Harboring Hemingway

For The Gazette:

Thanks to a beard and a wool sweater a Scotia native won the annual Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest in Florida on Sunday.

“You know, we always told him he looked like Kenny Rogers,” said Paula Mountain of her brother, David Douglas. “We used to tell people he was Kenny Rogers and they really believed us. But I guess now he looks like Ernest Hemingway.”

Douglas, a Scotia native, is a 55 year-old mechanical contractor and Vietnam War veteran now living in Cypress, Texas. He left Scotia for Texas after returning from the War. “He went down to watch my other brother’s house while he was in Holland for work and liked it so much he stayed,” Mountain said.

Douglas traveled all the way to Key West, Fla. to compete in Sloppy Joe’s Bar’s 29th Annual Hemingway Look-Alike contest on for the 8th time. Last year he was runner up and this year he finally took home the prize. He originally entered the contest on a dare and kept coming back every year. “It’s fun, and it’s a great charity” he said in a phone call from Key West.

“We got $23,000 in donations this year and $103,000 over the past 10 years,” Douglas said. The money raised goes to a scholarship fund for youths in Key West who would not otherwise be able to attend college.

Ernest Hemingway, now considered one of the greatest American writers and a staple in any high school and college English curriculum, is also considered one of the most tragic literary figures of the 20th century. An alcoholic, WWI and II veteran, notoriously bad with women, and unable to get over his father’s suicide, Hemingway himself committed suicide in 1961 just shy of his 62nd birthday.

Hemingway left behind an impressive volume of work which still has a following inside and outside of academia. “There were a hundred Hemingway fans in the crowd watching,” Douglas said. Hemingway wrote many classic novels including, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and “The Old Man and the Sea” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize.

Douglas was dressed in a wool sweater during the competition to emulate a famous photograph of Hemingway by Yousuf Karsh taken in 1957.

“It’s very possible the sweater helped me win,” Douglas said. “I was sweating all day but it ended up being worth it.”

The contestants arm wrestle one another, arm wrestling was one of Hemingway’s favorite bar past times, and race wooden bulls on wheels around the block in mock tribute to Hemingway’s beloved Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

The contest is just one of the many events held every year in Key West to celebrate the author’s birthday and the time he spent living on the island in the 1930s after he returned from Paris, France where he spent most of the 1920s in an American expatriate community. Hemingway was a frequent patron of Sloppy Joe’s bar where the contest is held.

Over 140 Hemingway hopefuls from all over the U.S. showed up for their chance to be named “he who best emulates the great American author Ernest Hemingway.”

Douglas claims he doesn’t have anything else in common with Hemingway other than a white beard and a love for fishing, women and cocktails.

“I can’t write books,” he said. “I can only write checks and text messages.”

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