KEY WEST, Fla. –
On his 68th birthday, a white-bearded Wisconsin man won the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, a highlight of Key West’s annual Hemingway Days celebration that ends Sunday.
Gerrit Marshall, a retired television broadcast engineer from Madison, prevailed Saturday night at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a frequent hangout of Ernest Hemingway when he lived in Key West during the 1930s.
“This is the best birthday I have ever had,” said Marshall, whose birthday falls just one day after the July 21 anniversary of Hemingway’s birth.
On his 11th attempt, Marshall triumphed over nearly 140 other entrants in the contest that featured two preliminary rounds and Saturday’s finals.
Competitors in sportsman’s attire, most emulating the rugged “Papa” persona Hemingway adopted in his later years, paraded onstage at Sloppy Joe’s before a judging panel of previous winners.
Marshall said he shares several 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 one heck of a lot,” he said, citing catches of walleye and northern pike in Wisconsin waters, as well as angling for tarpon in the Florida Keys.
He said, however, that he can’t match the late author’s tally of four marriages.
“I only have one wife, but that doesn’t matter — that’s all I need,” said Marshall.
As well as the contest and other festival events, the look-alikes focus on raising scholarship funds for Keys students. Hemingway Look-Alike Society president David Douglas estimated that they amassed close to $125,000 during the 2023 festival.
Hemingway Days salutes the vigorous lifestyle and literary legacy of the Nobel Prize-winning author, who wrote enduring classics including “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “To Have and Have Not” while living in Key West from 1931 until late 1939.