Dr. Adam Long (Executive Director, Arkansas State University Heritage Sites)
and Dr. Hilary Justice (JFK Library).
Piggott, Arkansas, was the hometown of Hemingway's second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Her extended family had significant impact on the course of Hemingway's life and writing. Her sister, Virginia (Ginny) Pfeiffer, provided emotional support during the end of Hemingway's first marriage, and her uncle, Gustavus Adolphus (Gus) Pfeiffer, provided generous financial support, buying the Key West house for them and paying for their first safari. Hemingway finished A Farewell to Arms in Piggott; he set "A Day's Wait" there; and his first Africa works owe their existence to that safari.
On July 4, 1913, Paul and Mary Pfeiffer moved their family from St. Louis to Piggott, Arkansas. Paul and two of his brothers ran a successful pharmaceutical and cosmetic company in St. Louis, a company that made the family very wealthy. Yet, Paul chose to leave the company and purchase land in northeast Arkansas.
He would eventually own 63,000 acres in Clay County. Considered a model rural landowner, he developed a number of 40- and 80-acre tracts for tenant farmers, ultimately selling them directly to the farmers at reasonable rates, leaving a lasting legacy.
Paul and Mary’s oldest daughter Pauline met Ernest Hemingway in Paris in 1925. Pauline was a promising young journalist working for Vogue magazine. The two met at the party of a mutual friend. Pauline first became friends with Ernest’s first wife, Hadley, though as the relationship grew she spent more time with Ernest. They eventually began a romantic affair that led to Ernest and Hadley’s divorce and Ernest and Pauline’s marriage on May 10, 1927.
Ernest Hemingway’s first visit to Piggott was in 1928, and he would be a regular visitor from 1928-36, sometimes staying months at a time. His first impression of Piggott was not very favorable. He visited in the summer during a heat wave. The house was not air-conditioned, and he was miserable. Eventually, though, he would list Piggott in the autumn as one of his favorite places in the world to hunt. He primarily hunted for quail along Crowley’s Ridge, and on one notable occasion he went duck hunting with his editor, Maxwell (Max) Perkins, in the south Arkansas Delta.
Besides welcoming the Hemingways to their Piggott home, the Pfeiffer family served as major financial benefactors for the couple. Gus Pfeiffer, Pauline’s uncle and head of the family’s pharmaceutical company, by then headquartered in New York, was especially supportive.
Hemingway in Piggott: Chronology
1910s: The Pfeiffers in Piggott
Paul and Mary Pfeiffer moved from St. Louis to Piggott on July 4, 1913. They moved to a house constructed in 1910 by local builder WR Templeton. Their elder daughter, Pauline had graduated from the Academy of the Visitation in St. Louis that spring. She had three younger siblings: Karl, Virginia (Ginny), and Max. Max died at age 11 during the 1918 influenza pandemic.
The Pfeiffer divided their land into 40- and 80-acre farms and rented these out to tenants.
1920s-'30s: Ernest Hemingway’s Piggott Visits
After meeting in Paris in 1925, Ernest Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer began an affair that would end Hemingway's first marriage. Before his wife, Hadley, would consent to a divorce, she insisted on a 100-day separation between Ernest and Pauline. Pauline returned to Piggott from Europe during this period. Hadley consented to the divorce before the end of the 100 days, and Ernest and Pauline were married in Paris on May 10, 1927.
Hemingway first visited Piggott the following year, making the drive from Key West. Pauline was expecting their first child, Patrick. Ernest and Pauline were in Piggott for portions of six months, with a trip to Kansas City for Patrick’s delivery in the middle. While in Piggott, Hemingway completed approximately a quarter of A Farewell to Arms, often writing in the barn behind the Pfeiffer home.
After the success of A Farewell to Arms, the Pfeiffer family converted the barn into a studio for Hemingway. This conversion was completed by the Hemingways’ visit in the winter of 1932. During that visit, the barn caught fire due to an incorrectly vented stove, causing damage to the barn and destroying some of Hemingway’s hunting equipment. The damage was repaired by early 1933.
