top of page

One thing that makes the University of Tampa distinctive is its commitment to fostering outside of the classroom experiences. Here are some of our students' examples of what "learning by doing" means, wherein they highlight how traveling to Key West enriched their understanding of Hemingway's works. 

Kayaking in the Key West Mangroves

In Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not, bootlegger Harry Morgan drops a load of contraband rum in the mangroves. When reading this novel, this scene was really hard to picture. But on our trip to Key West, we took a kayak into the mangroves to see what this aspect of the landscape looked like. As you can see from these images, the dense root system would make for an ideal hiding spot. 

Encountering the Nurse Shark

Famously, at the end of Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea, the fisherman Santiago loses his prize catch to a school of sharks. Towards the end of the journey, nurse sharks feed on what's left of the carcass that he strapped to his small boat. At the Key West Aquarium, we watched a feeding of nurse sharks, and the terrifying sound that they make as they bite added a whole new dimension to what Santiago must have been feeling as these scavengers picked the marlin's skeleton nearly clean. You can hear the vicious sound of their bites at the end of this video!


One thing that has always been hard for me to understand about Hemingway is how he could love animals so much, but also be a hunter. Hemingway had many pets, and at the Hemingway house you can spend time with the descendants of his cats-- the famous six-toed Hemingway cat.  But you can also see the hunting trophy in his study. We also visited the Key West butterfly sanctuary where one can reconcile the appreciation for the beauty of these living creatures, but also purchase a dead butterfly in a glass case. I'm still not sure I understand how Hemingway could want to kill living things, but I do think that loving nature was an important part of the man's life and work. 

Life and Death
hem with lion.jpeg

Historical photos of Hemingway with hunting trophies; and our photos of his cats on the bed, Photo by Chandler Culotta, 2021.

Key West Cemetery
One of our favorite things to do was to make discoveries about Key West history by visiting the cemetery. We rode our bikes through the cemetery at least twice a day, dodging the giant iguanas that live there (!)

One of our favorite (unexpected) finds from our research was from the Key West Lighthouse museum, where we learned about the history of the female lighthouse keepers, including Mary Bethel. We then found her family plot in the Key West cemetery. It was in poor condition, so our Nina Darcy took it upon herself to clean up Mrs. Bethel's gravestone. 

When our group was traveling in Key West to conduct our Hemingway research and media projects, we were drawn to the Key West Lighthouse, which stands just across the street from the Hemingway house on Whitehead St. I was immediately drawn to the stories and lived experiences from the lighthouse keepers, specifically to the women lighthouse keepers. Any history buff, scholar, or woman can understand how frustrating it is to travel to all these exciting places and learn about all of the men that have contributed to the bettering of society. In my experience, women's roles often have far less historical representation than their male counterparts, so when I traveled to the Key West Lighthouse, I was thrilled to find so many strong women being celebrated for their invaluable contributions to their lighthouse and more importantly, their community. It was beautiful to be accompanied by two other strong women (the wonderful Dr. Lauro and Lily Conolly) and celebrate other strong women outside of the classroom. I was inspired to share my findings with all of my fellow UT scholars.


Mary Eliza Bethel was a Principal Lighthouse Keeper at the Key West Lighthouse from 1908-1913. She was one of three women who was tasked with this position (an occupation that was exclusively given to men at the time). The women lighthouse keepers were only given this role after their father or husband died in the position. Mary’s roles included not only keeping the wicks and lamps in regular working condition, but she also had to take on the women’s traditional domestic functions. She also maintained the keeper’s quarters, cooked meals, and did the house’s laundry. In addition, she also maintained the garden, livestock, and gave tours to travelers. In 1890 she started her time as the assistant keeper who aided her husband. She was promoted to this exalted position after the death of her husband, William Bethel, who died in a bizarre two-part ladder accident during 1908. Mary Bethel was one of three women to ever have this role. Although her keeper time was before Hemingway ever stepped foot in Key West, her legacy through the lighthouse lives on today and no doubt influenced Hemingway’s time in his home (as the lighthouse is a visible beauty from E.H. 's bedroom balcony). Her family and predecessors kept the lighthouse running for over 70 years and Hemingway would have had a hard time avoiding her presence, as she lived and died in Key West during his years there. Moreover, Mary Eliza Bethel was situated in Key West until her death in 1941 at the age of 87. She died surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Perhaps Hemingway walked in for a visitor tour one day to find her strongly rocking on her chair or upkeeping the gardens and livestock. Regardless, her influence should be recognized as a pinnacle in unpacking Key West art and history. Lastly, when our group heard that she was buried locally at the Key West Cemetery, we were eager to bike over and upkeep the Bethel plots as she upkept the lighthouse for so many years.

bottom of page