by Francis McGovern
The year 1999 was the Centennial of the birth of Ernest Miller Hemingway, a writer who was a legend during his own lifetime. He stands as a monument to the power of literature and could easily be argued as the most influential American writer of this century. He was an icon, part myth and myth maker, a genius and hero to many and to others he was a writer obsessed with masculinity, violence and death.
When we commemorate him, what will we remember, the legends or the man? For many, the two are one in the same. We might read his work and ask who was he? Often the plots of his stories and novels fill in the sketchy details about his life. We might know he was from the Midwest, that he somehow took part in World War I, and spent a great deal of time in Europe. He loved to write, box, hunt, fish, drink, eat, and travel, and that he lived an epic life until he committed suicide in 1961.
For those of us that claim a kinship with Hemingway, myself included, it starts with something called a sympathy of experience to his work. A story reaches us and we understand or relate to the events occurring if only in a way that says I could feel that way or that”s true. We also need to understand the way that the world works in some small sense, that love exists, alongside pain, suffering and loss, though we need not have experienced any of it ourselves.
So many of us come to Hemingway as young people, and we identify with him. Maybe his appeal is so great, and so many readers envy and admire him because he represents so much of what a young person wants to have: independence, experience, confidence, strength, courage and talent. Where and how do these traits develop? How did they develop in the young Ernest Hemingway?
I began to wonder what Hemingway was like as a younger man, before he was a famous writer, when he was Nick Adams, the hero of his short stories. What was it that he did or thought and what influenced his decision to become a writer? What sort of experiences helped to make him a great writer?
So what do we know about the youth of Ernest Hemingway and what can it teach us about the man and his work? His early years had very much to do with shaping him as an individual and contributed to his future success as a writer. His personality and his sensibilities were molded by the watchful influence of his parents. The traits he learned early on, expressive creativity, confidence, love of sport and the natural world, appreciation of the arts, a craving for experience, the desire to be sincere in his work, and a sense of discipline and duty, were all fostered and developed by his family.
The places that were important to Hemingway as a young man were Oak Park, Illinois where he was born and grew up, Michigan where he spent each summer and learned to roam and love the outdoors, and Kansas City where he was a cub reporter, his first paying job as a writer, at the Kansas City Star.
The story for Ernest Hemingway begins with the two people who brought him into the world, and who could be said to have had the greatest impact upon him: his father, Dr. Clarence Edmonds Hemingway and his mother Grace (Hall) Hemingway. Their personalities were the dominant forces in his early life. His parents met when they were attending Oak Park High. The two did not start courting until after high school. Coincidentally, they lived across the street from one another and their relationship began once Clarence became a physician and had begun to look after Grace”s mother during an illness that led to her death.
Hemingway”s parents were in many ways opposites. This could be a direct result of the way they were both raised. When Grace was a young girl she was a talented singer and growing up she had been excused from chores so that she could concentrate on her music lessons. Her mother advised her to keep out of the kitchen if she could. And she followed that precept, for the most part, through the rest of her life. It was believed that she had potential for a career in music as an opera singer. She was being groomed for a life upon the stage. After graduating from high school, she taught music for five years. During this time when she was teaching, she was also training her own voice for her singing career, but her hopes for that career did not come to pass. In the fall of 1895, Grace had the chance to study in New York City at the Arts Students League with a renowned voice coach Louisa Cappianni. She left for New York shortly after her mother”s death, despite the pleas of her fiancee Clarence.
In the spring of 1896 Grace gave her debut and final concert at Madison Square Garden and the outcome of the concert was not clear. It is possible that the footlights could have been too strong for her sensitive eyes. As a child, Grace had scarlet fever which left her blind for several months, and also left her prone to headaches and extremely sensitive to light. This episode was the end of her professional signing career. According to Grace, her instructor asked her to stay on and pursue her career. Also at this time, Clarence was writing her asking her to return home. She chose Oak Park and marriage. Shortly after returning home she took a trip through Europe with her father and then married Dr. Hemingway on October 1st 1896.
Grace, in many respects, ran the young family. When they started out her income from teaching was much larger than Clarence”s. She continued to teach for most of her life, until she lost her voice. Clarence had not yet had time to build up his practice. But most decisions and family policies seemed to be made in conjunction with both parents. The couple had unique ideas about how to raise a family. They both shared deep religious convictions, and held strong opinions about dancing, drinking, and diet. By all accounts, the family life and Ernest”s formative years appeared to be a happy and idyllic time. Grace had a great impact on Ernest, as did his father. After he grew up, there was a rift between himself and his mother and as a result, he would never have a close relationship with her or his parents nor would he truly resolve whatever problems existed.
Ernest was born in Oak Park, IL on July 21st, 1899. A suburb just outside of Chicago, Oak Park was a growing, affluent, middle class, Protestant community at the turn of the century. He was the second child born into the family after his older sister Marcelline. Grace wrote of the day he was born, “The robins sang their sweetest songs to welcome the little stranger into this beautiful world.”1 Ernest was baptized later that year on his parents” anniversary in October 1899. The family would eventually grow to include six children, three more sisters Ursula, Carol, Madeline (Sunny) and a younger brother Leicester.
When Ernest was born, the young family lived with Ernest”s namesake, Grace”s father Ernest Hall, in a house on 339 N. Oak Park Avenue. He was also named after his great Uncle Miller Hall who was a bedstead manufacturer (Miller Hall & Sons). His grandfather or Abba, (the biblical name for father) as he was referred to by the family, was a widower and a partner in a cutlery business in Chicago. As a young man in Iowa, Ernest Hall ran away from the family farm after he had angrily driven some horses into a river that were swept away in the current. He returned once the news of the Civil War had started and he enlisted, and was forgiven.
