Moment in Oddity - Canary in a Coal Mine
We have all heard the phrase "Like a canary in a coal mine." This phrase references the practice of miners taking canaries into mines with them as a means to detect poisonous gases. If a canary dropped dead in the mine, miners knew they better get out. Even though this seems like a practice from many decades ago, canaries were still used in a small number of mines as late as 1996 when British legislation officially ordered miners to replace canaries with electronic carbon monoxide sensors. But long before that, miners knew something needed to change to protect the birds. They needed to resuscitate these fragile feathered friends. In the 1920s Siebe Gorman and Co invented a cage for canaries that employed an attached oxygen tank to resuscitate the birds if they exhibited signs of poisoning from lethal gases in the mines. This unique cage used 3 glass walls and the forth wall was a grill with ventilation holes. If the canary fell from its perch, an airtight door was closed over the holes and an oxygen tank attached to the roof of the cage would then be opened to revive the canary. The canaries became beloved companions of the miners with numerous stories shared of the interactions between bird and miner. Of course many lives were saved due to their relationship as well. The common practice using canaries in mines was retired in 1986 when a digital sensor known as the "electronic nose" started being employed for noxious gas detection. A machine that is able to resuscitate canaries, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Philippine Islands Independence
In the month of March, on the 24th, in 1934, the Philippine Islands in the South Pacific were granted independence by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after nearly 50 years of American control. The Tydings–McDuffie Act, was an Act of Congress that established the process for the Philippines, to become an independent country after a ten-year transition period. Once the President signed the act it was then sent to the Philippine Senate for approval which occurred on May 1st, 1934. Following the terms of the independence act, Filipinos elected delegates for a constitutional convention on July 10, 1934. Roosevelt then approved the Philippine constitution on March 23, 1935. For the following 10 years, the Philippines remained U.S. territory. Matters pertaining to foreign affairs, defense and monetary issues remained under U.S. jurisdiction, however all other internal matters were determined by the Philippine people. During the Commonwealth timeframe, duties were exacted on a graduated scale, but the trade provisions were ultimately amended in 1939 in favor of the Philippines.
We decided to take a long weekend trip to the Florida Keys for our honeymoon and one of the locations we visited was a former home of American author Ernest Hemingway in Key West. Hemingway loved Key West and left a mark on the town. He more than likely has left his spirit here as well. Join us as we share the life of this incredibly talented and troubled man and the history and haunts of his former home!
Key West was originally home to the Calusa Indians. They were also known as the "Shell Indians" and they controlled most of southern Florida. They built their homes on stilts with woven Palmetto leaves as roofs and no walls. They fished and hunted for their food, leaving behind shell mounds. The tribe died out in the late 1700s. The Spanish were the first Europeans here and they called this Cayo Hueso, meaning bone cay which may relate to stories that the Spanish found this southernmost or most western key to be littered with bones. Great Britain took possession in 1763 and the United States acquired Florida in 1821. The Florida Keys were not a very inhabited area. Mostly smugglers and pirates used the keys as hideouts. Cubans and Bahamians visited the keys often as well. The Spanish governor of Cuba deeded Key West to an officer of the Royal Spanish Navy Artillery named Juan Pablo Salas in 1815. He sold the island to U.S. businessman John W. Simonton for 2000 pesos in 1822. Simonton divided the island into plots and the U.S. brought a strong military presence there. Cuban migrants also flooded Key West and in 1832 the city was incorporated. Key West became the largest city in Florida by 1850 and by 1860, it was the wealthiest city per capita in America.
