Hemingway's Last Penny – Key West, Florida - Atlas Obscura

Hemingway's Last Penny

An idyllic swimming pool tells the tale of Hemingway's trouble with women. 


In the gardens of Hemingway’s beautiful home in Key West lies his glistening, cerulean swimming pool.

Amidst the palm trees and dozens of six-toed cats, it appears to be the perfect oasis for a cooling afternoon swim, but this pool has a lover’s tale to tell. Embedded in the concrete at the foot of the pool is a 1934 penny that gives a glimpse into the romantic entanglements of Ernest Hemingway.

Before the pool, the garden was home to Hemingway’s own personal boxing ring, where he would train and spar with local boxers. Legend has it that whilst Hemingway was away working as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, he fell in love with wife number three, fellow war journalist, Martha Gellhorn. Back in Key West, second wife Pauline Pfeiffer heard about the affair and replaced the author’s beloved boxing ring with the pool out of spite.

The swimming pool was exorbitantly expensive for its time, costing over $20,000 in 1938. When Hemingway returned and found out about the costs, he supposedly flung the penny on the ground, saying “Pauline, you’ve spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that!”

Know Before You Go

This site is within the Hemingway house compound—an automatic AO two-fer!—so you have to pay the entry fee to get in. There's an active-duty military discount, and if you're retired you might get a discount if you talk to the ticket seller real nice like. The penny is right at the base of a wooden post on the mail pool deck, right in front of the bookstore/gift shop. The guided tour points it out and tells the tale of the pool and the penny. There is also a smooshed penny machine in the shade of the nearby facilities for an amazingly relevant souvenir.

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