KEY WEST, FL — On his 68th birthday, a white-bearded man from Wisconsin won the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, a highlight of Key West’s annual Hemingway Days celebration that ends on Sunday.
Gerrit Marshall, a retired television broadcast engineer from Madison, reigned supreme Saturday night at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a frequent hangout for Ernest Hemingway when he lived in Key West during the ’30s.
“This is my best birthday ever,” said Marshall, whose birthday falls just one day after Hemingway’s 21st birthday.
On his 11th attempt, Marshall defeated nearly 140 other entrants in a competition that included two preliminary rounds and Saturday’s finals.
Costumed contestants, most of whom emulate the tough “Papa” persona Hemingway adopted in his later years, walked the stage at Sloppy Joe’s in front of a panel of past winners.
Marshall said he shares many characteristics besides appearance with Hemingway, and has written both nonfiction and short fiction.
“Like Hemingway, I have a love of the outdoors; I love fishing so much,” he said, citing fishing for walleye and northern pike in Wisconsin waters, as well as fishing for tarpon in the Florida Keys.
However, he said he could not match the number of four marriages recorded by the late author.
“I only have one wife,” said Marshall, “but it doesn’t matter—that’s all I need.”
In addition to the contest and other festival events, viewers focus on raising scholarship money for Keys students. Hemingway Look-Alike Society president David Douglas estimated it raised nearly $125,000 during the 2023 festival.
Hemingway’s days pay homage to the active lifestyle and literary legacy of the Nobel Prize-winning author, who wrote enduring classics including “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “To Have and Not to Have” while living in Key West from 1931 until late 1939.
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