Grandfather Hall spent the winters in California with his son, Leicester. The entire family lived together only in the spring and fall. Abba was strict in his religious beliefs. He said grace before each meal and conducted a family religious service six days a week that everyone was required to attend, even the household help. Marcelline recalled the service in her book At the Hemingways, “After Abba had read the lesson for the day, we would all rise, turn, and kneel down on the carpet in front of our chairs, resting our elbows on the black leather seats, while Abba knelt at the center table. But instead of closing his eyes or bowing his head as the rest of did, he raised his head, his eyes upward, as though he was talking to God, right above him. I can still see Abba”s shiny pink and white head, his white muttonchop whiskers and the white fringe of his neatly center-parted hair, his beaming smile and those lovely deep blue eyes looking up to God as he prayed.”2
Ernest and Marcelline had a good relationship with Abba, who would take them for walks and often tell them stories about a pack of wild dogs and their adventures. Abba had a small Yorkshire Terrier named Tassle that Ernest and Marcelline were very fond of.
Another of their favorite storytellers was their Grand-Uncle Tyley Hancock (Grace”s mother”s brother) who lived there as well. He was a traveling salesman who worked for Miller Hall & Sons, and would often be gone for weeks at time. He would tell the young children stories of his days circumnavigating the globe as a young man on his fathers cargo ship.
This house that Ernest grew up in at 339 N. Oak Park Avenue is open to visitors today as the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home. The Queen Anne style home was built in the 1880s, and is currently being restored to its turn-of-the-century appearance in preparation for the 1999 centennial of Hemingway”s birth. The house is open for visits during restoration. You can enjoy period displays, videos and exhibits about the Hemingway family life.
It was in this house that Ernest had his earliest memories. It was the attic of his grandfather”s house that he wrote about in the short story, Now I lay me,
“going back to the earliest thing you remember which was, with me, the attic of the house where I was born and my mother and father”s wedding cake in a tin box hanging from the rafters, and in the attic, jars of snakes and other specimens that my father had collected as a boy and preserved in alcohol, the alcohol had sunken in the jars so that the backs of some of the snakes and specimens were exposed and had turned white. I remember, after my grandfather died we moved away from that house and to a new house designed and built by my mother. Many things that were not to be moved were burned in the back-yard and I remember those jars from the attic being thrown in the fire, and how they popped in the heat and the fire flamed up from the alcohol. I remember the snakes burning in the fire in the back-yard. But there were no people in that, only things.”4
Many have written about this incident as a formative episode in Ernest”s early years that provides a revealing glimpse at the relationship between Clarence & Grace. It appears that an incident such as this really did take place, where Grace did burn many of the things that Clarence had collected over the years. It may have stemmed from Grace”s dislike of anything creepy or crawly or from some other unknown motivation.
Weighing in equally upon the scale of influence in Ernest”s young life, and possibly even greater was Ernest”s father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway. Clarence was the person who instilled the love of nature and sport in young Ernest. His father came from a strict religious background. Dr. Hemingway attended Oberlin College and received his M.D. from Rush Medical College in Chicago. His father was Anson T. Hemingway, a Civil War Veteran who owned a successful real-estate business in Chicago. Anson had originally worked for the YMCA before he went into real estate. The career change was influenced by a desire to provide more for his family. Clarence”s parents lived across the street at 400 Oak Park Avenue. Grandfather Hemingway had originally come from Connecticut but had lived for fifty years in Oak Park.
As a boy, Clarence spent much of his time alone out on the Des Plaines River searching the old Indian mounds for artifacts. He loved to fish and hunt and was an amateur natural historian who collected stamps, coins, Pottawatomi Indian arrowheads, and snakes which he kept preserved in glass jars. He also performed taxidermy on small animals and birds.
Young Dr. Hemingway seemed exceedingly interested in the education and formation of his children and was always taking them out on field trips, to fun as well as educational places on the weekends. He exposed Ernest to hunting and what was necessary in handling and eating small game: how to clean it, prepare it and cook it, how to use a gun and how to build a fire. Clarence was very fond of cooking and making the most of the raw materials he was presented with. He was a sincere righteous man who felt a responsibility to be good and do good works. He gave many of his less fortunate patients free medical care. This included people in Oak Park, as well as Indians and fellow vacationers in Michigan. Ernest spoke of his father as a great shot, ” a beautiful shot the fastest I have ever seen.” Ernest remembered that his father had extraordinary eyesight in Fathers and Sons, “On the other hand his father had the finest pair of eyes he had ever seen and Nick had loved him very much and for a long time.” It is interesting to note that in addition to the many differences his parents shared, there was even a difference in sight; Grace had poor vision and Clarence had eyes like a hawk.
Ernest was a well-behaved baby according to Grace. When he was very young, Grace liked to dress him and his older sister as though they were twins. There was a picture of Ernest taken when he was nine months old, wearing a pink dress and a hat decorated with flowers. The caption of the picture was “summer girl.” The two children were always together when they were growing up. Grace even held Marcelline back to start first grade at the same time as her younger brother and her desire for twins continued throughout their young lives but less so into their high school years. Still, Ernest was forced to serve as a chaperone for Marcelline at many events during high school.
