck by Tennessee Williams home than I was by Hemingway's home. Not just because it is simple and reserved... 
As a music/theater major in college, I read his works, most particularly 'The Glass Menagerie' and later when I became enamored with classic movies I watched 'A Street Car Named Desire' and I could not help but be captured by the drama of it. Tennessee Williams lived a dramatic and traumatic life-- schizophrenic sister and his own struggle with homosexuality (and of course the natural conclusion that he was mentally ill). I would like to have walked through his house, to have spent a quiet afternoon in his garden... 

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I found your blog thru the NaBloWriMo site and I'm so glad I did! This post is amazing... so detailed and beautiful, can't wait to read more! I'm in Denver too and always dreaming of my happy place :-)


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