Hemingway in Oak Park:
Memorialized in Home and Museum

By Barbara Ballinger
Caxtonian, July 1996

n July 21, 1899, according to local lore, Clarence Hemingway, a young Oak Park doctor who had just delivered his second child, stepped out on the sunlit porch of his father-in-law’s Oak Park home to sound his cornet and let the neighbors know that the new baby was a boy. The child would be christened Ernest Miller Hemingway. As the centennial of his birth approaches, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park is preparing to recognize it with substantial restoration of the birthplace house, presentation of a conference for scholars and the interested public, and the possibility of a significant new traveling exhibition.

The Hemingway Foundation, now in its 12th year, emphasizes the importance of Hemingway’s Midwest origins and the first 20 years in which Oak Park was Ernest Hemingway’s home. The foundation operates Hemingway’s birthplace as a house museum and the only home of a notable author in the Chicago area open to the public. In addition, it sponsors the Hemingway Museum, which focuses on Hemingway’s family life, his Oak Park education, Michigan summers, and World War I experiences. Temporary educational exhibits, lectures, seminars, and short story discussion sessions round out the organization’s program. A museum shop features Hemingway titles as well as works of biography and criticism.

The foundation’s archives, located in the Hemingway Museum, contain materials ranging from family memorabilia and photographs to audio recordings and documentary videotapes. A major part of the collection came as a gift from the children of Marcelline Hemingway Sanford, Ernest’s older sister, who graduated with her brother in the 1917 class of Oak Park High.

Mrs. Sanford’s collection of family history contained over 600 photographs dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries, newspaper clippings, household items, and such family papers as sheet music with words and music by Grace Hall Hemingway, the author’s mother, and a paper on forceps written by Dr. Clarence “Ed” Hemingway for his medical society. An autograph book, which belonged to Marcelline, contains a verse scribbled by Ernest in 1909. Perhaps the most important part of the collection, however, is a manuscript and several typewritten drafts of Mrs. Sanford’s family history At the Hemingways, published by Little, Brown and Company in 1962 and now out of print. These papers together with photographs and memorabilia create a vivid picture of a large and complex family actively involved in religious, artistic, and natural history pursuits. Other items in the foundation archives include a valuable collection of original posters advertising films based on Hemingway works. It must be said that, on the whole, Hemingway was no fan of those movies. The number of videocassettes in the archives is growing and now includes documentaries, interviews of Hemingway contemporaries, lectures by scholars, and motion pictures based on Hemingway stories.

The foundation also has acquired a selection of foreign language translations of Hemingway’s works and recently received A Farewell to Arms, To Have and Have Not, and For Whom the Bell Tolls in Rumanian. An earlier gift was the Singhalese version of The Old Man and the Sea. The continuing appeal of Hemingway to readers around the world was illustrated recently by the comments of a Japanese writer whose granddaughter sent copies of his book My Hemingway. The book “is composed of my own views of the various interpretations of his works.... At the same time it represents my deepest feelings for him, who has had such a big influence on my life,” wrote R. Miya.

One piece of special interest, which is in Oak Park now, is the “Dear John” letter by nurse Agnes von Kurowsky to Ernest after his return to Oak Park from Italy in 1919. Ernest, who was wounded while serving as a Red Cross ambulance driver on the Italian front, was sent to a hospital in Milan. There he met and fell in love with the beautiful and older Agnes. When she ended the romance, Ernest was deeply hurt. Later his World War I experience and the romance with Agnes would form the background for A Farewell to Arms.

The Hemingway bibliography continues to grow. Two of this year’s entries have Oak Park connections. In January, Cambridge University Press published Rose Marie Burwell’s Hemingway: The Post War Years and the Posthumous Novels. In July, the University of Alabama Press will publish Ernest Hemingway: The Oak Park Legacy, edited by James Nagel. Ms. Burwell resides in Oak Park. Mr. Nagel directed a Hemingway conference held in Oak Park in 1993.

Scott Schwar, foundation chairperson, is leading the Hemingway Centennial Celebration. Caxtonians who might like to be a part of the planning are invited to call the foundation at 708/848-2222.

A Chronology of the Writings of Ernest Hemingway 1899–1961
Three Stories & Ten Poems, Paris, 1923
in our time [sic], Paris, 1924
In Our Time, New York, 1925
Torrents of Spring, New York, 1926
The Sun Also Rises, New York, 1926
Men Without Women, New York, 1927
A Farewell to Arms, New York, 1929
Death in the Afternoon, New York, 1932
Winner Take Nothing, New York, 1933
Green Hills of Africa, 1935
To Have and Have Not, New York, 1937
The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories, New York, 1938
For Whom the Bell Tolls, New York, 1940
Men at War: The Best War Stories of All Time Edited with Introduction by Hemingway, New York, 1942
Across the River and Into the Trees, New York,1950
The Old Man and the Sea, New York, 1952
A Moveable Feast, New York, 1964
By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, New York, 1967
Islands in the Stream, New York, 1970
The Garden of Eden, New York, 1986
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway Finca Vigia Edition, New York, 1987

Notes: Titles after The Old Man and the Sea were published posthumously. Not included above are separately published short works, such as a play, a narrative for a film, or a booklet. Selected Letters, edited by Carlos Baker, was published in New York, 1981.

The Hemingway Museum is located at 200 North Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 1–5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1–5 p.m.