History of the property
The Hemingway family
Hemingway lived in the house from mid 1939 to 1960, renting it at first, and then buying it in December 1940 after he married his third wife Martha Gellhorn. Hemingway paid $12,500 for the property. The property was located for Hemingway by Gellhorn, who had come to Cuba to be with Hemingway but decided she did not want to live in the small room he rented at the Hotel Ambos Mundos. The Finca at the time consisted of 15 acres (61,000 m2) with a farmhouse.
It was at Finca Vigía that he wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls (a novel of the Spanish Civil War which Hemingway had covered as a journalist with Gellhorn in the late 1930s—the novel was started at the Ambos Mundos, and some was also written in Idaho). Hemingway would later buy the property out of some of the first royalties from the book, published in 1940.
When Hemingway and Gellhorn were divorced in 1945, Hemingway kept Finca Vigia and lived there during the winters with his last wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway.
At the Finca, Hemingway also wrote The Old Man and the Sea (1951) about a fisherman who worked the waters off Havana.
In the early 1940s, during the Second World War, Hemingway's three sons visited him often at the Finca, sometimes staying in a small house that Martha ("Marty") Hemingway had fixed up for them. The guest house, a converted one story wooden garage, is now used as the offices for the museum director and staff and for meetings.
They reported that the property then was overgrown with manigua and flamboyan trees, but that most of the original empty rural land had since been taken over by new housing. In these early days there was also a tennis court, a pool and water wells.
It was at the Finca that Hemingway began to keep and breed cats (he had kept only peacocks in Key West). There is no evidence that any of Hemingway's Cuban cats were polydactyl. Hemingway started with a gray Angora cat obtained in Key West from a breeder, named Princessa (middle cat in photo) and later in 1942 picked up two male Cuban kittens named Good Will and Boise (left and right cats in photo). Hemingway was to write extensively about the habits of Boise. By 1943, the cat population at the Finca numbered 11. When Mary Hemingway moved into the Finca in 1946, she had a writer's workshop tower constructed on the property, but Hemingway preferred to work in his bedroom, and the workshop was eventually assigned to the cats.
After the Cuban revolution of early 1959, Hemingway was on good terms with the Cuban government, and even officially presented a trophy in Havana in the summer of 1960 to Castro, for winning a sport fishing contest named for Hemingway. Nevertheless, as depression and illness overtook him, Hemingway left Cuba in mid-1960, and the Cuban home that he had lived in for over twenty years.
In the fall of 1960 the Cuban government expropriated a great deal of foreign property, and the U.S. government broke off relations with Cuba in October 1960 and imposed a partial financial embargo. After the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and Cuba's announcement that it was a Communist state in May, relations between Cuba and the U.S. deteriorated further.
Hemingway was being treated for severe depression in the U.S. through the first half of 1961, and the Hemingways could not return to Cuba. Hemingway committed suicide in Idaho on July 2, 1961.
The official Cuban government account is that after Hemingway's death, Mary Hemingway deeded the home, complete with furnishings and library, to the Cuban people, which made it into a museum devoted to the author. Mary Hemingway, however, stated that after Hemingway's suicide, the Cuban government contacted her in Idaho and announced that it intended to expropriate the house, along with all real property in Cuba. Mary Hemingway negotiated with the Castro government for certain easily movable personal property (some paintings and a few books), plus manuscripts deposited in a vault in Havana. Most of their personal property, with no way to move it out of the country at the time, had to be abandoned.
Cuban ownership and stewardship after 1960
The home, claimed to be in danger of collapse by the US National Trust for Historic Preservation, was restored by the Cuban government and reopened to tourists in 2007. Even so, it has been listed as one of the 11 most-endangered historic sites, despite being outside the US. Also, it is on the World Monuments Fund's biennial list of "100 most endangered sites". Significant disputes and controversies have arisen over the condition of the house and its contents, although researchers who have visited the estate return with consistent claims that the Cuban government, while lacking funding from the US, has responsibly maintained the house, contents, 38 ft (12 m) fishing boat Pilar, and the grounds, since the Revolution.
In 1997, when the ship's wheel of Pilar was stolen, the thief was caught and the wheel returned to the museum and reinstalled on the boat. The directora, Gladys Rodriguez, told me in an interview in her office that she did not know the fate of the thief, but said that she too had read published reports of "offers" to buy Hemingway's Royal typewriter for a large sum but had the typewriter, on display, and had received no offers to buy it, closing by noting that nothing in the museum is for sale.
- The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (The Finca Vigía Edition), foreword, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987 (Scribner Trade Paperback, 2003)
- "Restauracion Museo Hemingway (Official website) - Finca Vigía" (in Spanish). Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural- Cuba. 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-02-06. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
- McKinty, Adrian (June 10, 2008). "Any book in Hemingway's library for $200". Times Online. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
- 11 Most Endangered, Finca Vigía: Ernest Hemingway House National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2008 (web.archive.org)
- Michael Palin's Journal: Finca Vigía www.PBS.org
- Hemingway's Cuba - 2000, La Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula Hemingway Society, April 2004 (web.archive.org)
- Hemingway Cuba
- Finca Vigia