It was here in Key West in 1851 that marine architect and salvage wrecker Asa Tift built his Spanish Colonial home. Tift designed the house himself. Yellow Fever swept through Key West and killed Tift's wife and children and Tift eventually died in 1889. No one was left in the family to inherit the property and so it sat abandoned for 40 years. On April 29, 1931, American writer Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, purchased the home and property with financial help from Pauline's uncle. Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1899 to Dr. Clarence E. Hemingway, a physician, and concert singer Grace Hall. His father took him fishing, hunting and camping, which instilled a lifelong love of adventure. Hemingway started writing early and got his first job at seventeen writing for the Kansas City Star. Shortly after that, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit that was headed to the Italian front in World War I. Hemingway was carrying chocolate and cigarettes for soldiers on the front line on July 8, 1918 when he was seriously wounded by mortar fire. And despite those injuries, Ernie hoisted a wounded Italian soldier and carried him to safety. He would later receive the Italian War Merit Cross for this action. Hemingway had surgery to remove shrapnel from both legs and was sent to the Red Cross hospital in Milan to recover. While there, he fell in love with American nurse Agnes von Kurowsky who was seven years older then him. The 1996 movie "In Love and War" was inspired by this time in Hemingway's life. Hemingway believed the two would marry when they were back in America, but Agnes broke his heart in a "Dear John" letter that informed him that she agreed to marry an Italian officer. Ernie would never recover from this rejection and his future marriages would reflect that. He would always leave his wives before they could leave him.
Hemingway got a job working for the Toronto Star Weekly when he returned home. He moved to Chicago in 1920 and met the sister of his roommate. Hadley Richardson would become Hemingway's first wife and the two went to Europe where they lived in Paris. There, Hemingway joined many expatriate artists and continued to write for the Toronto Star. The couple returned to Toronto and had their son Jon, nicknmaed Bumby. In 1923, Hemingway and Hadley went to Spain and he became fascinated with bullfighting. People started referring to him by the nickname "Papa" at this time too. This time in Spain inspired "The Sun Also Rises," which was published in 1926 and is considered Hemingway's greatest work. Ernie started an affair with a woman named Pauline Pfieffer at this time. This would end his marriage with Hadley. Hemingway married Pauline in 1927 and in April of 1928 the couple relocated to Key West via steamer ship. Their first home was on the second floor of a car dealership. Ernie's Model A was to be delivered here to the Trev-Mor Ford dealership, but the shipment was delayed so the couple decided to stay in the Trev-Mor Hotel above the dealership. They would be there for seven weeks. Hemingway completed the first draft of "A Farewell to Arms" there. The couple then moved into 907 Whitehead Street and would live there for thirteen years.
There's nothing particularly special about the house especially compared to some of the Victorian homes that dot the landscape of Key west. The Hemingway House is square in shape with two levels and lots of windows. The verandas wrap around the entire house on both levels. The house is in the middle of beautiful gardens that are filled with cat houses and lots of cats. They are descendants of Snow White, the first polydactyl cat introduced to the property by Hemingway. Snow White was given to Hemingway by wrecker and salvager, Captain Stanley Dexter. An interesting piece of "furniture" in the garden is a porcelain trough that is used to water the cats. That trough is really a men’s urinal from the original Sloppy Joe’s Bar, that was located on Green Street where Capt. Tony’s Saloon is today. When the rent was raised, Sloppy Joe gutted the bar and moved it to its current location and Hemingway asked for the urinal since he had poured so much money down the drain drinking at Sloppy Joe's. Pauline was less than enthused and you can see how she tried to conceal the porcelain memento with decorative tiles.
There is a writing studio in the back of the house and a pool. The pool replaced a boxing ring that Hemingway loved to use to box against locals. Ernie was on assignment and away in 1938 and Pauline took the opportunity to get rid of the eyesore. She spent $20,000 having the coral and limestone bedrock dug out and this would be the first residential pool on the island. Ernie wasn't happy to see the pool and when he heard the price he took a penny from his pocket, flicked it in Pauline’s direction and exclaimed, “You might as well take my last red cent!” Pauline commemorated the moment by having the penny encased in concrete under glass that you can still see today.
