KETCHUM, Idaho–Rolling out of the Sawtooth Wilderness, heading south on Idaho Route 75, Judy and I recently paused in Ketchum to see how Ernest Hemingway was remembered there.
The great writer of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Old Man and the Sea” (for which he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954) spent his last troubled years in Ketchum. His best writing behind him and plagued by mental illness, he took his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Ketchum on July 2, 1961.
We parked the car downtown, and the first person we met on the street said that when he was a young man he had chauffeured Hemingway home from restaurants and bars when he was too intoxicated to drive. The man called himself Robert Burns, like the Scottish poet. I didn’t know if he was pulling my leg about the Hemingway anecdote or about his name, or both.
But Burns gave us good directions on where we should go to find out about the author’s days in Ketchum: The Community Library and the Regional History Department’s Hemingway collection.
Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary, bought a home in Ketchum in 1959 when he was concerned about the political situation in Cuba. But the writer and well-known celebrity had been coming to the Sun Valley area since 1939 when Union Pacific’s marketing team invited him to their new Sun Valley Resort. According to information shared by the library, Hemingway put the finishing touches on his great Spanish Civil War novel while staying in Sun Valley Lodge suite #206. At that time, he was accompanied by his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn.
According to the library, Hemingway wrote in the mornings, hunted in the afternoons and gambled in the bars in the evenings. He was drawn to the area because of the great trout fishing and bird hunting.
Among the photos in the Hemingway collection is a shot of Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper, which appears to have been taken during a hunting trip. Cooper played the lead in the movie adaptation of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Among the artifacts in the collection are a Royal portable typewriter, which has been identified as one that Hemingway probably used. Numerous copies of books by and about the author, as well as oral histories, are also part of the information assembled about the writer.
There is a walking tour around the city so a visitor can find Lodge Room #206 where he did some writing, the Casino Bar where he gambled and the Christiania Restaurant where the author and Mary had dinner the night before his death.
Near the end of his life, Hemingway wrote standing at a desk in his Ketchum home on works that were published after his death: “A Moveable Feast,” “The Dangerous Summer,” and “Islands in the Stream.” The home is not open to the public. The Community Library owns it, and a person there told me there is a long term plan for a room to be made available for a guest writer in residence. Every year the library sponsors a Hemingway-related writing seminar that runs two or three days.
This year the seminar focused on “A Farewell to Arms,” the career-launching novel that was based on Hemingway’s experiences as an ambulance driver during World War I.
Hemingway is buried in the Ketchum Cemetery under large evergreen trees. Family and friends are buried nearby.
Hemingway’s simple gravesite appeared to be a symbolic stop for some literary pilgrims. On the day we visited his gravesite it was decorated with a bouquet of flowers and a nearly empty bottle of Crown Royal.
This puzzled me. I had read a lot about Hemingway, including more than one biography. I didn’t know of a connection between Hemingway and Crown Royal. I knew he liked to drink a lot, but I thought his favorite was a civilizing martini. But we didn’t have time to ponder the matter. We moved on.