As a young child, Ernest was energetic and happy. Grace wrote of him when he was two, “round and fat and as strong as a five-year-old. His hair is yellow worn in bangs and curly ends around his head, a healthy brown complexion, light brown eyes, strong black eye brows, perfect mouth and dimples.”5 He was interested in reading picture books and he liked a magazine called Birds of America, in which he was able to identify many of the birds. He developed his boastful self-confidence early on. Grace wrote of how he replied to the question what are you afraid of? “he shouts out fraid a nothing with great gusto.”
Ernest often sang songs of little rhymes, and put on short performances of passages of poetry from poems such as Longfellow”s Hiawatha. He gave himself nicknames like Bobby the Squirrel, and would often let his imagination get carried away by telling tall tales.
The young world of Ernest appears to have been centered upon the family”s tradition of spending summers at Windemere, the cottage that Clarence had built for Grace. She named it after the lake in England. It was on the shore of Walloon Lake (formerly Bear Lake) in Upper Michigan, not far from the small town of Horton Bay. The region of Northern Michigan lumbering country, just east of Lake Michigan, was an area full of low hills, lakes and forests. Windemere had two bedrooms, a dining room, and a kitchen. There was also a large fireplace, a wood stove and an iron pump for well water. Clarence raised small animals like ducks and pigs. The family had two row boats (named after Marcelline and Ursula) and later a motor boat to help get them around the lake. Ernest had first been brought there as a young baby when the land was just beginning to become a vacation spot.
This was the main place, besides the Des Plaines River back home, where Ernest was able to run free and experience some aspect of independence while spending time in Nature. It was here that he first learned to fish on his third birthday. Grace wrote, “He caught the biggest fish of the crowd. He knows when he gets a bite. He is a natural scientist, loving everything in the way of bugs, stones, shells, birds, animals, insects, and blossoms.” As we can read in his short fiction, the lessons that he learned in Michigan made up much of his future material.
Not very far from Windemere was the small cluster of homes known as Horton Bay. This included a school, a blacksmith shop, a few houses along with a general store, post office and Methodist church. It was here that Ernest became friendly with an older boy named Wesley Dilworth, who was the son of Jim and Liz Dilworth. Jim ran the blacksmith shop across from the school while Liz ran a small chicken dinner restaurant called Pinehurst Cottage set by the lake. The Hemingway family often ate at Pinehurst Cottage and were very friendly with the Dilworths. Ernest spent even more time here as he grew older. It is interesting to note that the Dilworths are the models for the Dillworths in the story Up in Michigan.
Ernest was enrolled in kindergarten during the fall of 1903. He also became part of the local branch of the Agassiz Club, a nature study program. The chapter had been organized by his father. The club was named after the famous naturalist Louis Agassiz. On Saturdays, he went out with other boys to gather specimens and identify birds along the Des Plaines River. Grace described his experiences,
“Ernest Miller at 5 1/2 years old is a little manno longer lazydresses himself completely and is a good helper for his father. He wears suspenders just like Papa. Is very proud to be a member of Agassiz. He counts up to 100, can spell by ear very well. His ear in singing is improving, though far from correct. He likes to build cannons and forts with building blocks. Collects cartoons of Russo-Japanese war. He loves stories about great Americans, can give you good sketches of all the great men in American History.” 6
In 1905 an important event took place in the Hemingway family. Ernest Hall passed away from Brights Disease. With the inheritance Grace received, she decided to sell the house where she had lived with Clarence for nine years, and design and build herself a new one. The main reason for this appears to be that she wanted a bigger house and she needed more room for her musical teaching. The new house would have a stucco exterior, eight bedrooms, medical offices for Clarence and a large music room. It was eventually built in 1906 on the corner of 600 North Kenilworth Avenue and Iowa Street. When they moved into the house in August, Clarence had a tin box of family artifacts sealed into the hearth by a mason. The family had a small gathering and they sang “Blest be the tie that binds”
Arguably the most impressive feature of the house was Grace”s new music room. It was thirty feet square by fifteen feet high. The room had a small balcony, and there was a raised platform for her students to perform on, which stood beside her new Steinway piano. As Ernest got older, he would sneak his friends into the room for boxing matches.
On the other side of the house was Clarence”s office where he saw patients. The library of the house was used as a waiting room, this was where Clarence kept stuffed examples of his small animal taxidermy, like raccoons, squirrels, & chipmunks.
This home still stands today at 600 North Kenilworth Avenue. It is not far from Ernest”s birthplace. The home is a private residence and does not offer tours.
After the death of Ernest Hall the family added to its property in Michigan. They bought a 40 acre farm across the lake from Windemere. They called it Longfield Farm. Clarence planted hardwood trees and fruit trees there as well. Grace would later build a small cottage atop a hill on the farm. She used this place to escape from the family and spend time on her own working on her music.
Ernest would often take friends up to Michigan with the family. The summer they were building their new house, Harold Sampson went along. They spent a great deal of time at Longfield farm. There were tracks that led into town and they would go fishing with Wesley at Horton”s Creek, and eat dinners at Pinehurst Cottage. Ernest enjoyed the freedom of the summer. He would make milk runs to nearby Bacon”s farm. Once when Ernest was running down a hill he stumbled while carrying a sharp stick in his mouth. The stick punctured the back of his throat removing some of his tonsils. This injury led to frequent sore throats as young man.
