Tag Archives: Key West

The Annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest in Key West


Hemingway Look Alike Contestant
Hemingway Look Alike Contestant

Christmas in July? Clement Moore’s famous poem describes St. Nick as having a droll little mouth drawn up like a bow, and a beard as white as snow. The piece continues, “He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!”

Moore’s poetry inadvertently describes the requirements for contestants in the “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. The competition highlights the annual Hemingway Days festival in Key West, Florida, along with a marlin tournament boasting a $250,000 purse and literary short story competition drawing over 1300 entries.


Contestant Michael Groover

From July 16-21, 2013, stocky middle-aged men with whiskers will flock to the isle to compete in a pageant akin to Miss America. Some return on an annual pilgrimage with the understanding that newbies score little chance of securing the coveted title. They line up on stage for preliminary rounds showing off their beards and bellies. Hopefuls also receive a generous minute to display a personal talent- frequently a song, poem, literary reading or comic routine.

Last summer I watched as many paraded in khaki sportswear but at least two men wore fisherman knit sweaters resembling a famous portrait of Ernest. That’s diehard dedication in 90 degree heat and humidity! Another dressed as Hurricane Hemingway donning red boxing robes and gloves, but making it difficult for him to grab the microphone.


Hemingway Look Alike
Hemingway Look Alike


Semi-finalists go on to compete in the finals held Saturday night before a beer-drinking crowd overflowing the doors of Sloppy Joe’s Bar. The Key West watering hole ranks a favorite haunt of Old Hem himself and owner Joe Russell became one of his closest friends.

The judge’s panel of past winners also scrutinize the contestants’ congeniality during activities like the whimsical “Running of the Bulls.” This quirky event satirizes Ernest Hemingway’s love of Spain and the bullfight. Look-alikes pull wooden hobbyhorse bulls through the streets of downtown Key West instead of Pamplona.

Running of the Bulls – Key West Style

No one mentions the fact that the Nobel Prize winning writer was actually a young man when he lived in Key West during the 1930’s. Seems that older contestants fare better than those in their 50’s and no aspiring youths enter. This contest indulges big boys and the Hemingway manly-man lifestyle of hunting, fishing and love of cocktails.

During the festival, participants, known as Papa’s, meld into a fraternity of sorts; likewise for their wives called Mama’s. The 2012 semi-finalists included Michael Groover of Savannah, Georgia, who was cheered by his wife, Food Network personality Paula Deen. Deen praised her husband’s Hemingway looks but said he had other equally important qualities in common with the author.

“He’s all man, he’s truthful and honest and (has) really got the spirit,” Deen said.

Greg Fawcett, 2012 Hemingway Look Alike Winner

The 2012 winner, Greg Fawcett, a 64-year-old North Carolina investment banker, won after his 10th attempt besting the 139 other Hemingway look-alikes. He credited his victory to establishing camaraderie with the judges, timing his haircuts carefully and paying attention to the length of his beard. Upon hearing the announcement, Fawcett looked to the heavens mouthing a thank you. Like a pageant crowning, he was met with rousing cheers and hugs from fellow contestant. Why, I might have even seen a few tears.

For more information:

Hemingway Days.org

Heminway’s former Home and Museum

Additional information on the Florida Keys: www.fla-keys.com

The Curious Incident of the Sand in the Night*

When you drive down US 1 heading toward Key West, you know you have arrived when you come to a city: a downtown with stop lights, shops and homes. That may seem like an obvious statement, but when you motor by the other islands or Keys (there are actually 1,700, thought most are tiny and uninhabited) you feel rather betwixt and between.  The landscape is a tad monotonous; a small strip of land surrounded by shimmering blue water, or patches of development with 1950’s style buildings.  I was feeling neither here nor there, more in a twilight zone of locations known simply by their numbered mile markers.

It was in just such a spot that my husband Jay and I stopped to photograph a at sunset.  So, it happened that we approached Islamorada near dark, when the sunset afterglow had disappeared into the waves. 

The original name, Isles Moradas, pronounced- eye-la-mor-rah-da, translates to purple isles. Pick the name derivation as no one knows if it’s from the purple-shelled snail or the colors in the orchid trees and bougainvillea. I found the place enigmatic, full of mystery and intrigue.

Night descended quickly and we drove past our lodging.  Realizing our mistake, we made a U-turn, then ventured in and registered. I would never have stayed at La Siesta Resort had I just driven by–not much in the way of street or curb appeal. But I’d been told, “Try it. You will like it, you will be surprised.” I was. 

We located our unit, a small single story building, more than accommodating.  I could have lived there for a week– or longer, a king-sized bed, full kitchenette, dining table and den with sleeper/sofa and wall-mounted flat screen TV.   

