Ernest Hemingway’s famed six-toed cats are still alive and well after Hurricane Irma pelted Florida and the rest of the Southeast this week. The animals reside at Papa’s former Key West abode, built in 1851 and still standing after the vicious storm passed.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to 54 polydactyl (having more than the normal number of toes) cats. All of them were accounted for after Irma made landfall at 9:10 a.m. Sunday morning at Cudjoe Key, only 20 miles northeast of Key West. In addition to the cats, ten of the museum’s employees sheltered in place at the facility. They, too, are safe and sound as the now tropical storm pushes its way into Tennessee and beyond.
The hurricane caused a storm surge of 15 feet, just barely keeping it out of Hem’s old living room. Thankfully, the home sits on one of the tallest points on the key at 16 feet above sea level. Between that and its limestone-block construction, the building was capable of protecting the cats and people.
“The cats seemed to be more aware, sooner, of the storm coming in, and in fact when we started to round up the cats to take them inside, some of them actually ran inside, knowing that it was time to take shelter,” museum curator Dave Gonzales told MSNBC.
The cats are descended from those Hemingway kept around the property when he lived on the key. He wintered there during the early part of the 1930s, working on A Farewell to Arms and The Green Hills of Africa among other works. After that he was off to Bimini and beyond, returning to Key West for only a few months in 1937-’38. But the cats remained.
Some of them are descended from Snow White, an aptly named white cat gifted to Hemingway from a ship’s captain. Hemingway named all of the animals after famous people, a tradition the museum’s staff continues today. (See “Harry Truman” in the image above.)
Not all of the museum’s cats are six-toed, but all of them carry the genes for polydactyly. While some have the normal five front toes and four back toes, they can all produce six-toed kittens, meaning these unique Hemingway holdovers will continue to grace Key West for the foreseeable future.