There should be a 2020 Hemingway Look-Alike winner walking the streets of Key West today. But the global coronavirus pandemic has prevented that.
COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 40th annual “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. The three-night contest would have begun Thursday, July 23, with the finals late Saturday, July 25.
But for the first time in 40 years, there weren’t 135-plus burly, bearded contestants and their screaming fans at Sloppy Joe’s. Organizers were concerned about staging the contest amid packed crowds. Most contestants are between 60 and 80 years old, presenting a potentially risky situation since that age group is especially susceptible to COVID-19.
“We miss all of our people that are competitors and the judges,” said 2009 winner David Douglas, who is president of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society, comprised of past winners and hopefuls. “After 40 years, we had great plans made for this year that really are going to have to be put off till next year (now scheduled for July 22-24, 2021).”
Contest officials announced more than 10 weeks ago that the event as well as several others staged during the island’s annual Hemingway Days festival couldn’t go on. The Florida Keys reopened to visitors June 1 after being closed for nine weeks, but several weeks ago, bars throughout Florida were forced to stop serving alcoholic beverages to eliminate customer-distancing issues.
“It’s just — it’s heartbreaking,” Douglas said. “I miss all the friends in Key West and others that we’ve developed a close relationship with that help us facilitate the contest, the fun, the loving, the camaraderie.”
Douglas pointed out that despite the missed contest, the society was able to increase contributions to its scholarship program which will help fund college financial assistance grants to 15 Florida Keys students.
Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Key West throughout most of the 1930s, wrote many of his best-known works in the second-story studio that adjoins his former home, now a museum. They include “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “To Have and Have Not.”