1997 Winner: Bart Barton
The man from Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee, survived the heat of the Hemingway Look-Alike competition and the steamy sidewalks outside Sloppy Joe’s Bar to become the coolest guy of all in 1997 when he won.
Born in Hart, Michigan, on April 1, 1934, Bart later worked with the Michigan State Police for ten years. Considering the always risky business of police work, Bart’s wife often pleaded, “You know, you’re going to get shot or something.”
Bart agreed, although he thought his likely demise on the job would be in a high-speed auto accident.
“I just loved to ride in those hot cars we had,” he said with all the bravado of a NASCAR throttle jockey.
The Bartons moved to Clearwater, Florida, when Bart switched careers to State Farm Insurance, adjusting claims in a bi-coastal barrage of the Sunshine State from Tampa to Daytona to West Palm Beach. He never forgot his first trip down through the Keys on the Old Overseas Highway.
“The lanes on the Seven Mile Bridge were only ten feet wide with no shoulders, and I had an eight-foot, tag-along trailer. That didn’t leave much space on that very narrow, two-lane road―and then you’d meet a tractor-trailer truck coming straight at you in the middle of the bridge.
The bridges Henry Flagler built almost 100 years ago for his Overseas Railroad―once called Flagler’s Folly―have been widened or supplanted. Key West has changed, too.
Bart recalls his first trip here in 1958.
“Back then, you could shoot a cannonball down Duval Street at noon and not hit a soul. Stores were empty, and nothing was in too good a shape.”
Bart also enjoyed a bird’s-eye perspective of the area, flying passengers out of Miami in a single-engine Cessna 172.
“We’d be over the ocean, and someone would say, ‘Look at that beautiful island. Can we see it any better?”
The accommodating aviator would bank the plane sharply, plunge down to 50 feet above the water, then skim the beach for the passengers, who began to have second thoughts about this aerial extravaganza. It’s not known if he had many repeat customers on Air Barton.
His nephew, Mike Osborne, finally prodded his uncle into the look-alike contest, predicting, “You’re a shoo-in. You look just like Ernest Hemingway.”
After six years, he won.
“It wasn’t exactly a shoo-in.”
Unlike many other wannabes, winning wasn’t a life-or-death deal for him. “I enjoyed being there so much that I seldom ever thought about it that much. I was never really that disappointed when I didn’t win. I didn’t feel hurt or crushed or anything. I just liked the camaraderie with the guys and the general purpose of the whole thing; raising scholarship money and being part of it every year.”
Bart retired in 2001. He and his wife Cynthia, also known as the Tennessee Twosome, now spend more time traveling the back roads of America in an RV than they do at their Cumberland Furnace home on the banks of Big Barton’s Creek.
But wherever he goes, the 1997 Papa hears the same thing; “Have you ever been told you look like Ernest Hemingway?”
Well, a white-bearded panel of Papa judges told him so in 1997. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“The thing that amazes me most is the number of young people who come up and tell me that. I think Hemingway is coming back into favor with the younger generation.”
Bart scratches that famous-looking beard and ponders aloud.
“I wonder what Ernest Hemingway would think about all this?”