Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hemingway Museum and Archives

A Day With Papa Hemingway

About a week ago I happened to be reading in the New York Times an article about the re-publication of Ernest Hemingway's posthumously published A Moveable Feast.  Admittedly, I'd first come across this fairly slender tome nearly a score of years ago, and tucked it away after only reading snippets of it.  I pulled it out again during the year I lived in Italy, now almost a decade ago.  The only conversation I ever recall having about this book was with my friend Soren, but to what end, I do not recall.  Now returning to this point of republication, I found the article in the Times by A.E. Hotchner on July 19, 2009 to be not just informative, but astounding and provocative.  Hotchner's article was in fact an Op-Ed piece that day, in response to the re-editing of A Moveable Feast and a re-casting of its portrayal of Pauline Pfeiffer, one of Hemingway's wives, and grandmother of Sean Hemingway--the grandson who re-edited the manuscript.  Yet, in any of these types of literary forays, contests, or imbroglios, the various sides must be weighed accordingly.  We may understand the young Hemingway grand-kinder as wanting to see or re-see something of his grandfather's past and imagination.  But when you read the good Mr. Hotchner's assessment of A Moveable Feast, it takes your breath away, and makes you realize the young Sean is way out of his depth.  Most notably is this crystalline sentence from Hotchner's article, which begins: 

"In 1956, Ernest and I were having lunch at the Ritz in Paris with Charles Ritz, the hotel’s chairman, when Charley asked if Ernest was aware that a trunk of his was in the basement storage room, left there in 1930." 

Now if that doesn't get you going, I don't know what will.  But the denouement of that sentence comes a paragraph later, where there is a long discussion about some of his long-forgotten notebooks that happened to be at the bottom of this trunk.  The piece continues:

"Charley had the trunk brought up to his office, and after lunch Ernest opened it. It was filled with a ragtag collection of clothes, menus, receipts, memos, hunting and fishing paraphernalia, skiing equipment, racing forms, correspondence and, on the bottom, something that elicited a joyful reaction from Ernest: “The notebooks! So that’s where they were! Enfin!”

There were two stacks of lined notebooks like the ones used by schoolchildren in Paris when he lived there in the ’20s. Ernest had filled them with his careful handwriting while sitting in his favorite café, nursing a café crème. The notebooks described the places, the people, the events of his penurious life."

So, there we have it!  Now in light of all these wonderful events, I had in my mind a desire to return to Oak Park, IL, one of the great Chicago suburbs, which just also happens to be the hometown of Hemingway, the location of the Hemingway Museum, and the Oak Park Library Special Collections, which houses the Hemingway Archive.  

Museum, Bookshop, and Archives

I have long known that Oak Park was the hometown of Ernest Hemingway, but only during this last visit did I know what he thought about this gentle township--at least what it appeared to him nearly 100 years ago.  In the museum, which is pictured at right and in several photos below, there was a video presentation, which had a voice-over pretending to be Ernest, proclaiming: "I love this country to give my own life for it a hundred times, but by God, this town and this nation are no place to live!"  Okay, I admit that I have taken some artistic freedom in re-lacing his prose into a folksy Spanish Civil War cowboy patois, but I think it works, if I do say so myself.

At the entrance of the museum, there are several signs that tell you exactly where you are, including this "Open" sign.  Just in case you were wondering or simply lost.  Inside, one of the first things a person will see is the bookshop, complete with all the "Hemingwayana" a granny could pack in her suitcase for her grandkids.  Indeed, the bookshop was replete with every conceivable biography, literary analysis, novel, rum receipt, and crossword puzzle Hemingway ever wrote!  There were even T-shirts with his visage on them, busts of his head complete with Gurkha strength stare and ribbed sweater, and other Hemingway pleasantries.

 Of course, one of the most curious items in the bookshop was not even classified among the great Hemingway artifacts.  Rather, it was an artist's rendition of a catch-all box, which had been made by burrowing into hardback books, lining the empty spaces with velvet and lacing them up with fringes.  Then marketing them as "Book Boxes by Diane."  Thanks Diane, whoever you are, for making my trip to the Hemingway museum complete!  For a moment, briefly, I was reminded of the greatly high-priced book-purses I noted in my blog about this year's ALA conference.  But these hollow tomed cases were much more reasonable, running anywhere from $12 to $30 at most.  I too noticed that most of this "Secret Diane's" book-objects were not the highest quality reads, so I was neither offended nor put off by the potential desecration of the texts.  Anyhow, they were put to good use!

Here at left is the main hall exhibit, which you see when first entering the museum.  When I first entered and went into the bookshop, I spoke to the volunteer, who was staffing the desk and cash register.  We had a fine conversation and spoke about membership possibilities in the Hemingway foundation.  She suggested that I consider volunteer opportunities, which would afford me (or any other volunteer) the perks of membership.  I told her that I was a librarian with collections and archival experience.  And that seemed to be a good thing!  (Who knew that the library degree would be so marketable!?)  Nonetheless, we had a pleasant discussion about the museum and archives, and was told that there were a whole host of possibilities that could be entertained regarding the foundation, society, and organization of Hemingway enthusiasts.  Who knows, maybe I'll be able to partake in the annual Hemingway Fiesta on his birthday next July!

Hemingway's Grades

Before I was off to my next adventure in books, I was directed into the museum exhibits by the volunteer in the book shop.  Before going on my way, we spoke about some of Hemingway's posthumous works, and I had noted that his grandson had just edited "A Moveable Feast." She gave a pained look, twisted her mouth as if pulling down on a Halls Mentho-lyptus, and declared: "It's not very good..." tapering off into a taut whisper.  Whether good or not, grand or not, silly or not, what I thought I'd leave you with today is something as human as you might get for  a child of 7 or 8 or 9: his report card!  That's right, the magnificent report card of one Ernest Hemingway, coming right up!  It may not be surprising, though, that the young Ernesto received very good grades.  At least from a quick glance, it appears as if he got many A's.  I suppose it doesn't matter if they were locked up in a trunk for 70 years or not.  We don't frankly care about the grades he got.  I'm sure the Nobel committee was wracking their brains over this too.  In the end, it was an experience of many books, many signs and symbols, and a few new acquaintances at the Oak Park Museum and Archives.  Thanks Papa Hemingway for letting me tag along for a little while.  I'll be sure to keep my grades up too.


  1. Fantastic!! I really love this blog. Next time I'm in Chicago I'd like to visit this place. Thanks for the tour.

  2. I regret that I never paid the Hemingway Museum a visit when I lived within walking distance. But then, I've always been undecided on my feeling toward the man. I do love to hate him. A Movable Feast is, IMHO, one of his better reads. Hem's life was such a vital part of his novels that when I read Feast I felt like I was getting the real story.