Part four in a series of unique and little known attractions hidden within the world's most popular travel destinations.
Ernest Hemingway's greatest asset was also his greatest curse. Fame had found Hemingway well before his death, and for someone who often preferred seclusion in order to write, he was often interrupted by tourists or drunken fans wherever he lived.
Enter the beautiful and difficult to reach Island chain of the Florida Keys. Still considered part of American soil though positioned well into Caribbean waters, Key West was Hemingway's choice for permanent residence well away from the masses.
"Those bastards still hounded him, like ticks on a hound dog", says long time drinking buddy and former Sloppy Joe's Bartender, Sandy Nuttles. "We'd be enjoying a mojito or six, and they come out of the woodwork like mosquitoes. "Can I have an autograph? Can I get a picture? Can I come over to your house and take a dump on your lawn? Well, they never said that, but they were just as presumptuous. Ernie taught me that word, by the way."
Nuttles, now 71, was a former navy man who also found peace in Key West by opening up what he thought would be a quiet little pub in the middle of nowhere. According to Nuttles, Hemingway eventually found a way to teach his tormentors a lesson. Never seen or written about before, Nuttles offered us a private tour around Hemingway's 907 Whitehead Street residence.
"Notice he had to build walls around the place to keep them parasites off his property, but that didn't stop them neither. That's when he decided to become the perfect host, inviting them in for drinks and conversation."
Totally unlike Hemingway, there would be ulterior motives to the invitation. Nuttles led us around to the back of the residence behind a line of trees where Hemingway kept an evaporation pool for sea water. "Ernie made his own salt for margaritas, see? Except that he added a few extra ingredients to the pool." Pointing to the trees over head, several bird nests could be seen to this day, with droppings all around the water. Nuttles also showed us a pipe that ran from the pool back up to the house. "Ernie had installed a private urinal in his bathroom, and let's just say that the plumbing never quite reaches the septic tank".
"Yeah, Papa got even, in kind of a nasty way, but we all thought it was funnier than hell", says Nuttles. "People would come in Sloppy Joes looking for Ernie, and we'd tell them where to find him. The next day Papa would tell the stories of the Extra Special margaritas he had made for his guests the night before. 'Of course with extra salt', he would say". As Nuttles tells it, those tourists were never seen or heard from again. "I imagine they were spending considerable time in their hotel bathrooms after that".
The Hemingway house can be seen today much as it was left 40 years ago, but you may need to sneak off behind the rear of the house to see the evaporation pool and the pipe that still runs up to the back of the house. If you look carefully, you can still see the yellow tinted salt around the edge of the pool.
"The offer of the margarita should have been the tip off", says Nuttles, "because Ernie was a Rum man all the way. It's an old Navy rule. If you claim to know the man, you should know what he drinks".