KEY WEST, Florida Keys — For more than 125 stocky, bearded men gathering in Key West in mid-July, donning a sweater won’t be just a fashion statement or reaction to a cool breeze. Choosing to wear a cream-colored wool fisherman’s sweater could mean the difference between victory and defeat in Sloppy Joe’s “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.
The look-alike challenge takes place at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, 201 Duval St., frequented by Ernest Hemingway when he lived and wrote in Key West throughout the 1930s, and is a highlight of Key West’s July 20-25 Hemingway Days celebration. Preliminary rounds are set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 22 and 23, and the newest “Papa” is to be chosen during a final round beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 24.
Past entrants have come from as far away as Australia and Kazakhstan to compete in the quirky contest, dressing in safari togs, wool fisherman’s turtlenecks and other garb associated with the Pulitzer and Nobel winner’s “Papa” persona. Some are longtime repeat contenders, and all must prove their resemblance to a judging panel of past contest winners.
Judges are to include 2009 winner David Douglas, a mechanical contractor from Cypress, Texas, who triumphed over 145 other candidates while dressed in a wool fisherman’s turtleneck sweater despite 90-degree heat. His attire emulated Ernest Hemingway’s appearance in a famous 1957 photograph by Yousuf Karsh.
“It’s very possible the sweater did it,” said a perspiring Douglas after the victory, earned on his eighth attempt. “It’s about 120 [degrees] inside the sweater, but it’s worth it.”
Douglas said he shared Hemingway’s fondness for fishing and cocktails, but limited his writing to checks and text messages.
In addition to the contest, look-alikes are to take part in a variety of other Hemingway Days events. Among them is an evening welcome party set for Wednesday, July 21, at the Doubletree Grand Key Resort, 3990 S. Roosevelt Blvd.
Aspiring Ernests are to prove that their affinity for the author is “no bull” during Sloppy Joe’s “Running of the Bulls,” a lighthearted salute to the famed annual run in Pamplona, Spain. Though it features manmade pseudo-steers instead of the real thing, the sporting spoof typically draws large and enthusiastic crowds. The event is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday, July 24, outside Sloppy Joe’s.
Before the run, from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday, the look-alikes plan to be available for photos on Greene Street outside Sloppy Joe’s. Afterwards, they are to host a belated “birthday party” outside the bar to celebrate the July 21 anniversary of Hemingway’s 1899 birth.
Many “Papas” test their strength in another Sloppy Joe’s event: an annual arm-wrestling challenge. The contest is set to begin with a noon registration Sunday, July 25, with prizes awaiting winners in multiple categories.
The look-alikes also plan to present a number of scholarships to Florida Keys students during the festival. Established in 2000, the scholarship program is funded primarily by contributions from “Papas” and their supporters.
For lodging information in Key West, contact the Key West Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-LAST-KEY (800-527-8539), or visit the Keys Web site at www.fla-keys.com.