ARTS & CULTURE

Happy Birthday To Ernest Hemingway, With Love From His Many-Toed Cats

Ask not for whom the cat purrs; it purrs for thee.

21/07/2016 10:00 PM AEST
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American novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961) with his pet cat, circa 1950.
A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not. attributed to Ernest Hemingway

Only one author in America is known for his sparse prose, Nobel-Prize-winning work, long-held spot in the Western canon and ... the generations of six-toed cats living in his former home on the southernmost spot of Florida. Yes, Ernest Hemingway’s legacy includes a bevy of polydactyl (read: having more toes than average) felines who roam around the Key West home the author lived in from 1931-40. 

Looking at photos of the house, one can almost hear the creaking of the wood floors and the click-clack of Hemingway’s typewriter (which one among his reported Royal, Underwood and Corona models is up to your imagination) and feel the muggy Florida heat. What visitors don’t have to imagine are the cats that lived with Hemingway on this property: They’re still there, and all are said to have descended from one original polydactyl. 

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Cat toes attached to a fluffy orange cat in the bedroom of the Ernest Hemingway home in 2001.

Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum curator Dave Gonzalez told The Huffington Post that a local captain — “respected as the very best shipwreck and salvage captain on the east coast” — who liked to chat with Hemingway on the nearby docks gave the author a kitten from his six-toed cat named Snowball. The female cat’s name? Snowball Jr. 

A 2012 New York Times article mentioned that to sailors, many-toed cats bring extra luck, which is much-needed for those on the sea. Many of the cats mentioned in the article have famous names: Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, and Humphrey Bogart, among others. 

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Cat toes accompanying Spencer Tracy (the cat) to the cat fountain, a urinal Hemingway dragged home from his favorite Key West saloon in the 1930s.

Gonzalez said that the cats, which are only allowed to openly roam the grounds during operating hours, have some favorite spots: the bed in the house’s master bedroom and the living room sofa. “Today, they are the true residents of the Hemingway Home,” he wrote in an email. 

In honor of Hemingway’s 117th birthday on July 21, please enjoy these irresistible photos of fuzzy cat toes, accompanied by some choice quotes from the author himself. When you’re done, why not make a cocktail and pick up your high school copy of The Old Man and the Sea or the travel-worn A Moveable Feast that accompanied you on your trip to Paris? Papa would approve.  

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Cat toes checking out the grounds at the Ernest Hemingway home in Key West, Florida.
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Cat toes make the perfect headrest for a sleepy cat at Hemingway's former home in 2013.
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Cat toes. No filter needed.
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Have cat toes, will dangle cat toes.
No animal has more liberty than the cat, but it buries the mess it makes. The cat is the best anarchist. "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Ernest Hemingway
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Cat toes, seen here in 1968, are pretty good at getting important business work done.
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Memorials for beloved cats and their accompanying cat toes.
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A wooden house to safely shelter cat toes from the storm. 
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Charlie Chaplin, seen here, has six toes on each paw, not seen here.
One cat just leads to another. Ernest Hemingway, letter from Finca Vigia, Cuba, to his first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson (1943)
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No patio set is complete without a few good cat toes.
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Both descendants of Hemingway's original cats, a big cat teaches a little cat the art of having many toes.
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