His affinity for Michigan seems clear. Michigan was summer, fun and freedom. Oak Park was winter, school and work. He appears to have enjoyed school and become more involved as he grew older. Ernest”s schooling began at the Oliver Wendell Homes School on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park. Ernest attended church as a young boy at the First Congregational Church. When he and his sister were older they belonged to the Plymouth League, a young people”s organization at the church.
As part of their education, Grace took on the cultural responsibilities by bringing the children to the symphony and the opera, and to art museums, especially the Art Institute where she held an annual membership in the family”s name. Ernest and Marcelline had season tickets to the Columbia Opera Company in 1915. Each of the children was given music lessons. Ernest had little choice in taking the Cello as a young man and played in the school orchestra. He was not good at it and his mother eventually allowed him to give it up. He had to practice for an hour each day. He used the time to think about writing while he played melodies over and over.
Clarence, on the other hand, took the children to the Natural History Museum, the Lincoln Park Zoo and twice a year to the Ringling Brothers Circus. Ernest”s favorite room at the Museum was the Hall of African Mammals that showed lions, cheetahs, wildebeests and hyenas. He enjoyed the leopards and lions in their cages. According to Marcelline, one time at the circus Ernest wandered off to where the three legged man was and pinched his third leg and demanded to see where it was attached until he was brought back to his seat by Clarence.
The home life of the Hemingways appears to have been an environment which was a mixture of Clarence and Graces personalities. Grace was extravagant, encouraging, prone to outbursts, creative and eccentric. Whenever she did not get her way, there was an emotional crisis. With each crisis she would run to her bedroom and complain of a headache. According to her son Leicester, it was not easy for her to raise six children. It has been suggested that she felt she had a made a sacrifice in marrying Clarence, and in doing so, she had given up her singing career in opera. She was by no means a housewife. She did not cook very much. She left many of the everyday duties of the family to be taken care of by servants and the family had many, as Grace was not the best housekeeper.
Luckily, Clarence was able to cook. He prided himself on being able to make dishes from scratch with only the basic raw materials. He taught his children that wild onions with bread and butter made great sandwiches on their long hikes. He insisted that his children try new foods and that even if they didn”t like them, after the fourth time they would acquire a taste for them. Clarence was more concerned with the natural world rather than the Arts. He did not like idleness. He did not like to see his children sitting around reading when they could be doing something physical. He was oftentimes strict, and was more of the disciplinarian than Grace, and the children were taken to his office when they needed to be punished. As Ernest became older, the differences between his parents became apparent and they quarreled at times taking separate vacations. Sometimes Clarence stayed behind to see patients.
One such separate vacation, that was more of a family tradition, was in September of 1910 when Ernest traveled to Nantucket with his mother. Grace had vacationed there with her family as a young girl. This was Ernest”s first visit to the ocean. His mother sang in the church choir while they were there. He sent back a swordfish sword for the Agassiz Club. He also toured important historical sites in Boston, Cambridge, Concord & Lexington on his return trip.
For evidence about the relationship of his parents and the impact they may have had on him we can again look to another story, The Doctor and The Doctor”s Wife. This is a story about the argument between Nick Adam”s father, based on Clarence, and the Indian sawyer Dick (Nick) Boulton. Some logs have drifted down the lake from the lumber company and washed up at the cottage. Dick keeps saying that the logs are stolen. He does it to aggravate the Doctor, so that he doesn”t have to pay him the money he owes him for medical care. There is a confrontation and the Doctor returns to the house very angry. His mother is resting in the bedroom with the blinds drawn.
“Henry,” his wife called, then paused a moment. “Henry!”
“Yes,” the doctor said.
“You didn”t say anything to Boulton to anger him, did you?”
“No,” said the doctor.
“What was the trouble about, dear?”
“Tell me, Henry. Please don”t try and keep anything from me. What was the trouble about?”
“Well, Dick owes me a lot of money for pulling his squaw through pneumonia and I guess he wanted a row so he wouldn”t have to take it out in work.”
His wife was silent. The Doctor wiped his gun carefully with a rag. He pushed the shells carefully back in against the spring of the magazine. He sat with the gun on his knees. He was very fond of it. Then he heard his wife”s voice from the darkened room.
“Dear, I don”t think, I really don”t think that anyone would really do a thing like that.”
“No. I can”t believe that anyone would really do a thing of that sort intentionally.”
The doctor stood up and put the shotgun in the corner behind the dresser.
“Are you going out, dear?” his wife said.
“I think I”ll go for a walk,” the doctor said.
“If you see Nick, dear, will you tell him his mother wants to see him?” his wife said.
The Doctor went out on the porch. The screen door slammed behind him. He heard his wife catch her breath when the door slammed.
“Sorry,” he said, outside her window with the blinds drawn.
“It”s all right, dear,” she said. 8
We don”t know if an incident such as this actually took place. The characters are clearly based on Ernest”s parents; the Doctor, who was non-violent, the wife resting in a darkened room much the same way Grace did to rest her eyes.
At the end of the story little Nick Adams was reading a book outside. Hemingway read a great deal when he was a young man. We know that Ernest was given classic books to read like Robinson Crusoe, Ivanhoe, Dicken”s Christmas Stories, The Jungle Book by Kipling, and The Red Badge of Courage. Many of the books in the library at the Hemingway home were by British authors. His parents disapproved of Jack London”s writing and did not keep him in the house. Ernest appears to have read as many books as he could get his hands on.
