Today, a lovely news story from the devastation of last year's Hurricane Irma reached us. It concerns the curious 6 toed cats of Hemingway House in Florida. These extra toed cuties are the descendants of a white six toed cat given to the great writer, Ernest Hemingway, by a ship's captain. When Hurricane Irma tore through Florida last summer, feline fans in the know were holding their breath. The fearless cats and their caretakers braved the storm without evacuating for higher, safer ground, despite mandatory evacuation notices issued for the entire chain of barrier islands off Florida’s southern tip, known as the Florida Keys.
Stretching more than 125 miles out to sea, and connected by many dozens of bridges and causeways, the Keys generally rise a scant few feet above sea level. Many islands sustained heavy damage during the epic hurricane. Thousands of tourists and year-round residents fled for the mainland, in anticipation of the historic hurricane’s destructive power.
Never mind that this massively destructive hurricane was wider than the entire state of Florida. Never mind that it was larger and more powerful than any hurricane experienced in the subtropical Atlantic in living memory. Even a much smaller storm could have swamped most of the dry land that makes up the keys. Residents were prudent to flee. Cat lovers around the world fretted when news emerged that the beloved cats—believed to have descended from the famous writer’s white “polydactyl” cat—would shelter in place.
The museum’s general manager and cat curator, Jacque Sands, decided to remain on site in order to ensure the safety of the historic home and its coterie of cats. Even the writer’s granddaughter, the actress Mariel Hemingway, took to social media, imploring Sands to evacuate, suggesting she load the cats into cars, and head for higher ground. Although one struggles to imagine the challenges involved in loading 50-plus independent-minded cats into a few vehicles, it’s also difficult to imagine the dedication and courage it must have taken to decide to remain.
It doesn’t hurt that the home, originally built in 1851, features 18-inch thick limestone walls. Those walls have resisted unimaginably strong hurricane winds in the past, and thankfully, this was no exception. Ten employees of the museum, located at Key West’s western tip, sheltered in place with the cats.
Fortunately, they and the famous 6-toed cats (some even have 7 toes) of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum managed to cling to safety throughout the ordeal. According to media reports, some of the cats, which ordinarily roam freely throughout the tourist spot’s grounds, and indeed, around the island, were eager to run inside and escape what they evidently perceived to be a pending threat.These cats are no fools.
While entire islands in the Caribbean were reduced to little more than rubble, errant cranes smashed into high rises in Miami, and rapids coursed through the streets of various coastal cities, in distant Key West the descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s 6-toed cat continue to survive, and thrive.