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Hemingway House Polydactyl Cats

Updated on September 11, 2014

Special Cats at Hemingway's Key West Home

If you have been to Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, you no doubt met some polydactyl cats. There have been, still are, and, hopefully, always will be quite a few of these famous cats there.

You can meet them for yourself when you tour the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West. If you're like me, your visit there will probably be as memorable as mine was.

On your tour, you'll learn quite a bit about the cats, and get to meet some of them, too. Or, if you're not on your way to the Florida Keys today, you can simply continue reading this page.

What is Hemingway House?

And Where is it?

Properly, it's actually the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. The house was built in 1851, and purchased at a tax auction in 1931 by Hemingway's second wife's uncle as a wedding present for the couple. He paid $8,000.00 for it.

The author lived - and wrote - in the home from 1931 to 1939. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark, and is preserved, complete with the writer's own writing desk and other furnishings, AND the descendants of his cats. You can tour it, as we did several years ago, and it is well worth your time and the $12.50 price of admission.


Often referred to as just Hemingway House, it's in the southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West, Florida, way down at the end of the Lower Keys. Here's the address:

907 Whitehead Street

Key West, FL 33040

Home of Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida
Home of Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida | Source

Ernest Hemingway House Visitors - a poll

Each year, around 200,000 people visit the home where Hemingway and his cats lived. Are you one of them, or will you be?

Have you been to the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West?

See results

Funny Cat Doormat - The Cat and His Staff Live Here

Do you sometimes feel that your cat regards you as "staff?" (It's a standing joke among cat owners, or more correctly, those owned by their felines.)

Well, those at Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West do, indeed, have staff . .. And quite a bit of staff, too! (Read further to find out about that)

Key West Conoch Train
Key West Conoch Train | Source

Getting to Hemingway House

Walk or Take the Conch Tour Train

Once you arrive in Key West, it's easy to get to the Hemingway Home and Museum.

It's not a bad walk from just about any other point in the Conch Republic, and most anyone can point you in the right driection.

People walk a lot in Key West. You'll see a lot of bicycles there, too.

If you'd prefer to ride, one popular option is the Conch Tour Train. Once you purchase your ticket, you can get on and off at will, and it goes right by the former home of one of America's most famous authors, and present home of some pretty famous felines.

One of the Cats at Hemingway House

This black polydactyl cat seems to be daring you to say something about his extra toes in this photo by Averette at en.wikipedia
This black polydactyl cat seems to be daring you to say something about his extra toes in this photo by Averette at en.wikipedia | Source

Polydactyls Have Extra Toes

Poly means many, and dactyl means digits. So, those polydactyl means having extra toes or fingers. Polydactyly, with the extra "y" on the end, is the name of the condition, which is congenital.

Ernest Hemingway's cat, Snowball, reportedly had six toes on each front paw. The normal number of toes is five on the front paws and four on the back.

The story goes that Snowball was given to the writer by a friend who was a sea captain, and that Hemingway actually took the kitty out on his boat with him on fishing trips. This may be true, or it may simply be based on the fact that sailors supposedly consider it good luck to have a polydactyl feline sailing with them.

At any rate, the man was quite fond of his kitty, something which all ailurophines understand.

The word POLYDACTYL comes from

the Greek "poludactulos"

which means "many-toed."

Thumbs Up T Shirt - Polydactyls Rule

This Polydactyls Rule t shirt is available at Zazzle, and makes a cool gift for someone whose cat has more than the customary number of toes.
This Polydactyls Rule t shirt is available at Zazzle, and makes a cool gift for someone whose cat has more than the customary number of toes. | Source
 Cat napping on Hemingway's bed
Cat napping on Hemingway's bed | Source

Snowball's Decendents Today

Are a Large Clowder

Over the years, Snowball's bloodline has supposedly been maintained, with the actual descendents of the Nobel Prize winning author's original extra-toed cat living at the house to this day.

There are some 40 - 60 of them on the one acre walled estate at any one time, and a very high percentage of them - about half - are polydactyl, since the gene that carries the benign abnormality is a dominant one. Some even have extra toes on both front and back paws.

These cats have the run of the house and grounds, and can be seen inside and out, going anywhere they will. The day we were there, a large yellow one was comfortably snoozing on Hemingway's bed, which is roped off so that human visitors can't touch it, much less nap on it.

** PS - Just as there are schools of fish and flocks of birds, there are clowders of cats.

Books about Papa Hemingway, - His Cats, and Key West

See The Hemingway Cats Here - (for those who can't make it to Key West today)

Annual Event

Key West Hosts Hemingway Days Festival each July.

Another Hemingway Cat
Another Hemingway Cat | Source

Famous Cats

With a Famous Name

The polydactyls at the Hemingway Home and Museum have become very famous cats indeed!

In fact, they are so well known that any kitten born with extra toes now belongs to an elite group that are sometimes referred to as "Hemingway Cats."

Not only are these kitties famous, but they are are named for well known people who lived at the same time as the famous author.

This beauty was sleeping in the tropical garden. Later on, we saw her on the veranda, and ready to be petted... at least I think it was the same one!

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin | Source

Famous Cats, Named for Famous People

Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo, for Example

Hemingway always had cats, and was fond of naming them after famous people. I am guessing he may have believed it either bad luck or poor taste to change an animal's name, as he doesn't seem to have changed Snowball's name to that of someone famous.

