Today is the 120th anniversary of the birth of one of our favourite writers here at the SGE, Ernest Hemingway. To mark the occasion, we thought we’d share with you one of our favourite Hemingway stories, something we came across when visiting his house in Key West: the tale of his last one cent coin! It quite neatly sums up the writer, journalist, soldier, sportsman and adventurer, particularly his troubled relationships with women. Here is the story of Ernest Hemingway’s last penny!
In the gardens of Hemingway’s beautiful home in Key West, you’ll find a decent sized swimming pool. Amidst the palm trees and dozens of six-toed cats that still patrol the property, it appears to be a perfect oasis for a cooling afternoon swim. But this idyllic setting was once the stage for a quarrel between Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.
Before there was a swimming pool, the spot used to be Hemingway’s own personal, outdoor boxing ring. Here he would train and spar with local boxers, before retiring to Sloppy Joe’s. Whilst Hemingway was away, working as a war correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War, he met and fell in love with who would become wife number three, Martha Gellhorn.
Back in Key West, Pauline Pfeiffer heard about the affair, and in a fit of rage had local builders tear down the writer’s beloved boxing ring, and had it replaced with a lavish, outdoor pool in revenge.
The swimming pool was exorbitantly expensive for its time, costing over $20,000 in 1938. When Hemingway returned from Spain, and found not only had his boxing ring been destroyed, but there was a huge bill waiting to be paid for the pool, he supposedly took a one cent coin out of his pocket, throwing it at his wife, supposedly shouting, “Pauline, you’ve spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that!”
The one cent coin bounced off Pauline and fell to the floor by the side of the swimming pool, where Hemingway left it and eventually covered it in plastic, where it still lies today.
The Hemingway Home in Key West is a marvelous place to visit. A beautiful, Spanish Colonial home filled with Hemingway’s possessions; hunting trophies, a traveling trunk stamped EH, the typewriter on which he wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Death in the Afternoon, The Green Hills of Africa and For Whom the Bell Tolls are particular highlights. To say nothing of the over 40 cats, many of them polydactyls descended from Hemingway’s beloved cat snowball.
Everywhere you look in the Hemingway Home, you’ll find a cat, walking around as if they own the place. Resting on his writing desk, asleep on the bed, running down the stairs through the hallway decorated with photographs of Hemingway and all his wives, or sunning themselves in the garden, by the swimming pool and Ernest Hemingway’s last one cent coin.
Travel Notes: the Hemingway Home can be found nestled right in the heart of old Key West, at 907, Whitehead Street. Excellent tours are available, or feel free to wander through the property at your leisure. Afterwards, we prefer to skip the more touristy Sloppy Joe’s, and head to its original location, now called Captain Tony’s Saloon. All manner of interesting things await you in there, not least 19th century gravestones embedded in the floor. You can read all about one of Hemingway’s favourite bars in our write up here!