This is a part of a series called Literary South, which highlights important literary landmarks and the writers and authors who made them known.
Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899 to a physician and a musician. He grew up learning to play cello and spent summers hunting and fishing in rural Michigan. He took his first journalism class in high school, which placed him on the trajectory to becoming a writer. After school, he worked for a newspaper in Kansas City before going overseas to serve in World War I.
At the Italian Front, he worked as an ambulance driver, he was wounded and later received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. After returning home with his injuries, he went to work at a newspaper in Toronto but moved to Chicago the next year. It was there he met the sister of his roommate, Hadley Richardson, and they were married, his first of four. In later years, he was married to Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn, and Mary Welsh.
The Hemingways moved to Paris for Ernest’s work as a foreign correspondent, where he became a part of what was known as the “Lost Generation,” a crew of writers and other creatives like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce. They later returned to Toronto where their first child was born and his first book of stories was published. He became bored with life there and they returned to Europe. Here he started an affair with Pfeiffer, a writer for Vogue, who would become his second wife, and became fascinated by bullfighting.
After his divorce and re-marriage to Pfeiffer, she became pregnant and they moved to Key West, where both would continue to spend much of their lives. In 1937, he agreed to return to Europe to report on the Spanish Civil War, where he met fellow journalist Gellhorn and started an affair with her. Back in the States, he separated from Pfeiffer and moved to Cuba, later marrying Gellhorn in Wyoming. He bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, which became his summer residence for the rest of his life.
His marriage to Gellhorn ended and he immediately moved on to Welsh, who he was with when reporting on World War II. He earned the Bronze Star for his work. Back in Cuba, Hemingway had a number of injuries and health problems that plagued him, including plane crashes in Africa. After bouts of depression, he ended his life at age 61. Known for his unique writing style and hard drinking, his work remains some of the most acclaimed in the country, including The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea. He won both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for his work.
Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, Florida
The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West was purchased by Pauline Pfeiffer’s uncle, which included two floors and a carriage house that Hemingway used as a writing studio. His children Patrick and Gregory were raised here. It was a short walk from Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a favorite watering hole that still hosts the annual Hemingway Lookalike Festival. The house served as a base for fishing trips to the Dry Tortugas. After his divorce from Pfeiffer, she remained in the home after his death. A local woman purchased the home after her death and turned it into a museum with much of the original furniture. The polydactyl cats related to those owned by the Hemingways still roam the property.
The museum is located at 907 Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida, just steps away from the lighthouse. It is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is $14 for adults and $6 for children, which includes a 30 minute guided tour, and must be paid for in cash.
Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum, Piggott, Arkansas
Most people don’t know about Hemingway’s connections to Arkansas, explained at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott. His wife Pauline’s family lived here in the northeastern part of the state and their barn studio is where Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms and many short stories during his visits. The 60,000-acre property gave him the peace and quiet he needed to work. The home was added to the National Historic Register in 1982 and has been renovated to become a museum about Hemingway’s work as well as the region as a whole.
The museum is located at 1021 West Cherry Street in Piggott, Arkansas, managed by Arkansas State University. Tours are offered Monday to Friday from 9 am to 3 pm and Saturday from 1 pm to 3 pm. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for seniors.
Additional Hemingway Sites
The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home Museum in a suburb of Chicago discusses his early life and interprets his career in the family’s Victorian home. A historic plaque in Toronto shows where the author lived for a time there. Ernest Hemingway Museum is set in his former home in Havana, Cuba, near the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where he also lived. His final home, now the Mary and Ernest Hemingway House and Preserve in Ketchum, Idaho, is not open to the public but instead used for artist residencies. The Sun Valley Museum of History retains items from his estate on exhibit. He and many of his family members are buried at Ketchum Cemetery.