The tradition has been kept up by those who care for the cats. Each carries the name of a famous person... mostly well known contemporaries of the famous writer.

Charlie Chaplin, pictured above, volulntarily comes to the breezeway between the main house and the writer's studio, where he does tricks for visitors, in exchange for treats for the guides.

We also met Greta Garbo that day. Cool, huh?

However, we missed the opportunity to get acquainted with Howard Hughes and Gertrude Stein.

Amazing Book for Cat Lovers - Why Do They Do That?

Have you ever wondered why cats do a certain thing? Find the answers in this book of 101 answers.


Well Cared for Cats - These Feines Really DO have "Staff."

Most cat owners understand the little joke about dogs having owners, while cats have staff.

But the cats at Hemingway House really DO have staff! They are well looked after, have meticulous records kept of births, names, markings, likes, and more. They even have a staff veteranarian who makes weekly visits!

Only certain pre-determined number of males are allowed to remain capable of fathering kittens, and selected females have a SINGLE litter, This is to keep the feline population there fairly constant.

You'll find a variety of colors and marking patterns on the cats there. I think my pick for Prettiest Hemingway Cat was a sweet tortie. I've saved her photo for last. It's next.

My Pick for Prettiest Hemingway Cat - I've Always Been Fond of Tortise Shells

My Pick for Prettiest Hemingway Cat
My Pick for Prettiest Hemingway Cat | Source

Do You Have a Hemingway Cat? - Have you ever seen one?

Have you ever had - or known - a Polydactyl Cat?

See results

Have you owned a polydactyl cat? Or have you met one? Have you seen the ones at their home in Key West? What do you think?

The Guestbook Is: OPEN

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I walked by the Hemingway house once and did not go inside for the tour. Had I known about the cats I would have definetly paid the $12.50.

      my loss

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 5 years ago from France

      New word for me. There is a polydactyl dog at our local garage!

    • stephiy profile image

      stephiy 5 years ago

      I used to have a polydactyl cat. She was a lovely solid white girl with a black tail named Chloe. Because of her extra toes, I always thought her paws looked like mittens :)

    • Jo-Jackson profile image

      Jo-Jackson 5 years ago

      I've never met a polydactyl cat but I would like to. I would love to visit Hemingway House.

    • lonelyghostie profile image

      lonelyghostie 5 years ago

      I have a hemingway cat, a calico named Lulu. When we first got her she was an itty-bitty fluffy kitten. I think the extra toes (one on each paw, even the back ones) has affected her mental state, because she's nuts (in a good way, of course). She's as silly as can be, has a great personality but such a handful (bad joke). But she's defineatly adorable and one-of-a-kind, and we just think those extra toes makes her our special little nutcase. Thanks for sharing your lens!

    • profile image

      marsha32 5 years ago

      very cool cats

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 5 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      I had a neighbor who bred the polydactyl cat - so I have heard of them. Neat to hear the Hemmingway House story too :)

    • Susan300 profile image

      Susan300 5 years ago

      My cat Spot is polydactyl. He's on my Squidoo page

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 6 years ago

      I actually met a polydactyl cat at a garage sale here in Tallahassee, The owners said he was a descendent of the Hemingway cats. Interesting article.

    • mjtaylor lm profile image

      mjtaylor lm 6 years ago

      Do you know there is a contention that Hemingway didn't keep cats in Key West? One of his sons, I think, claims there were no cats.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 6 years ago

      My mom used to live on Big Pine Key ... and I visited there for several months, working at Boca Chica NAS. Got to visit the Hemingway House more than once. Mom also had two of the cats which descended from the Hemingway cats ... they were E.T. and Pauline.

    • SayGuddaycom profile image

      SayGuddaycom 6 years ago

      That's so funny.

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      @SquidooPower: Yes, I will be very quiet when I pet them (Shhh) They like it!

    • SquidooPower profile image

      SquidooPower 6 years ago

      Love this lens and I have petted probably all of the kitties shown here. They are friendly (for the most part) and love the attention they get all day long (even though you are not supposed to pet them shhhhhh)

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 6 years ago

      Great Destination. ... Great Lens!

    • profile image

      SandyPond 6 years ago

      I have never seen a polydactyl cat, but I do really like Hemingway! So sad what happened in their family too!

    • krakensquid profile image

      krakensquid 6 years ago

      Great lens, thank you for sharing :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      You have me wanting to at least meet a polydactyl cat and would love to meet Charlie Cahplin and Greta Garbo....have to bless this sweetness, lovely presentation!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Hey! We did a shoot with our pixie bob's here in Whidbey Island, Washington. They are are poly dactyl as well!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      enjoyed reading this tonight, thank you indeed!

    • OldStones LM profile image

      OldStones LM 6 years ago

      What fascinating information about polydactyl cats. I had never before heard of this trait. One mor reason to visit the Hemingway house in the future. Thanks for the great reading.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

      Really an interesting read. Part of me wonders how they maintain over 60 cats on one acre. Sounds like a challenge. Beautifully written. Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing something new. Never heard about these cats before!

    • timo5150 lm profile image

      timo5150 lm 6 years ago

      Been there many times and knew they had a lot of cats supposedly descendants of his but did not know about the polydactyl thing. Thanks great lens