Entire islands have been reduced to rubble, streets have turned to rivers, cranes have buckled and more than 30 people have died. But the six-toed Hemingway cats are fine.
The 54 cats, many of them descendants of a white polydactyl cat owned by Ernest Hemingway, live at the writer’s house in Key West, Florida, which was hit hard by Hurricane Irma.
As the storm approached last week, officials ordered a full evacuation of the Florida Keys. But Jacque Sands, the general manager of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, refused to leave. She had an obligation, she said, to see the property and the cats through the hurricane.
Animal lovers fretted. One of Hemingway’s granddaughters, the actress Mariel Hemingway, publicly urged Sands to move to safety.
“I think you’re wonderful and an admirable person for trying to stay there and to try to save the cats and the house,” she said in a video posted by TMZ, but “this is frightening. This hurricane is a big deal.”
“Get in the car with the cats and take off,” Hemingway pleaded.
Sands did not. The cats, she said, would come inside when the barometric pressure dropped, and they and their human attendants would be safe within the 18-inch-thick limestone walls of the house.
It appears she was right: The house’s curator, Dave Gonzales, confirmed today that the cats, many of which have six or seven toes, were unharmed.
It was a welcome piece of good news amid the destruction stretching from Barbuda to Tampa.
Gonzales told NBC that 10 employees had stayed on site with the cats and had made it through the storm just fine. He said that the limestone had retained the air-conditioning that made the building so comfortable, and that the staff would probably accompany the cats in the house overnight once more.
After that, he said, “hopefully, things will get back to normal in Key West and we’ll enjoy our life in paradise.”
Although she is not involved in the operations of the house, and was not even sure how to get in touch with Sands as Irma approached, Hemingway said she had been “horribly nervous for everybody.”
But now that the storm has passed and all the denizens of the house are safe, she said in an interview today, “I think it’s great that they cared enough to try to really protect all things Hemingway.
“I’m just glad it’s over.”
The Spanish Colonial-style building, near the westernmost point of Key West, was built in 1851 and became home to the author and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, 80 years later. They remodeled the house, which was in a state of disrepair, filled its rooms with European antiques and Hemingway’s big-game hunting trophies, and spent $20,000 building the first in-ground pool in Key West. (Adjusting for inflation, that would be akin to spending $347,000 on a pool today.)
Gonzales indicated that he, the staff and the cats were not experiencing similar luxury after the storm, as they were without electricity, water and internet service. But he said that power generators had allowed staff members to preserve their food supply and that medical supplies were on hand.
And, in a fulfillment of Sands’ prediction, he said the cats, which have become as much of a draw for some tourists as the house’s history, had seemed preternaturally attuned to the storm.
“When we started to round up the cats to take them inside, some of them actually ran inside knowing it was time to take shelter,” he said. “Sometimes I think they’re smarter than the human beings.”