Ernest Hemingway: A Storyteller's Legacy
By Megan Floyd Desnoyers
"At 8 o'clock on the morning of July 21st. 1899 Ernest Miller Hemingway came to town wrapped in a light blue comforter. It was a very hot morning. The sun shone brightly and the Robins sang their sweetest songs to welcome the little stranger to this beautiful world
"The little lad weighed 9 lbs., had thick black hair, dark blue eyes, black eyebrows, Mahogany colored complexion, a dimple in each cheek, Grandpa Ernest Hall's nose and mouth, like a cupid's bow, Hands and nails just like Grandpa Ernest's. Plump and perfect in form with a deep toned voice," wrote Grace Hall Hemingway of her second child's birth in the first of five lavishly annotated scrapbooks of photographs, newspaper clippings, and letters she made. (1) The paper record that begins with her lovingly compiled scrapbooks comes full circle with the donations to the John F. Kennedy Library by Hemingway's fourth wife and widow, Mary Welsh Hemingway, and his sons, Jack, Patrick, and Gregory, of Hemingway's manuscripts, letters, scrapbooks, notebooks, photographs, and memorabilia. Fading French copybooks with handwritten drafts of The Sun Also Rises, a letter to Mary written on a paper drawer liner from New York's Ambassador Hotel, scrapbooks covered with zebra and lion skin, a ring containing shrapnel from his leg injury during World War I--the Hemingway Collection provides the raw material to help us document and understand Hemingway as writer, celebrity, husband, father, friend, and keeper of almost everything. Since "he seldom threw away any piece of paper," (2) the record is incredibly rich and frequently puzzling. "Grandma Cherrie [Caroline Hancock Hall] sent Ernest Miller his first silver spoon, marked E.M.H. in the bowl," Grace wrote. (3) Here's a baby spoon marked EMH on the curved handle. Could it be Grandma Cherrie's gift? Probably not. But Hemingway saved it, and it was among his possessions when he died in 1961.
Hemingway was born in the prosperous Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, to Clarence Hemingway, a family doctor, and Grace Hall, an aspiring opera singer who gave up a possible career for marriage and six children. "At 6 weeks Ernest Miller went to Walloon Lake on the steamship Manitou" (4) with his parents and his nurse. Each summer the family returned to rural upper Michigan, where Clarence, an avid sportsman, shared his love of nature and passion for camping, hunting, fishing, canoeing, and hiking with young Ernest.
A lifetime later, in the posthumously published Paris memoir A Moveable Feast, Hemingway described the early journeys of the next generation--his son John Hadley Nicanor, nicknamed Bumby: "At three months Mr. Bumby had crossed the North Atlantic on a twelve-day small Cunarder that sailed from New York via Halifax in January. He never cried on the trip and laughed happily when he would be barricaded in a bunk so he could not fall out when we were in heavy weather. But our Paris was too cold for him . . . . Schruns [Austria] was a healthy place for Bumby who had a dark-haired beautiful girl to take him out in the sun in his sleigh and look after him, and Hadley [Richardson Hemingway] and I had all the new country to learn and the new villages, and the people of the town were very friendly . . . . Mr. Bumby standing with [Hadley], blond and chunky and with winter cheeks looking like a good Vorarlberg boy." (5) In one generation, Oak Park and Walloon Lake to Paris and Schruns, and later Key West, Africa, Cuba; it is a great deal more than just a geographical journey.