Inside Hemingway's Havana House

Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro
Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro.

This Havana house is more than a home, it's a time capsule. The clock stopped in the summer of 1960, when Ernest Hemingway walked out for the last time.

It's amazing to look inside these rooms and imagine him here, reports CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella. That's what it's all about - getting inside here and looking through the open door - his collection of books, his objects.

For 20 years Hemingway lounged in these seats, drank from these bottles, wrote one of his greatest works, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and dreamed up his last great classic on this typewriter, "The Old Man and the Sea," inspired by fishing trips on a boat that sits right outside the door.

William DuPont is an American leading a team of experts in a rare collaboration with the Cuban government to preserve the home, right down to the wall where Hemingway obsessively recorded his weight.

"I think we might be the only architects, engineers, professionals license to do our job in Cuba since the revolution," DuPoint said.

They were able to help the Cubans take the house from this four years ago…to this today.

"It's an exchange because they know special things about preservation but we know how to preserve in a tropical climate," said Gladys Rodriguez Ferrero, the first curator of Hemingway's house in Havana.

Hemingway spent 30 years in and out of Cuba. He met Fidel Castro only once. Today it's hard not to walk in his Havana footsteps. Hemingway is a major tourist attraction - his favorite hotel room is a mini-museum.

What Hemingway fan wouldn't want to stand where he once stood, and critics say that's the problem. You help restore his house, you help the Cuban tourist trade, which helps the Castro regime. Conservationists say it's not about politics. It's about the legacy of a great American author.

Stored in the basement of this old house are thousands of Hemingway's papers, unseen by American eyes in more than 40 years.

"There were many letters he had written to Mary Hemingway when he was a war correspondent during World War II," said Susan Wrynn, the curator of the Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library.

Like this one - in the fall of 1944: "I'm so damned anxious not to be killed, Pickle on account of loving you." And this letter from fellow writer Sinclair Lewis: "Dear Ernest- Jesus, that's a great book, "Bell Tolls."

"What would have happened if these documents had been left as is?" Wrynn asked. "They would have continued to disintegrate."

Instead, Hemingway's words, and his world on this island will survive for generations.