But, we were hungry.  We dropped out bags and left for dinner, choosing the Islamorada Fish Company, attached to the Bass Pro Shop. Arriving around 8:30pm, I thought we’d get a table, but found the sprawling restaurant full.  Our names were added to a list and we were given one of those vibrating light-up disks, so off we went for a drink. We waited; we enjoyed our margaritas; we were the last ones at the bar.  Finally the hostess came over, said she had tried to contact us, but our communicator wasn’t communicating. Gee, the margaritas had been refreshing and the view lovely, guess I was getting into “island time,” that kick-backed nature of The Keys.  Nonetheless, my stomach was starting to growl, I was ready for food. We soon ended up with lovely yellowtail snapper and grouper for dinner.  

Morning Sand at La Siesta
Afterward, we fell asleep early; the sea air must have tuckered us out. On the other hand, when the mornings’ ochre rays filtered into the room, I immediately awoke.  I crept to the double security sliding glass door, opened the drape and found, well….an amazing site. A hammock rested on the patio and a huge swirl of sand like a labyrinth garden lay beyond.

I wanted to enter and follow the path, but hesitated- my foot steps would desecrate the pattern, like making tracks through freshly fallen snow.  But, I couldn’t resist; I paced round to the middle and realized it wasn’t the middle. No, this was the beginning.  Of course, whoever created it started in the center. Hmm. I felt the need to sit and meditate or try a yoga pose. However, like being knocked on the head with a coconut (which could have actually happened), I realized I was barefoot, standing in the open hotel complex in my pajamas– with a camera strung around my neck.

I returned to my room to dress and discovered Jay slowly coming to life.  He doesn’t do mornings very well, at least not before his coffee.  I left him in his post-dawn stupor and went back outside.  Some fisherman had arrived on the scene. I watched as they loaded their boat with about twenty fishing lines and then took off. However, they shared a secret– coffee and Danish were being served by the pool.  This was indeed good news, especially to Jay. 

A little later in the morning, I drove a few miles to the kayak rental shop at Robbie’s Mariana.  I was expecting to be expected, as travel writers frequently are, but I wasn’t.  Nonetheless, I arranged for a kayak and went in search of a crocodile, one I was told would make a great photo.  Alas, he wasn’t there. Now I admit, I don’t have the best sense of direction, and the map handed me looked somewhat like a drawing of my first-grade grandson, but it led me astray. Perhaps my car’s GPS has spoiled me—I needed a voice to tell me, turn here—NOW. I was lost in the lush mangroves.

Then, I ran into three other kayakers who were, shall we say, off-course. Mind you, two of them were college professors, and we all four attempted to get to a point on the map; and we all got lost together.  I thought it rather funny and decided it was time to retrace my outing and return my boat.

So, I ate some lunch and returned to La Siesta Resort and took an afternoon nap, a siesta, in the hammock at La Siesta! That evening, Jay and I went to dinner at The Hungry Tarpon.  The outside looked like a breakfast diner and it was, but it also had an outdoor patio strung with Christmas lights, which was actually an awesome gourmet restaurant (if you can call an “old Keys-style marina and fish shack”a gourmet restaurant). The chef, Joseph Sassine, came out to talk to us, but couldn’t stay long because he said his assistant needed supervising.  The assistant was rather new on the job, he added, just been working at it for five years. 

After another restful night, I awoke to find the same curious pattern created in the sand during the night.  I rather enjoyed the mystery and never inquired. Somethings are best left alone. 

Nonetheless, I convinced Jay to go back to the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant in the morning, even though we weren’t hungry.  I wanted to feed the famous jumping fish that I’d learned about the night before. Tarpon usually like deep water but these tarpon were different.  The tarpon at Robbie’s Marina like to swim near the surface and be fed by human hand.  Wouldn’t you know, on this morning, the hungry tarpon were neither hungry nor jumpy. The prehistoric-looking denizens must have felt the cold air, as a recent spell of artic air had chilled Florida. And so the curious happenings continued. 

Hungry Tarpon Chef & Manager

“Enough,” said Jay, “time to drive home.” One last time I insisted on stopping.  “I must photograph Betsy, the lobster,” I begged.  Betsy is a huge roadside attraction, the type of thing that was popular back in the 60’s when drivers traveled Route 66. So, for the record, here she is, a real beauty.        

What more could one wish for on a trip to the quirky Keys and an interlude on Islamorada? 

If You Go:

La Siesta Resort, Mile Marker 80.5, Islamorada, FL offers 1,2 and 3 bedrooms suites, a 3 bedroom vacation house and 5 bedroom executive house. Marina slips are also available. www.lasiestaresort.com

The Hungry Tarpon Restaurant at Mile Marker 77.5, 305 664 0535, www.hungrytarpon.com, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner reservations suggested. 

Florida Keys Kayak, 305 664 4878, Kayak Shack at Robbies Marina. www.robbies.com

Islamorada Seafood Company, Mile Marker 81.5, 305-664-9271, www.fishcompany.com

* Article title with apologies to novelist Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.