Cuba’s Hemingway Museum, a Bridge of Friendship

Elio Delgado Legon  (Photos: Elio Delgado Valdes)

HAVANA TIMES — There are many examples of how people from Cuba and the USA interact and collaborate with each other in various fields such as science, culture, medicine and sports. It occurs despite the fact that US governments have tried numerous times to prevent contact between the two peoples, either not allowing Americans to travel to Cuba or by denying visas to Cubans to participate in events in that country.

An example of successful cultural collaboration is in the Hemingway Museum at Finca Vigia, in the community of San Francisco de Paula, about 12 kilometers from downtown Havana. There, the great American writer called home during the last 21 years of his life. The property was donated by him to the Cuban government and converted into a museum a year after the writer’s death, which occurred on July 2, 1961.

Hemingway moved to Finca Vigia in 1939 renting at first from its French owner. In 1940 he married his third wife, Martha Gellhorn and in December of that year he purchased the property.

It was at Finca Vigia that Hemingway finished “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and wrote “The Old Man and the Sea,” book by which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 1954.

A month after his death by suicide, his widow and fourth wife Mary Welsh returned to Havana, where she met with Fidel Castro and formally donated the estate to the Cuban government, keeping with the desire of her husband.

Some years ago in the United States a non-profit foundation was created to support the restoration and preservation of the residence of the writer in Cuba.

Recently, Jenny Phillips, director of the Foundation, signed the renewal of the agreement that this institution maintains for eleven years with Cuba’s National Cultural Heritage Council.

Jenny is the granddaughter of Max Perkins, one of Hemingway’s best friends and editor of most of his books. When she toured the Finca Vigia, in March 2014, she said of her grandfather: “He would have shared with me the joy of seeing how in Cuba there is a desire to preserve the legacy of Ernest Hemingway. He communicated to me the affection he felt for Cuba, something I keep in mind when I appreciate the seriousness, responsibility and the love with which Cubans have preserved valuable legacy.”

The newly renewed agreement includes the effort to digitalize the documents of the Hemingway Museum, including the books in his library in which he made notes.

On that visit, Jenny Phillips referred to the friendship of the writer with Fidel Castro, who she wished long life. She said she has kept up on his health and is glad to know that despite the physical ailments he has suffered, he remains an active and lucid thinker.

Another example of collaboration with the restoration and conservation of Finca Vigia comes from Bob Vila, an American of Cuban descent knowledgeable of property restoration, who has become a TV star in the US. Vila is currently actively involved in the restoration of Hemingway’s home in Cuba.

Bob Vila and Jenny Phillips are two examples of how the Finca Vigia Hemingway Museum has become a bridge of friendship between the Cuban and US people.

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11 thoughts on “Cuba’s Hemingway Museum, a Bridge of Friendship

  • Moses, I wish I could be a fly on the wall if you and Elio
    ever got together in Cuba. One thing for certain,
    Mr. Delgado-Legon sure knows how to stir the pot.

  • When it comes to “hating” tyranny and oppression, I am indeed a specialist. Thank you for the compliment.

  • Yeah, well, hating seems to be a specialty of yours.

  • According to one source who knew the Hemingways and Fidel, when the widowed Mary Hemingway returned to their house to collect her late husband’s notes and pictures, Fidel refused to let her take them. He told her that the house and all of the contents were now the property of the Revolution. In short, Mary’s “gift” was stolen from her.

    Wikipedia bio on Hemingway contains this explanation of why he left Cuba and how the Cuban government came into possession of his property:

    “The Finca Vigia became crowded with guests and tourists, as Hemingway, beginning to become unhappy with life there, considered a permanent move to Idaho. In 1959 he bought a home overlooking the Big Wood River, outside Ketchum, and left Cuba—although he apparently remained on easy terms with the Castro government, telling The New York Times he was “delighted” with Castro’s overthrow of Batista.[130][131] He was in Cuba in November 1959, between returning from Pamplona and traveling west to Idaho, and the following year for his birthday; however, that year he and Mary decided to leave after hearing the news that Castro wanted to nationalize property owned by Americans and other foreign nationals.[132] In July 1960 the Hemingways left Cuba for the last time, leaving art and manuscripts in a bank vault in Havana. After the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Finca Vigia was expropriated by the Cuban government, complete with Hemingway’s collection of “four to six thousand books”.[133]”

