Ernest Hemingway traveled throughout the world but had a special fondness for Florida’s Key West. He bought a house in Old Town Key West where he fished, wrote and enjoyed the company of Snow White, a polydactyl (six-toed) cat given to him by a ship’s captain. Today Hemingway’s house is a museum and historic site where a multitude of Snow White's descendants still live, forming a veritable polydactyl feline colony.
The house was built in 1851 in the Spanish Colonial style. Hemingway and his wife Pauline acquired the property in 1931. He designated one room as a studio, which was used during some of his most prolific periods. Today the house is decorated as it was in the 1930s. When the property changed hands and became a historic site one of the stipulations was that Hemingway’s cats were integral to the house and grounds.
It is not clear when Hemingway acquired his famous cat but it is clear that the cat was a valued companion. Snow White’s descendants roam freely and can be found throughout the house, grounds and administrative building. Most museums would never allow cats to lounge on the bed in an exhibit space. But at the Hemingway Home they are essentially considered living exhibits. There are 40-50 cats on the premises, all of them carrying the polydactyl gene. Hemingway named all his cats after famous people, a tradition continued by the museum staff. As for care, the cats have a veterinarian who administers routine treatment, including vaccinations, at the museum. Staff tend to daily needs such as feeding, litter box maintenance and providing toys and shelter space for them. They do, of course, get plenty of attention from visitors who enjoy this unique museum experience.