As we can see in The Doctor & the Doctor”s Wife, the Ojibway Indians found their way into some of Ernest”s short stories and he was acquainted with some during his time in Michigan. Of the first three stories that he wrote for his high school literary magazine, two involved Indians. It is not known how much contact he had with them. Ernest knew the men Nick Boulton and Billy Tabeshaw who are used for the models of the Indians in the story. He spoke of the Indians having a strange smell and that he knew they were around even if you had not seen them. He saw them at local cottages selling berries occasionally.
In Fathers and Sons, Nick remembers back to the time he spent with Trudy Boulton and her brother in the woods hunting black squirrels. This character was based on Prudence Boulton, the daughter of Nick Boulton and it is not clear what Ernest”s relationship was with her. The story suggests that it was sexual.
“You think we make a baby? Trudy folded her brown legs together happily and rubbed against him. Something inside Nick had gone a long way away.
I don”t think so,
Make plenty baby what the hell.” 7
“None are to be found more clever than Ernie”
Ernest”s epitaph written in Tabula, the high school literary magazine.
The year 1913 was an important one for Ernest. It was the year he began high school. During the summer in Michigan, he began to stake his independence by sleeping outside of the cottage in a tent. In September, he entered Oak Park and River Forest Township High School. Oak Park High had very high standards with courses focused upon the liberal arts. The school was a large building of yellow brick with four floors. Much of the required reading at the school was English Literature such as: Tennyson, Coleridge, Shakespeare, Dickens, Eliot. Ernest was an outgoing student who did well in classes and became involved in extra-curricular activities. He took college prep classes and was involved in the glee club, boys debating society, “rifle club,” swim team, and played the cello in the orchestra. He also played center for the football team.
In his first year he took algebra, Latin, English & French. He did need a tutor to help him with Latin, but he enjoyed his English classes. At this time, Ernest was still not his full height, he was about 5-5; he grew taller in the summer that he turned 15.
In Michigan he was again joined by Harold Sampson and they worked very hard at Longfield Farm. They sold vegetables to cottages & hotels along the lake. By the end of the summer they had harvested over fifty bushels of potatoes. Once that summer, Ernest had gotten into trouble with his father because he and Harold had shot a porcupine. Clarence enjoyed hunting but he believed it was wrong to kill wastefully. If you killed something hunting then you should eat it and not waste it. The two boys had shot the porcupine after the Bacon”s dog (their neighbors) got in a fight with it. Clarence felt there was no good reason for them to have killed it, so he made them eat it.
In his sophomore year, Ernest tried out for lightweight football, again played cello in the school orchestra, worked part-time in the school cafeteria and began dating. At the beginning of the summer that year, he went up to Michigan with his friend Lewis Clarahan. The two began their journey by taking a boat ride on the steamer Missouri to Frankfort. Then the two hiked up to Windemere, occasionally hitching a ride. They stayed at Windemere and got the cottage ready for the summer.
In the summer of 1915 when Ernest was sixteen, he had a brush with the law. He got himself into trouble for shooting a Blue Heron in Michigan. He was out on the lake for a picnic with his younger sister Sunny. They had gone into a muddy area of reeds and startled a large Blue Heron. Blue Herons were illegal to shoot. The bird flew up and Ernest shot it. It is not clear why. Some have suggested that he intended to stuff it for school. He wrapped the bird in newspaper and left it on the boat.
When they were gone, the son of the local game warden stumbled upon their boat and found the Heron. He approached Ernest when they came back to the boat. Ernest made up an excuse and said that someone had given it to him. He then went home to the cottage and took off for Longfield farm.
The wardens soon came looking for him at the cottage. Grace found the two men impolite and secretive and ordered them off her property. Ernest was then on the run. He went to the Dillworths and then off to his Uncle George”s place at nearby Ironton. Eventually with the intervention of the Dilworths he was able to appear before a judge and pay a fine of fifteen dollars. Ernest never forgot this incident and throughout his life it became larger and more harrowing as he retold it.
In his junior year, Ernest had made substitute tackle on the lightweight football team. He did not seem to be crazy about football. He was awkward and still growing; his large feet made it harder for him to maneuver around. Practice was held at Phipps field which was not far from his home. He grew to like individual sports of skill, like hunting and fishing and boxing more than team sports like football. Nevertheless, he went on to play football and captain the water basketball squad his senior year.
Ernest developed quite a competitive nature. He liked to use his size to his advantage. In fact, later in life there were many stories of Ernest using his fists to fight. He supposedly first learned to box the hard way. He said that he responded to an advertisement in the paper for boxing lessons in Chicago. Ernest and many other boys signed up. The lessons were actually a scam and Ernest was knocked out, and the beating was supposed to keep him from showing up again but he did and they boxed roughly with him. He claimed that he learned from pros in Chicago but his biographer, Carlos Baker, suggested that this may not be true. He gave up on those lessons but his father bought him leather boxing gloves, and Ernest used to shadow box all over the house and use his mother”s special music room to spar in. He used to sneak his friends into the room and once he invited the football team over for a boxing match and beat every one of them.
In his biography, Ernest Hemingway A Life Story, Carlos Baker relates what was an important trip for Ernest. At the beginning of the next summer in 1916, before Ernest”s senior year, he went up to Michigan again with his friend Lew Clarahan for a longer hunting and fishing trip. Their goal was to make their way fishing and hiking through small towns along creeks and rivers to the town of Kalkaska. The first leg of the journey was a steamer to Frankfort on the coast of Lake Michigan.
