Why A Bar Urinal Ended Up In Ernest Hemingway’s Key West House

In 1928, Ernest Hemingway was in his late 20s and had already gone through his first divorce when he visited the island of Key West in the Florida Keys for the first time, per My Florida History. According to Biography, Hemingway had lived in Paris since the early 1920s and enjoyed a taste of success with his first widely-acclaimed 1926 novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” But upon the second Mrs. Hemingway realizing she was pregnant, the newlyweds decided to return to America. Key West was recommended to Hemingway by his fellow novelist John Dos Passos; Hemingway was already something of a celebrity, and Passos believed that the island would allow the burgeoning young artist to concentrate on his writing in relative anonymity while also indulging his love of deep-sea fishing, according to PBS.

Hemingway would make Key West his home for ten happy years, during which he would produce some of his greatest works, including “A Farewell to Arms” (1929), “Death in the Afternoon” (1932), and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1940). And today, the house where he lived is a place of pilgrimage for thousands of Hemingway fans. Many of the details of Hemingway’s Key West hope have been preserved just as they were in the years he lived there, including, somewhat unexpectedly, a full-size urinal in the garden.

Ernest Hemingway's porcelain memento

The name “Ernest Hemingway” evokes many images: that of the romanticized writer in isolation, wrestling with the great ideas of his age; that of an outdoorsman and hunter, who put his physical attributes to use in two World Wars; and, finally, that of an exceptionally capable drinker of alcohol, whose love of booze was woven into his writing habits. Indeed, he was as competitive with his drinking as he was with his writing and outdoor pursuits.

The tip for aspiring authors that you should “write drunk, edit sober” is commonly attributed to Hemingway. But “A Moveable Feast,” Hemingway’s memoir of his Paris years, seems to give a more likely summation of his attitude towards drinking and writing: “My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing.”

Nevertheless, Hemingway’s love of alcohol was in full swing when he arrived in Key West to take over a dilapidated house gifted to him by his uncle, Gus, as a wedding present, per Culture Trip. The Hemingways would eventually make the house to their taste, with one distinct feature being an outdoor fountain made from the urinal of Hemingway’s favorite Key West drinking hole, Sloppy Joe’s. According to Mental Floss, Hemingway took the urinal as a memento in anticipation of the bar being renovated. According to the Florida Historical Society, the urinal was carried back to Hemingway’s home one night by the writer and “Sloppy Joe” himself, where it remained as a water bowl for the family’s many cats.

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