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Hemingway Adventure

Chicago, Illinois

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Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureOne of a party of sixth grade schoolchildren is pointing at a photograph of a beatific child with long blond hair and a flowing white dress.

‘Who’s that girl?’

Her teacher answers patiently. ‘That’s Ernest Hemingway.’

Number 339 Oak Park Avenue, the birthplace of one of the most uncompromisingly masculine writers of the twentieth century, holds quite a few surprises. Apart from young Ernest in pretty dresses there is the revelation that his voluptuous mother Grace was a songwriter and his craggily handsome father, Clarence, was an amateur taxidermist. But for me, on this very first day of my journey into Hemingway’s world, nothing can quite compete with the discovery that Ernest acquired his name and a considerable number of his genes from a man born in Sheffield, England. My own home town.

I owe this frisson of aynity to a man called Ernest Hall who left Sheffield in the mid-nineteenth century to seek his fortune in the United States. He fought in the Civil War and was wounded at Warrensburg, Missouri. He married the daughter of an English sea-captain, and in 1872 they in turn had a daughter, Grace. When she married Clarence Hemingway in 1896 they moved into Hall’s house where four of their children were born. The second of them, and the first boy, was given his grandfather’s name.

Whilst I get the impression that Hemingway heartily disliked being called Ernest, it’s also clear that he was fond of his grandfather who read him stories and instilled in him the importance of manly virtues and outdoor pursuits. Ernest Hall died when Ernest was six, and it was by all accounts a considerable loss. The reason I know all this is that, thanks to the efforts of the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, Grandfather Hall’s house lives on and I can stand today, surrounded by American schoolchildren, in the very room in which Ernest Hemingway first drew breath.
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  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Chicago, Illinois
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Chicago, Illinois
  • Book page no: 19

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