From there they hiked to Onekama along the Manistee River to Bear Creek. They camped along Bear Creek and the next day they spent fishing. Then they headed onto Walton Junction for something to eat, and to Mayfield to the Boardman River. They slept here and were awakened by rain at night. Then they traveled back to Mayfield where they caught a train to Kalkaska, and hiked to Rapid River. Their blankets were still wet from the rain and they stayed up all night fishing. They ate in Kalkaska the next day and then Lew headed back home. Ernest then went to Mancelona and waited to catch the Petoskey train. Baker cites this as an important journey for Ernest because when he was there waiting for the train, he made notes of the things that had happened on the trip and how he might use them for story material in the future. It is evident that the young mind of the writer was working in a mature way, actively mining his own experience for its literary merit. Once in Petoskey, he stayed the night at the Hotel Perry and then went to Horton Bay to visit the Dilworths. Throughout his high school years, we see him begin to spend more time away from his family and more time on his own, camping outside and running the farm for his father.
Back in Oak Park, English was Ernest”s best subject and he took it each of his four years at school. The two English teachers who both encouraged him and he recalled as being especially nice to him, were Miss Fannie Biggs and Miss Dixon. Fannie Biggs, his writing and journalism teacher, taught the Story Club which was something like a writing workshop. A class of students were hand-picked and met once a week under her direction. She showed an interest in Ernest and encouraged his talent. He appears to have been a good student and as a young writer his stories were read aloud in class. He published three stories in Tabula, which was the Oak Park High literary magazine.
The Judgment of Manitou was in the February 1916 Tabula – The two trappers Dick Haywood and Pierre are the main characters in this short story. Pierre has become suspicious of Dick thinking that he has taken his lost wallet. So he sets a snare trap for Dick when he goes out to check his bear trap. Dick is soon caught and he is left hanging from a tree, to meet his fate of being eaten by timber wolves. Pierre soon realizes that it was a red squirrel that stole his wallet. He rushes out to find what”s left of Dick and he himself then is caught by Dick”s bear trap to face the judgment of Manitou, which is an Ottawa Indian word for God
The next story was A Matter of Colour, in April 1916 Tabula. It relates the story of a fixed boxing match that went awry. The match is between the two boxers, Montana Dan Morgan who was white and Joe Gans who was black. The story is narrated by Old Bob Armstrong who was Dan”s Manager. Dan is hurt before the match and is unable to use his strong punching hand. The two go along with the fight but pay a large Swede to hit Joe over the head from behind a curtain next to the ring. He ends up hitting Dan and knocking him out. He hit the wrong man because he was colorblind.
Sepi Jingan was in the November 1916 Tabula and it is about the Ojibway Indian Billy Tabeshaw and his dog Sepi Jingan. They are tracking an Indian, Paul Blackbird, who is wanted for murder. Billy is hit over the head and knocked out and when he comes to, he is about to be killed by Blackbird until Sepi Jingan lunges for Blackbird”s throat. They dump Blackbird on the train tracks to make it look like an accident.
These stories are sophisticated for a high school student yet are still somewhat comical in their gratuitous use of violence. All three have an ironic surprise ending. He chooses Michigan as a setting and Indians appear as characters in two of his stories. Hemingway chooses Billy Tabeshaw as the name for one of the characters. Even at this early age he chose not to write about Oak Park. A tradition which he continued throughout his life.
Ernest did the majority of his writing for the school newspaper, Trapeze, and eventually he became an editor. He wrote sports stories and many other short pieces for the paper. Hemingway was influenced by Ring Lardner, who was then writing for the Chicago Tribune. He once wrote a column Ring Lardner Returns modeled after the journalist”s humorous letter writing style. Once when Ernest was editor, he needed to fill space on the paper. So he made up a story about the boys rifle club and took pictures of himself and his friends all holding their guns. He continued to report on their fictional progress throughout the season. His teachers did not notice that all the boys were holding shotguns instead of rifles.
Ernest graduated from high school in June of 1917. For his commencement, he was chosen to write the class prophecy. After graduation it was clear that his parents wanted him to go to college, but he did not seem to want to go. Earlier that year, he had his father write a letter to his Uncle Tyler in Kansas City to see if there was a position available at the Kansas City Star Newspaper. He found out there were no openings until the fall. His father had wanted him to continue the Hemingway tradition at Oberlin, while Ernest would have liked to have gone off to war, but his father felt that he was too young.
That summer Ernest continued to work on the farm during the week and on the weekends, he went fishing in Horton Bay. He spent time with his friends, Katy and Bill Smith. They were young people from St. Louis who lived with their aunt Mrs. Joseph William Charles. She had raised them from when they were young children after their mother died from tuberculosis. They were both older than Ernest and lived in a fixed up farmhouse in Horton Bay. Their friendship would continue and Katy would go on to marry the writer John Dos Passos. Hemingway first met his future Kansas City roommate, Carl Edgar, (nicknamed Odgar) through the Smiths. After the war, Ernest would live at Kate”s older brother Y.K. Smith”s apartment in Chicago. And because of his friendship with her, he would meet his future wife Hadley Richardson and the writer Sherwood Anderson.
Ernest left home with a confidence and eagerness that many young people his age did not have. He left home not realizing how much of his parents he was taking with him. From his mother he received the encouragement to be creative, which helps a young imagination develop. From his father he received an education and grounding in the Natural World. He taught him to hunt, fish, and how to do the many things for which he became known, but more importantly he learned the will and desire to do things correctly and for a young writer, he learned the importance of detail. His parents exposed him to multiple experiences. They awakened his senses to the world. This upbringing along with Ernest”s own confidence and sensibility helped create the fertile ground for him to grow and develop as a young writer.
