Throughout the ages, the Dry Tortugas have been a sort of mecca for those who long to bask in the natural beauty of the tiny islands and see for themselves the abundance of fish and bird species found here. Of all the travelers who have visited the shores of the Dry Tortugas, Ernest Hemingway, the famous author, perhaps felt a deeper connection to the islands, making Key West his home for more than a decade. Although the islands would not be redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park until 1992, they held as much, if not even more, beauty and splendor in the 1930s when Hemingway discovered the area for himself.
Ernest Hemingway and the Dry Tortugas
Ernest Hemingway was an avid hunter and fisherman, but the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner is most known for his works like The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls. But many believe his love for nature and the great outdoors is what allowed him to write so well -- writing what he knew. It was in Key West that Hemingway finished A Farewell to Arms, a novel about World War I, and when he wasn’t writing, he spent time creating his own real-life adventures.
The 1930s for Hemingway were filled with big game hunts in Africa, Spanish bullfighting, and when in Florida, deep-sea fishing excursions. While living in Key West, Hemingway met Charles Thompson, owner of a local hardware store, who also enjoyed hunting and fishing. The two left for a weekend trip -- Hemingway’s first sportfishing adventure -- in the Gulf Stream, hoping to snag marlin, tarpon, sailfish and swordfish. For Hemingway, the trip was exciting and a dream come true as they dined on snapper and spent the long days fishing.
A Trip to the Tortugas
It wasn’t long after the fishing trip with Thompson that a new fishing opportunity was presented to Hemingway -- an extended excursion to the Dry Tortugas with a group of fishing buddies. The “Mob” was comprised of Hemingway’s childhood friend Bill Smith; writer John Dos Passos; artists Waldo Pierce and Mike Strater; local Joe Russel; Earl Adams, a newspaperman; J.B. Sullivan; and the boat captains Eddie and Burge Saunders, Jakie Key and Hamilton Adams. Hemingway’s editor from Scribner’s Magazine joined the group as well.
Although the first outing was cut short due to a storm, the Mob regrouped time and time again, making the 10-hour journey to the Dry Tortugas through the Marquesas Islands. Their last trip proved to be an adventure straight from tale of survival as a hard storm marooned the Mob and their boat at Fort Jefferson for more than two weeks. The group had plenty of provisions, but in the end, they still relied on fishing for their meals before they were able to return to Key West.
Hemingway and members of the Mob continued to fish throughout Key West and the Dry Tortugas, but they never were able to relive the energetic and marvelous outings of yore. These days, becoming marooned at the Dry Tortugas National Park would be a much harder accomplishment, but in those days, it was just another adventure for an old man on the sea.