When the Hemingway's moved in, Pauline was pregnant with the couple's second child. For years, Pauline had worked as a fashion editor for Vogue Magazine and she was now going to use her fashion sense to renovate and decorate this home. Ceiling fans were replaced with a variety of chandeliers, which weren't practical, but they were beautiful. There were Italian Murano glass chandeliers, a Tiffany shade, Moroccan lantern light and a Spanish Moorish chandelier. Some of the Hemingway's furniture is still here in the house. When you first step into the house, it has a central hall design with rooms coming off it. To the right is the living room. This still has an antique Spanish walnut "chest-on-chest" that held jewelry and other valuables. The top part came off and was taken on travels. In this room is also a replica of Ernie's beloved boat, The Pilar, which was a 38' hand-crafted wooden yacht made by the Wheeler Shipyard in Coney Island. Hemingway ordered customized details that included extra large fuel tanks so he could stay out on the water longer, a live fish well and a wooden roller spanning the transom so it was easier to haul in fish. He bought The Pilar in 1934 and named it not only after his heroine in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," but also his wife Pauline's nickname. (Self Guided Pilar) He lost the boat when he left it in Cuba in 1960. This living room had been divided when the Hemingway's lived there.
Across the hall is the dining room and kitchen. There is antique Spanish furniture made of walnut in here. The head chair has a metal bar attached to the back that served as a resting place for swords. There is a credenza and on top of that is a unique device we had never seen before. It's an antique bottle lock used to secure alcohol. There are pictures of Hemingway with his wives on the walls, as well as with his son Bumby and there is a picture of his two sons he had with Pauline, Patrick and Gregory who later became Gloria. The kitchen originally had been outside. Pauline decorated the kitchen walls with Portuguese tiles and the counters, sink, and stove are higher than standard height to accommodate Hemingway’s stature. The Hemingways also had the luxury of a modern refrigerator.
Upstairs were three rooms: the nurse maid's room, the boys' room and the master bedroom. The nanny's room has a bathroom connected to it and it got water from a cistern that was on the roof, giving the house something similar to indoor plumbing. The wall tiles are from Paris. After the boys no longer needed a nanny, Pauline used the room for sewing and other projects. The Boys Room had displays representing Ernie's time in the Red Cross in Italy, his war correspondence work during World War II for which he was awarded the Bronze Star and pictures of him fishing the Gulf Stream. He absolutely fell in love with fishing in this area. Before he had the Pilar, he chartered a boat owned by Sloppy Joe Russell.
When we entered the master bedroom, there was, of course, a cat on the bed. He had a lot of toes on those back feet. Kelly gave him some love. The bed is original to the couple. The headboard was a souvenir from one of their trips to Spain. This wasn't an actual headboard. It was made into a headboard. This actually was a wooden gate from a 17th century Spanish monastery and the original gate hinges are still attached. At the foot of the bed were two other antiques owned by the Hemingways: a midwife chair and a birthing chair from 18th century Spain. Ernie had a unique use for the chairs. He felt they made perfect fishing seats because the handle affixed to the top of them made them easy to transport to the piers and docks. The house has a basement that is not open to the public and this was mostly used as a wine cellar.
The writing studio in back had originally been a hay loft. One of Hemingway's Royal typewriters still sits on the desk and you can almost imagine him sitting here in the morning hours before noon, typing out the 600 to 1,000 words he committed to each day. While in Key West, he completed "A Farewell to Arms," "To Have and Have Not," "Death in the Afternoon," "Green Hills of Africa," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," and "Men Without Women," as well as a large portion of "For Whom the Bell Tolls." In the afternoons, Ernest would head out fishing or into the downtown Key West area to hang out with friends. Hemingway loved Key West and he left his imprint on so many places. Sloppy Joe's Bar is probably the most famous place and it would be here that he met his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn was a well known writer and journalist and would be a correspondent in every war during her lifetime, from the Spanish Civil War in 1937 to the Gulf War in 1991. As a matter of fact, she was one of the first five correspondents on the beach in Normandy on D-Day - she was the only woman. The two started their affair when Ernie and Pauline were still married. They divorced in November 1940 and Gellhorn married Hemingway that December. The couple moved to Cuba about ten miles from Havana, but they would not be happy. They divorced in 1945. The following year Hemingway married Time Magazine writer Mary Welsh and she would finally be his perfect match.
