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The Bell Tolls for a Hotel Where Hemingway Lived

Bimini landmark is lost in a fire. 'It's like Rome without the Vatican now,' says an islander.

January 14, 2006|Tim Collie | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Fire destroyed a cultural landmark and favorite haunt of the late writer Ernest Hemingway on Friday, leaving one person missing and dealing the tiny Bahamian island of Bimini its second blow in two months.

Late Friday, police were still searching the rubble of the Compleat Angler Hotel in Alice Town for its owner, Julian Brown.

"The building is just completely gone and we're still looking for one person," said Cpl. Christina King of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

"I'm afraid that the assumption here right now is that he's dead. He hasn't been seen and there's no sign of him anywhere else. He was last seen at the hotel," said Barbara Checkley, co-director of the Bimini Museum with her husband, Michael.

The 12-room hotel, designed like an old country house and built from the planks of old rumrunners abandoned at the end of Prohibition, was the oldest continually operating hotel on the island. Hemingway, who lived at the hotel on and off from 1935 to 1937, wrote portions of the novel "To Have and Have Not" there.

An extensive collection of period photographs and Hemingway memorabilia were destroyed in the blaze, residents said. The hotel had an alarm that alerted guests, and a sprinkler system.

It was the second tragic loss for the tiny island and its 1,600 residents. On Dec. 19, a seaplane crashed off Miami Beach, killing all 20 people aboard, including 12 Bimini residents. Many of the islanders had gone to Miami to do their Christmas shopping.

"Coming after the plane crash, this is very hard. We just buried the last crash victim last Saturday, and now this," said Michael Checkley. "This was the major landmark on the island and it's just completely destroyed -- it's like Rome without the Vatican now."

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