Several other major events happened during the 1932 visit. Ernest and Pauline were accompanied by Ernest’s oldest son John (Bumby), who became sick during the trip. This became the background for “A Day’s Wait,” the only Hemingway work to be set in Piggott. Also in 1932, the film version of A Farewell to Arms premiered at the New Franklin Theater in Piggott. Hemingway was not in attendance, because he objected to some of the changes in the film from the novel.
Also in 1932, Hemingway met Max Perkins in south Arkansas for a duck hunting trip along the White River near Yacopin.
The following winter (1933-34), Pauline’s uncle Gus Pfeiffer funded a safari in Africa for the Hemingways. This safari became the source of Green Hills of Africa, as well as other works, including two of his most famous short stories, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Pauline kept a personal journal of the trip that is an important historical resource.
In November 1936, Ernest visited Piggott for the last time.
Ernest and Pauline Hemingway divorced in 1940.
After 1940: Piggott Following the Divorce
On January 26, 1944, Paul Pfeiffer died in Piggott. Mary survived him by six years, dying on January 29, 1950. Following Mary’s death, the house was sold fully furnished to the Janes family who operated a department store in Piggott. The Janeses protected the property and furnishings and ensured the property’s listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Janeses sold the property to Arkansas State University in 1997. The university has operated the site as the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center since July 4, 1999.
Hemingway's Relationships in Piggott
Otto (Toby) Bruce
Hemingway met and befriended Toby Bruce in Piggott in 1928. Bruce, 18 years old at the time, would help Hemingway with trap shooting, throwing clay pigeons for him by the Pfeiffers' barn. They developed a friendship that lasted throughout Hemingway's life. Bruce relocated to Key West, becoming Hemingway's driver and handyman.
- Paul and Mary Pfeiffer (Hemingway's parents-in-law)
- Virginia (Ginny) Pfeiffer (Hemingway's sister-in-law)
- Gustavus Adolphus (Gus) Pfeiffer (Hemingway's uncle-in-law)
- John (Bumby) Hemingway (Ernest and Hadley Hemingway's son)
- Patrick and Gregory Hemingway (Ernest and Pauline Hemingway's children)
Works Inspired by or Set in Piggott
“A Day’s Wait” (set in Piggott).
The story features a failure in communication between a sick son (Schatz) and his father (though never named, presumably Nick Adams). This story is based on a 1932 trip to Piggott, in which Jack "Bumby" Hemingway took ill: Bumby, who didn't understand the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit, overheard the doctor say that his temperature had risen to 102 degrees. Bumby worried, thinking he was dying. His father had to assure him that he was not in any such danger.
“Fathers and Sons” (based on Ernest and Jack (Bumby) Hemingway's 1932 drive to Piggott)
Green Hills of Africa (the described trip was funded by Gus Pfeiffer and recorded by Pauline Pfeiffer in her journal)
Men Without Women (includes several stories inspired by the 100-day separation, during which Pauline was corresponding with Ernest from Piggott)
"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (set in Africa; partly inspired by the safari Gus Pfeiffer funded)
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (also set in Africa; also partly inspired by the safari)
“Wine of Wyoming” (features a Catholic family reminiscent of the Pfeiffers).
Though this story was most directly based on a French bootlegging couple whom Ernest and Pauline met in Wyoming, there are connections to the Pfeiffer family as well. The Pfeiffers were Catholics living in a mostly Protestant community. The family were strong supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith; Smith, the Governor of New York, was the first major party presidential candidate to be Catholic. Smith chose Arkansas Senator Joseph Robinson as his running mate, making the 1928 Smith campaign a certain topic of conversation among the Pfeiffers during Ernest's early visits with the family.
Works Written in Piggott
While in Piggott, Hemingway worked intensely on A Farewell to Arms. Much of the novel was drafted and edited while visiting the Pfeiffer family.