Hemingway’s Key West house: 30 of 45 employees laid off

KEY WEST, MIAMI, FLORIDA, USA: Ernest Hemingway’s Key West house is famous for its cats. He loved cats. The news media call them mutant cats by which they mean polydactyl cats i.e. cats with more than the usual toes. They are a great attraction to the site and after his death in 1961 his home was converted into a museum, becoming one of Key West’s leading tourist attractions. It is closer to Havana than to Miami.

Hemingway and cat. Photo in public domain.

In the past it has survived hurricanes but it is barely surviving the coronavirus pandemic today. Foreign tourists have dried up because of border closures and as for cruise ships that business is close to bust. You can’t transport 3,000 people safely in a metal container in close confinement for two weeks under coronavirus pandemic conditions. I don’t think they know when cruise holidays will come back. It’ll be a long time.

Photo: Edgar and Ron – Busy. I know these guys and they’d be happy to let me publish their photos here.

Without foreign tourists the museum has to rely on domestic tourism which is also suffered a downturn because the pandemic has been quite bad in Florida. The result: two-thirds of the museum’s employees have been made redundant. It’s particularly heartbreaking and difficult because the director, Andrew Morawaski said: “These people have been here 10, 15, 25 years. This is a labour-intensive business, with tour guides, maintenance crews, landscapers, special event planners and retail workers.”

Morawaski said that he used to have ten guides but he is now down to four. The house remains open so the remaining guides share the work. They plan on staying open. Anyway, they have to look after the cats! It’s a pretty big colony all of whom are descended, he said, from the original polydactyl cats given to Hemingway by a ship’s captain as I recall.

Hemingway’s House. Photo: Edgar and Ron – Busy.

The director says that local tourists are more interested in the cats that Ernest Hemingway’s life! He is the famous author of the well-known book, “The Old Man and the Sea”. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. It seems that schoolkids are not being taught about Ernest Hemingway as much as they were before which leaves us with a greater interest in his cats than in him.

Morawaski confessed that he has had to “reimagine my business plan”. He has helped employees find work elsewhere. Visitor numbers have dropped by two thirds. Andrew Morawaski great aunt, Bernice Dixon, bought the mansion on Whitehead Street from the Hemingway estate and turned it into a museum in 1963. His mother inherited the property when Dixon died in 1989. He has owned and operated it since 1994. His children work on the estate as well.

Another’s issue is the heat in Key West which is described as “relentless”. Wearing face masks can be uncomfortable at the best of times but when it is hot your face warms up to distressing levels. Sweat streaks down the faces of visitors, it is reported. One staff member poured ice into the cats’ water bowls and a visitor said ” Aww, how cute”. The hospitality business is suffering a catastrophic crisis but it will come back in my opinion.

They are businesses and business people always find a way to survive like nature.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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