Pool time? The swimming pool at 907 Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida was the first in-ground one built on the island. Sixty-four feet long and twenty-four feet wide, it was an engineering feat for its time.
But that isn’t the most fascinating aspect of this pool…
Like most stories related to Ernest Hemingway, who lived there with his second wife, Pauline, and their children from 1931-1940, there’s an air of mystery surrounding how the pool came to be. And as the tour guide spoke about it, many of the phrases he used to describe the structure reminded me of the writer, too.
Over-the-top. Unique. Extravagant. Innovative.
But interestingly, as much as it reflects the late author’s persona, a swimming pool wasn’t Ernest’s first choice for his tropical backyard. Apparently a boxing ring was his idea of fun, because shortly after they moved into the house, he installed one so he could practice his amateur boxing skills on a regular basis. Of course, he invited his friends to watch.
Can you imagine looking out your window into what you’d envisioned would be your tranquil, tropical-set backyard and seeing a bunch of rough, sweaty guys cheering on your husband as he exchanges punches? From my research about Pauline, I don’t think she would sit byou and say nothing. It had been her uncle’s money that had allowed them to acquire the property in the first place, and she had two impressionable young boys. Would she want them exposed to the language and violence that went along with the sport?
I doubt it.
So, while the tour guide expounded on the history of the pool, I could hear Ernest pleading his case with Pauline while she complained about her yard being used as a boxing venue. He’d cite his hard work and need for a place to kick back with the guys. She wasn’t happy about when he left for the bar. Wasn’t it better he hung out at home? Pauline would point out that he went to the bar every afternoon anyway, and that he had the writing studio hogging a sizable chunk of the family backyard. Why not make the rest of it a place where they all could entertain their friends?
As I forced myself back to the present, the tour guide told us the pool had been Ernest’s idea and not Pauline’s. Hmm. Perhaps that’s true, but I still wonder whether her input might’ve been the impetus for his decision to replace that eyesore of a boxing ring with an elegant pool. Or, maybe it was Ernest’s idea. He did suggest it just prior to heading off to Europe as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. Maybe he figured that overseeing the enormous project would keep her occupied and happy. Whatever the case, the boxing ring was moved off the property to make way for the new backyard focal point at 907 Whitehead.
Interesting facts about the year-long construction:
- An initial estimated cost of eight thousand dollars
- Intensive manual labor to dig the massive 64 feet by 24 feet hole through solid coral
- intensive manual labor to dig and thread a pipe to the depth of the island’s water table
- Actual cost was twenty thousand dollars
When Ernest returned home after the war, the guide said that the writer was angry to learn how much money Pauline had ended up paying for the swimming pool construction. And that since she seemed to be intent on spending every last penny he had, she might as well have it right then. In response, Pauline had the penny cemented into the patio. I looked down and saw see there was, in fact, an old coin in the pathway. Whether it was put there by Hemingway or his wife for that reason, or by someone else to perpetuate the legend, I suppose we’ll never know. But, it was an interesting detail of our tour.
Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money, even in 2016, and I’m hopeful the Hemingway family got plenty of use out of their investment. I was happy to see many photos throughout the house that showed them swimming in it or entertaining friends while they lounged beside it. I should’ve asked the guide if anyone ever swims in the pool now. It’s gorgeous, and with Key West’s balmy weather, I feel like it ought to be.
I plan to learn the answer to that question when we return to Key West later this summer, since our balcony of our bed & breakfast king suite just happens to overlook the famous Hemingway pool. I kid you not. So, if you’re curious like me, stay tuned for the update.
Summer of Love Giveaway #1
I hope you enjoyed the very belated–but written with love–third installment about the Hemingway house in Key West, and that you’ll visit next week for the fourth and final one. If you missed the first two posts, or it has been so long that you’ve forgotten whether or not you read them, feel free to hop on over to Hemingway’s Key West Studio and Hemingway House’s Fun Facts and Six-Toed Cats.
Before you go, leave a comment about today’s Hemingway post so you’re entered for a chance to win the first of my Summer of Love paperback and romance author swag giveaways.
This week’s prize for one USA resident who leaves a comment features an autographed copy of award-winning author, Patty Blount’s YA novel, TMI! The gift package will also include a few surprises, including Patty Blount and Jolyse Barnett swag. I’m excited to do my small part to spread a little summer love!
One winner will be selected at random from the comments and announced in next Monday’s blog post. Winner will have one week to contact me via my website contact page or via my email address at email@example.com and supply a valid US snail mail address for the package to be mailed. Otherwise, a new winner will be selected.