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if Fidel decided to share his access to the Internet with all Cubans, remember that Obama in his first inagural address offered Cuba a free Internet cable as well as saying he would close Guantanamo, he gets castigated for failing to close Gitmo but there is never mention of his offer to provide the Internet. The first economic action necessary is to address the pitiful and inexcusable state of Cuban agriculture. My late father forecast from 1945 onwards that the Eastern Bloc situation would eventually rot from within (he lived in Vienna from May 1945 and died there in 1997). Happily he lived to see the USSR implode in 1989. I think that you bjmack are correct in suggesting that the same could happen in Cuba. The danger point will be when Raul retires and Diaz-Canel takes over if Maduro loses the Venezuela election due at that time.

  • It’s SAN FRANCISCO! We hate it when our city is called that boorish word.

  • Seemingly reasonable request. However, Castro supporters, like Elio, avoid debate. CNN has a news program called “Crossfire” where informed guests with opposing views are invited to debate a given issue. In Cuba, a similar news program is called “Mesa Redonda” except on this program every agrees and the entire program is spent trying to prove who is the most revolutionary. Given my wife’s former job as a morning news anchor in Cuba, I know for a fact that Fidel and his underlings regularly call the director of “Mesa Redonda” with ‘comments’. Does it surprise anyone that they never say anything negative about the regime? That said, mouthpieces like Elio have no stomach for debate. They speak in time-worn revolutionary phrases and most of the time simply parrot information given to them by the Propaganda Ministry. They are not interested in new ideas and being reasonable. Castro and his sycophants have only one goal, maintain the status quo.

  • Moses, it would be great if you and Elio got together and discuss what needs to be done to make Cuba the thriving, wealthy country that would
    mirror the Hemingway museum. I enjoy the Havana Times website reading it twice daily and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fidel himself views it as well. What a change if all Cuban’s could access the cross fire that is presented on this venue and I address that to Elio as well. Again, time and time again if we had no embargo the people of Cuba would have greater access to these discussions. Finally, if change doesn’t quick start the present regime could find themselves in a situation similar to the Eastern Bloc in the eighties. Some very nice pictures.

  • Nicely written Elio despite the psychotic ramblings of the bitter BS specialist from the pits of Frisco

  • Thanks for your foto-essay, Elio! I’ve visited Finca Vigia in 1970 and 2008; also his house just across the pond, in Key West, Florida.
    Let me give you one example of how Hemingway’s writings have changed lives: One of my students, though bright, was not motivated. Since he was an outstanding skiier (I was–and still am–an academic teacher at a school for competitive skiiers and snowboarders), I thought I could pique his interest through some of Hemingway’s stories, especially those about his experiences skiing in Switzerland during the 1920’s, so I suggested he read them. After reading them, we discussed them. The stories engaged and motivated him to continue reading other Hemingway short stories and novels as well.
    That was in the late 1990’s. Fast forward a decade: a few years ago I bumped into him on a street in Greenfield, MA, and during our conversation he thanked me for encouraging him to read Hemingway. He told me that Hemingway’s short stories and novels began a love of reading which continues.

  • As usual, Elio presents a warped version of reality. These “collaborations” only occur when the American collaborator accepts the terms and conditions as dictated by the Castro regime. When artists and educators bring their Castro sycophantic views to the Cuba they are welcomed, but when they disagree with the regime, zippo. An example of this occurred when a recent civil society forum scheduled in late January during the CELAC conference in Havana. The group holding the conference invited a prominent Cuban-American intellectual who has openly disagreed with the regime. Needless to say, his visa to return to Cuba was denied. It’s the same old story, “Within the revolution, everything. Outside the revolution, nothing.” Hemingway was approved by the Castros, thus this collaboration. What are the chances that the survivors of famous Cuban writer, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, also a well-known dissident will be received as warmly as the Hemingway estate in a restoration project of the family home in Holguin?

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