In the fall of 1917, the time had come for Ernest Hemingway to leave home. Ernest was taken to the train station by his father. It was a moment Ernest would later fictionalize in For Whom The Bell Tolls,
Robert Jordan had not felt this young since he had taken the train at Red Lodge to go down to Billings to get the train there to go away to school for the first time. He had been afraid to go and he did not want any one to know it and, at the station, just before the conductor picked up the box he would step up on to reach the steps of the day coach, his father had kissed him good-by and said, “May the Lord watch between thee and me while we are absent the one from the other.” His father had been a very religious man and he had said it simply and sincerely. But his moustache had been moist and his eyes were damp with emotion and Robert Jordan had been so embarrassed by all of it, the damp religious sound of the prayer, and by his father kissing him good-by, that he had suddenly felt so much older than his father and sorry for him that he could hardly bear it.” 9
This passage was written after Clarence had committed suicide and this must have colored everything that had happened, including this good-bye at the railway station.
Ernests Uncle Tyler, Clarence”s brother, was a prominent Kansas City lumberman. He had married a girl named Arabella whose father was in Lumber. When he first arrived in town his Uncle Tyler met him at the station. He moved into their large Victorian Home on the 3600 block of Warwick Blvd.
He rested up for a day and then Tyler took him to meet Harry J. Haskell, chief editorial writer for the Star. Tyler had gone to school with Haskell at Oberlin College. The Kansas City Star was located at 1729 Grand Avenue, at 17th and 18th Street. It was three stories high and the brick building was large, taking up almost the entire block. Ernest was then introduced to George Langan the city editor of the paper. He was offered a job at 15 dollars per week which included a mandatory thirty day trial period.
The Kansas City Star was considered an important paper at the time, one of the best in the Midwestern states. It was a good place to start because the Star believed in training young writers.
His greatest influence at the paper was the assistant city editor, Pete Wellington, who he worked directly under. Wellington wanted him to write in a short, crisp style. Here Hemingway worked hard, and was eager to make his way in the world. He was given a style sheet that outlined the 110 rules that young reporters were to follow in their writing. “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive not negative. Eliminate every superfluous word. Don”t split verbs. Avoid the use of adjectives, especially such extravagant ones as splendid gorgeous, grand, magnificent etc.” 10
Hemingway later remarked “They gave you this to study and after that you were just as responsible for having learned it as after you had the articles of war read to you.” 11 “Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides by them.” 12 Wellington was responsible for maintaining the style sheet that had been developed by the founders of the paper. Hemingway remembered him, “Pete Wellington was a stern disciplinarian, very just and very harsh and I can never say how grateful I am to have worked under him.” 13
Pete Wellington also remembered Hemingway in 1951 “He liked action. When he was assigned to the General Hospital he had an irritating habit of riding off with the first ambulance to go to some cutting scrape without letting the city desk know that he was leaving the post uncovered.” 14
Wellington worked closely with Hemingway everyday that he was at the paper and he remembered that Hemingway worked very hard on his stories. It was at the proving ground of The Kansas City Star that Charles Fenton suggests in The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway, where Hemingway learned the discipline necessary to begin building his style and craft as a writer. Ernest once remarked that he was, “enormously excited under Pete Wellington”s guidance to learn that the English language yields to simplicity through brevity.” 15 His habits of working, and rewriting, and refining, began at the Star.
His schedule was 8-5, six days a week. His first beat was the court house but he wished to cover more of where the action was and was moved up to cover crime and police and the General Hospital. At the time, Kansas City was a growing city of 300,000, with plenty of crime and corruption and prostitution for Ernest to cover. “I covered the short-stop run, which included the 15th Street Police station, the union station and the General Hospital. At the 15th Street station you covered crime, usually small, but you never knew when you might hit something larger. The General Hospital was up a long hill from Union Station and then you got accidents and a double check on crimes of violence.” 16
For the month of October he stayed with his Uncle Tyler but soon moved in with his friend from Horton Bay, Carl Edgar, who worked for a fuel oil company. They lived on Agnes Street in Kansas City. This was further away from the paper so Ernest had to take the Prospect Avenue trolley car to work. Carl often worked late and they stayed up talking about the days events. According to Edgar, “Hemingway felt the charm and romance of newspaper work fully. He would talk for hours about his work, frequently when it would have been better to go to bed.” 17 He made friends with many of the other young men who were just a bit older than him. He spoke with many of the men about writing. At the Star, there was an infectious atmosphere of young men beginning their futures as writers.
Charles Fenton suggests that there was an older reporter that made an impression on Ernest, and some have suggested that he modeled his tough guy persona on him. Ernest did not know him very well. His name was Lionel Calhoon Moise (pronounced mo-ees). Ernest remembered him later in life with some possible liberties in this sketch, “Lionel Moise was a great rewrite man. He could carry four stories in his head and go to the telephone and take a fifth and then write all five at full speed to catch an edition. There would be something alive about each one. He was always the highest paid man on every paper he worked on. If any other man was getting more money he quit or had his pay raised. He never spoke to other reporters unless he had been drinking. He was tall and thick and had long arms and big hands. He was the fastest man on a typewriter that I ever knew. He drove a motor car and it was understood in the office that a woman had given it to him. One night she stabbed him in it out on the Lincoln Highway halfway to Jefferson City. He took the knife away from her and [broke her jaw: crossed out] threw it out of the car. Then he did something awful to her. She was lying in the back of the car when they found them. Moise drove the car all the way to Kansas City with her fixed that way.” 18
Wellington described Ernest as “a big good-natured boy with a ready smile.” He was able to make friends at the paper quickly. He developed a friendship with Ted Brumback who was the son of a Kansas City Judge. Both young men had something in common, their poor vision, which prevented them from getting into the war. Ted was twenty-two and had lost an eye in a golfing accident at Cornell. He had been over to France for a few months in 1917 as an ambulance driver.