Mary and Ernie shared many same interests including fishing, hunting and skiing. The two traveled the world together. They even faced death together on one of their adventures. (Self Guided Safari) In that audio we reference hearing the word Africa earlier in the day. We shared about that on the BonusCast this week featuring our visit with Robert the Doll. Now the couple didn't have injuries from that crash, but something really seemed to be after them because get this, the plane they boarded shortly after the crash burst into flames upon takeoff. The couple and the pilot sustained injuries, and some publications back in the states had even begun inaccurately reporting the death of Ernest and Mary. Ernest’s injuries were so severe that he remained hospitalized when he received the Nobel Prize for literature and had to record his acceptance speech from his hospital bed. He would suffer the residual effects of those injuries for the rest of his life.
Hemingway called Mary "Miss Mary" and she called him "Papa." Death would bring an end to Ernie's final marriage. The New York Times reported on July 3, 1961 that "Ernest Hemingway was found dead of a shotgun wound in the head at his home here today. His wife, Mary, said that he had killed himself accidentally while cleaning the weapon." He was a couple weeks short of his 62nd birthday. Some friends had indicated that Hemingway had been depressed. His health was failing him and he had been in pain. Ernie knew guns, so for him to be careless when cleaning one would be strange. There was also the fact that hunting season was closed in Idaho where Mary and Ernest were living at the time. He had lost many manuscripts that he couldn't retrieve in Cuba. And his father had suffered from mental illness and taken his own life. This brings us to the Hemingway curse. The curse isn't something mystical, its mental illness. The family has suffered seven suicides. Actress Mariel Hemingway became a mental health advocate and appeared in the documentary "Running from Crazy" to talk about her grandfather and sister and their suicides. Mariel has said, "I think we live in a world where creativity is defined by how much pain you go through, and that's a misinterpretation of artistry. I think if my grandfather were around today, he would go, 'Wow, I didn't have to suffer.'"
Perhaps that is why Hemingway is still around in the afterlife, particularly here in Key West.
Shortly after Hemingway passed away, neighbors and people passing the Hemingway House claimed to see the author walking in the garden around the house and they thought they saw him inside the house. What makes these stories even more credible is that some of the witnesses hadn't heard that Hemingway had died. Most reports of seeing him in the house were on the second floor, especially out on the veranda. People would wave up at him and he would wave back! This was something he did in life as well. And the cats were apparently seeing him too because he was playing with them and they were playing back. Tour guides claim to have seen Ernie in his writing studio. And the typewriter is heard making noise.
Ernest isn't the only person haunting the house though. This was Pauline's house too and she seems to have returned in the afterlife as well. She died in Hollywood, California in 1951 while visiting her sister. Reports said she died of shock, which some places call an aneurysm now, but we also read that a tumor caused her to release too much adrenaline and this drove up her blood pressure to dangerous heights. Whatever the case, Pauline was still living in the house in Key West at the time of her death. Despite that fact, she is buried in an unmarked grave in Hollywood. The house was owned by Ernest until his death in 1961 when it was sold to Bernice Dickson and then opened as a museum in 1964. Pauline's favorite spot in the house was at the top of the central staircase. It was from here that she could both look out into the writing studio and seen Ernest at work and see her children playing outside. Pauline was also a smoker and would do this often at the entrance gate and passersby have sometimes seen her doing that very thing. Occasionally the apparition walks up and down the sidewalk. And there are ghost kitties here as well with staff and visitors both reporting the sensation of cats rubbing their legs when there is no cat near them.
The Hemingway House in Key West is a must see whether you are a Hemingway fan or not. The cats are worth the visit. Bring cash because that is all they accept for tickets. And bring your sensitivity, so maybe you too can experience the spirits of the Hemingways. Is the Hemingway House haunted? That is for you to decide!