The Ernest Hemingway House in Key West sits in the path of Hurricane Irma and despite all the urging to leave, it is going to be a packed house with people and cats riding out the hurricane. The famous historic Hemingway House is home to 55 cats and many of these cats are spawned from the Amercian novelist’s own cat, Snow White. This is evident by the six and seven toes many of these cats have on one paw.
The cats, which have become almost as famous as the late American Novelist’s home, are considered good luck, according to folklore. According to the website Catster.com, the most toes ever to sprout up on a cat is 28. This is a cat from Canada that made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Legend has it that in the 1970s there was once a cat with 32 toes, but this cat may have had a condition known as double paws. Because Ernest Hemingway made polydactyly cats (cats with extra toes) so famous, they are often called Hemingway cats when a cat is born with extra toes.
Despite urging from the authorities of Key West there are 10 staff members at the Hemingway House who have opted to stay and face Hurricane Irma’s fury with their feline friends. The 72-year-old general manager of the Hemingway House, Jacqui Sands, explains that the structure has weathered many hurricanes and they’ve never lost a cat yet.
Hurricane Irma is not like the other hurricanes when it comes to Key West weathering a storm. TMZ reported that, “The legendary Ernest Hemingway home appears doomed… an almost certain casualty of Hurricane Irma… this according to local law enforcement.”
Despite the structure being 16-feet above sea level, which is the “highest point on the island,” authorities are expecting at least 15-feet of water to flood the area. But these cats with all the extra toes are considered cats that bring luck, according to the New York Times. Snowball was a gift to the Hemingways from a sea captain and folklore indicates polydactyl cats “bring a bounty of good luck.”
From what meteorologists are saying today, it looks as if it is going to take a lot more than 55 cats running around with extra toes to guard Key West and the Hemingway House from Irma. This hurricane’s power is not folklore. Irma is barreling down on the Keys as a category 4, on the cusp of a category 5, hurricane.
Even Ernest Hemingway’s own granddaughter, actress Mariel Hemingway, couldn’t get Sands to budge, despite knowing that Hurricane Irma is like no hurricane they’ve seen before. The famous actress made a plea for the staff to take the cats and evacuate the Hemingway Home, but even she couldn’t change their minds. Don Gonzales, who is the executive director of the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, is another employee of the famous estate sticking around to help watch after the house and the cats. He believes they will be able to ride out the hurricane.
With Sands and Gonzalez included, this makes 10 employees who are opting to stay in the house with the cats. With the 55 cats having free roam of the Hemingway property you would think they would need at least 10 people to round up these furry residents, but that’s not the case.
So what are the plans to round up the five, six and seven-toed felines and get them inside before Hurrican Irma makes her force known to Key West? There’s no plan to bring the cats inside, the cats make their own plans when it comes to where they want to be.
“Cats know naturally when to go. As soon as the barometric pressure drops, they come in. They know before humans do when it’s time to get in.”
Key West’s Ernest Hemingway House was built in 1851 with 18-inch thick walls of limestone, which Gonzalez deems this structure as “the strongest fortress in all the Florida Keys,” according to the Daily Mail. The cats roam the Hemingway property freely in the warm tropical weather that Key West enjoys year round. While the cats are famous for their extra toes, only about half of the felines in this home sport those odd extra digits.
Back in 2012, the Department of Agriculture got involved with the cats after four decades of Snowball’s offspring having the run of the place. They thought with this number of cats, they should be regulated and licensed like animals in a zoo or a traveling circus for their own welfare.
According to the New York Times, when the Department of Agriculture sent the people from PETA to the Hemingway House to assess the situation, their report was summed up in two simple sentences. “What I found was a bunch of fat, happy and relaxed cats. God save the cats”
While signs asking visitors to the Hemingway House to “Please Do Not Sit On The Furniture,” that rule is not for the cats. They have free reign of anywhere they want to go and anything they want to climb, sit on, or sleep in. They have their own cemetery in the back yard where their ancestors are buried. The tombstones read like a Hollywood “Who’s Who” book.
The cats buried on the premises have names like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor and a Mr. Bette Davis, according to the New York Times. Ernest Hemingway named his cats after movie stars and the staff at the Hemingway Home today do the same in honor of the American Novelist. The cats do respond to their names, especially if they have a fondness for the person who is beckoning them at the time.
According to The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum website, the cats that sport their six or seven toes do so mostly on one of their front paws, but there are some that have a back paw with an extra toe. They often appear like they have a thumb, or give the impression they are wearing a mitten with the way their extra toe presents itself.
The cats vary in size, shape, and color, but the one thing that many have in common is the six or seven toes they sprouted. As any cat lover knows, each cat comes with its own personality. Veterinarians come into the Hemingway Home for the regular medical care of the cats and the Pfizer Company recently donated products to guard against heartworm, fleas and other parasites that could be harmful to the cats.
[Featured Image by Robert Hoetink/Shutterstock]