Once upon a time, tucked away in the Key West tropical landscape stood the charming home of one of America’s most celebrated authors, Ernest Hemingway. This Spanish colonial house, now known as the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, is of course famous for being the residence of the acclaimed Nobel Laureate – but it has another unique claim to fame – it is now the current stomping ground for about 40-50 enchanting six-toed felines. These multi-toed kitties, otherwise known as polydactyl cats, are the true residents of this historical place, each carrying a unique tale embroiled in the lore of Hemingway’s life.
As an avid cat mum who runs a rescue shelter, I’ve come across my share of uniquely adorable cats, but the story of Hemingway’s six-toed cats truly tugged at my heartstrings. Let’s dive into the untold tale of these extraordinary felines.
How Did Hemingway’s Affair with Cats Begin?
Ernest Hemingway’s love for cats is well documented. In fact, it was a ship captain named Stanley Dexter who kindled Hemingway’s fascination for our furry friends – specifically those with more toes than average. As the story goes, Dexter gifted Hemingway a six-toed white kitten, named Snow White, which Hemingway gladly welcomed. This peculiar kitty was the descendant of Dexter’s own ship-cat, a feline that found its way aboard Dexter’s ship on their voyage to the West Indies.
Now, you may wonder, why would these cats have six toes? Polydactyl cats, those possessing more than the usual number of toes, is a genetic trait that can occur spontaneously in any cat breed due to a genetic mutation. The extra digits appear like thumbs and gave Snow White and her offspring a certain mitten-pawed cuteness that Hemingway grew rather fond of.
The Legacy of the Six-Toed Cats
Over the years, Snow White gave birth to a litter of similarly polydactyl kittens. Being quite enamored by their special feature, Hemingway allowed these cats to breed freely. As of today, the museum is home to roughly 40-50 of these captivating kitties, descendants of the original Snow White – each bearing the distinct extra-toed trait.
One delightful customary tradition is that Hemingway chose to name his cats after famous people, a tradition that the museum continues till this day. So, during your visit, you could meet the aristocratic Audrey Hepburn, the delightful Duke Ellington, or the charming Charlie Chaplin.
I had a personal experience in my own rescue shelter that reminded me of Hemingway’s feline tradition. I once rescued a Siamese mix with striking blue eyes that reminded me of none other than the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor. True to form, I named her Lizzy, and she turned out to be as elegant and gracious as her namesake!
Hemingway’s Six-Toed Cats: Guardians of a Legendary Legacy
The cats at the Hemingway Home and Museum live a life of luxury. They have full access to the property and enjoy the best care: regular vet checks, a dedicated feeding station, and even an elevated wooden walkway for leisurely strolls around the property. And just as Hemingway would have wanted, these six-toed cats are free to roam this writer’s paradise.
These cats also draw many visitors to the museum. The docents are always more than willing to share their personal anecdotes about the cats, often casting light on their distinct personalities. Visitors are encouraged to interact gently with the friendly cats, often a highlight of their experience at the museum.
Hemingway’s six-toed cats are more than just the backdrop to an iconic author’s home – they’re living reminders of a unique part of Hemingway’s life, masterfully intertwining the world of literature and the charm of these extraordinary cats.
The legacy of Hemingway’s six-toed cats serves as testament to the writer’s eccentric taste and his enduring love for our furry friends. It is stories like these that make me cherish the diversity and richness in being a cat mum. Every cat carries its unique tale, just like Hemingway’s polydactyls, and it’s these tales that add so much color and magic to the world of cat rescue.
If only Hemingway had known that his beloved Snow White would initiate a legacy spanning several decades, touching the hearts of visitors from all over the world. In my own corner of the world, I strive to give every cat, polydactyl or not, a chance to weave their own tales of magic, just like those hoofing around the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.