Brumback would later write an article for the Kansas City Star, With Hemingway Before a Farewell to Arms, where he discussed his first day there. He had started working there about a month after Ernest and they met while Ernest was hard at work, and Ted was waiting around .”On my fourth trip to the water cooler for a drink I stopped behind him to watch. It was my first day as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. The city editor had forgotten my existence. I had nothing to do but drink water and hit myself on the knee cap to see whether my leg would jump or not.
When the tall chap had finished his story he called for a copy boy. Then he turned to me. “That”s rotten looking copy,” he said with a smile. “When I get a little excited this damn type mill goes haywire on me. Sometimes I can”t even read what”s written. The copy reader may call me over to the desk in a minute to translate. They kid me a lot, but they print my stuff just the same.”
“Your thoughts are faster than your fingers.”
“Something like that.” He arose and came towards me with outstretched hand. “My name”s Hemingway. You”re a new man, aren”t you?”
Ted also related the story of how he spent the night at Ernest”s room and stayed up late reading Browning out loud, at Ernest”s suggestion. Ted fell asleep but awoke to hear Ernest reading on into the early hours of the morning. 19
He spoke of the author”s “Boundless Energy” and winning smile that was hard to refuse.
Hemingway handed in mostly shorter articles at the Star. He wrote about the things that he had seen in Kansas City and used them in his stories. One time while Ernest was covering his beat, he stumbled upon a crowd at Union Station who had gathered around a sick man and had done nothing to help him, but call an ambulance that had not shown up yet. He saw the man had smallpox and knew that he would die if he wasn”t taken to a hospital. So Ernest picked him up and carried him to the General Hospital by taxi. His stories ranged from a fighting newspaper boy, a sad tale about a prostitute, shoot-outs between law-men, and a piece called At the End of the Ambulance Run where he details the common tragedies of the emergency room. In this story, he describes an old printer about to lose his thumb,
One day an aged printer, his hand swollen from blood poisoning, came in. Lead from the type metal had entered a small scratch. The surgeon had told him they would have to amputate his left thumb.
“Why doc? You don”t mean it do you? Why that”d be worsen sawing the periscope off a submarine.. I”ve just gotta have that thumb. I am an old-time swift. I could set my six galleys a day in my timethat was before the linotypes came in. Even now they need my business, for some of my best work is done by hand. And you go and take that finger away from me and well, it”d be mighty interesting to know how I”d ever hold a stick in my hand again. Why, doc!”
With face drawn, and head bowed, he limped out of the doorway. The French artist who vowed to commit suicide if he lost his right hand in battle, might have understood the struggle the old man had alone in the darkness. Later that night the printer returned. He was very drunk.
“Just take the damn works, doc, take the whole damn works,” he wept. 20
As young writer Ernest was not only interested in carefully observing the important events he saw, he also wished to be a part of the action. By now the country was involved in the World War and he didn”t want to miss it. Clarence objected to his son”s wish to enlist because he felt that Ernest was too young. Ernest had been rejected a number of times for the service because of his eyesight. There still was a way for him to get to the war, his chance came over the wire in the newsroom. He saw that the Red Cross Ambulance Corps needed volunteers to work in Italy, and would take men who had been rejected by the US Service. At the end of the year, Ernest had decided to join up in the spring with Brumback and another Kansas City Star cub reporter, Wilson Hicks, who later had to back out. Clarence did finally acquiesce, figuring that Ernest had gained more experience of the world in Kansas City.
They left Kansas City at the end of April 1918. He tried to spend the summer in Michigan before leaving for Europe. He left to take a last fishing trip in Horton Bay at the end of that month, along with Charlie Hopkins, Ted, and Carl Edgar. They stayed one night in Oak Park and then went on to Horton Bay. The trip did not last long for they received a cable and he was notified that they had to go to New York by May 8th.
His decision to go to World War I begins the next chapter in the life of Ernest Hemingway and marks the most defining moment in his life. It was because of what happened there, the experiences of Europe, and the war that continued to shape Ernest Hemingway so that he would begin to become Hemingway the writer and legend we now remember. He would return home recognized as a brave war hero, a persona that he would need to live up to. It helped him to create his own vision of who he was, and who he would be.
What can we learn from the pre-legend days of Ernest Hemingway”s youth? What was it that made him choose to become a writer? If there is an answer, then somehow the choice was a mixture of his early experience, environment, imagination and personality, and was in many ways, inescapable for him. His parents nurtured those aspects within him to grow and he developed into a writer. His senses were awakened at an early age, to music, nature, taste, and stories of adventure. His adolescence continued to be full of experiences with art and nature, and what is a writer, but a relater of experience.
The lessons of the youth of Ernest Hemingway are varied. They live on in his work, carefully placed for each reader to decipher the value he gave to them. If we can learn anything from Hemingway, it could be to try to take life and writing seriously, and remember how he started and where he came from, and what he was aiming to accomplish, which was above all an attempt to discern what was true. The best way to celebrate him this year and in the future, is to pick up a book and read him, and see what lessons are there for you.