Friday, January 14, 2005

What are we honoring with Hemingway House?

Commentary by Margaret McBride

Margaret McBride, a Ketchum homeowner, is a literary agent and co-author of "The One-Minute Apology."

Ernest Hemingway would love all the fuss being made over the house in Ketchum where he took his life. Something he had talked about doing ever since his own father's suicide. And as his brother, Leicester did after him. As a literary agent and the mother of a daughter with bi-polar I disorder, I was horrified when I found that the house down the street from us was the place Hemingway killed himself.

Hemingway loved fiction in life and in his work. He was a great and charismatic storyteller and assumed recreating his past to dazzle and delight those listening was his special gift and talent. So, having people create a legend, when it was only a house Hemingway bought on impulse is the kind of fiction he would enjoy. After his wife, Mary Hemingway found the house hideously designed and coldly depressing he immediately returned to Cuba and then Spain. In fact, they only stayed in the house a few months, using it after his stays, under an assumed name, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York. There, Hemingway was misdiagnosed and treated with two series of electro-convulsive therapy treatments, which effectively erased his memory leaving him more depressed than ever. He was only in his early 60s and yet looked like a man of 90. Normally weighing between 200 and 250 pounds he weighed only 155 when he was released from Mayo.

Hemingway himself said the only places he found conducive to writing were: Paris, Key West, Fla.; a ranch near Cooke City, Mont.; Kansas City; Chicago; Toronto; and Havana, Cuba. And to use Hemingway's exact words, "Some other places were not so good, but maybe we were not so good when we were in them." In fact, Hemingway's best writing was in collaboration with his wonderful editor at Scribner's, Maxwell Perkins, who also edited the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Wolfe and others. Perkins' death took a toll on all his authors, yet they took a toll on him. For example, an editorial meeting over lunch with Hemingway was so exhausting for Perkins that Charles Scribner, seeing Perkins looking so drained afterward, told him to take the rest of the day off.

In the last 20 years of his life, according to his son, Patrick, he drank two quarts of alcohol a day. Mary Hemingway said that that in his later years he was "mean." For instance, his brother, Leicester gave him the only copy of the manuscript of his novel, and Hemingway burned it and never said a word. Hemingway also disinherited his three sons, leaving bitter feelings after his death.

Why create a museum in Ketchum when, Mary Hemingway, 10 years after his death, decided to give the Kennedy Presidential Library all his memorabilia, works, tapes, photographs, letters, clippings, now in the Hemingway Collection, in Boston.

It's interesting that Mary Hemingway found her husband attempting to kill himself with a gun three months before his actual death.

She brought him back to the Mayo Clinic and begged them not to release him to her care, yet they did. The Hemingways returned to the Ketchum house and two days later, according to his biographer, Jeffrey Meyers, Hemingway killed himself with a 12-gauge Boss shotgun that had been locked up in the storeroom in the basement of their home. He loaded the gun with two shells and in the entry to his home he shot himself as Mary slept upstairs. Now, how could a man so sick, break into a locked storage room? The keys "were on the window ledge above the kitchen sink." His wife's explanation at the time was "no one had a right to deny a man access to his possessions."

So, what are we honoring at 400 East Canyon Run Boulevard? Certainly not a well man. It was not a place where this great writer ever wrote any of his famous works. What is the purpose of spending large sums of money, when critics, afterward, who know the history will bring these and other facts to the forefront and ask, "What were they thinking?"

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