Hemingway Museum and Six-toed Cats Ride Out Irma Unscathed

Hurricane Irma may have shattered homes and flooded communities across Florida, but the Key West museum dedicated to acclaimed American author Ernest Hemingway and descendants of his beloved six-toed cats emerged unscathed.

Irma hit the Florida Keys as a powerful Category 4 hurricane early on Sunday, inflicting widespread damage on the archipelago off the tip of southern Florida.

The storm brought sustained winds of up to 130 mph (209 kph) and submerged the highway that connects the string of tropical islands with the rest of the state. Evacuees were told on Monday they could not return to their homes yet.

While Key West remains without water and electricity, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, sitting on one of the highest points in the area, was undamaged, curator Dave Gonzales said on Monday.

“We were well prepared and very blessed,” Gonzales told Reuters by telephone.

All 54 cats on the property – six-toed felines descended from a tomcat named Snow White that the author adopted while he lived there in the 1930s – were accounted for, Gonzales said.

The museum keeps the bloodline of the original polydactyl cat intact, as well as the author’s penchant for naming the cats after famous people like actors Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor and Lionel Barrymore, Gonzales said.

Owned by a private group, the house and grounds were deemed a National Historic Landmark in 1968, seven years after Hemingway’s death, said general manager Jacque Sands, who lives in the main house and sheltered on the property with 11 staff members during the storm.

Built in 1851, the Spanish Colonial home was purchased by Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, in 1928. The couple did extensive renovations to the house and grounds, including building the city’s first swimming pool.

Two of Hemingway’s iconic literary works, the novel “To Have and Have Not” and the short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” were written during the years he lived in Key West.

The museum is filled with Hemingway artifacts, including antique European furnishings, and mounted animal heads and skins Hemingway amassed while on African safaris and hunting trips to the American West.

Sands said she never considered evacuating the property as leaving would have meant abandoning the cats.

“The cats took care of us, or so they think,” she said.