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Monday, April 8, 2013

Chasing Papa's Ghost at the Hemingway Days Festival in Key West

2012 Hemingway Look-Alike winner Greg Fawcett
Photo by Andy Newman
With a copy of To Have and Have Not in my bag, I spent a long weekend chasing Ernest Hemingway’s ghost in Key West. Since it was Hemingway Days on the island, I found him in the most unusual places. I wandered through La Concha Hotel, featured in the hard-scrabble novel about the Florida Keys during the Depression. The macho author called Key West home during the 1930s — the most productive decade of his life. Photos of the writer fishing on his boat Pilar stared down at me from the walls. On the elevator, I ran into a doppelganger, wearing a Sloppy Joe’s t-shirt with Hemingway’s picture on his chest. It was like being in a hall of mirrors. At the Custom House, his well-worn boxing gloves were on display from the days he would spar with local fighters in the arena — now the spot where the funky Blue Heaven restaurant stands.
At the Hemingway Home & Museum, the penny he tossed on the ground in protest of the $20,000 price tag for the swimming pool remains enshrined under glass. His wife, Pauline, put it there after he claimed she might as well take his last cent. I spotted another twin roaming the grounds, or perhaps he was a ghost? At Sloppy Joe’s, Hemingway’s fave spot for knocking back Teacher’s scotch and soda with owner Josie Russell, a sea of about 140 bearded men in fishing garb gathered to compete in the Look-Alike Contest over three days. On Saturday, Hemingway’s 113th birthday, the finalists made their case to the judges, and I had a celebrity sighting of a different kind. Paula Deen, Food Network star, was cheering on her husband and contestant, Michael Groover. Many of the contestants had the author’s bravado down pat, often playing to the overflowing crowd with a song or a poem. Greg Fawcett of Cornelius, North Carolina proved that persistence pays, taking home the “Papa” crown after competing for the 10th year.

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