Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Where did Papa get his sandals?

TNC staff archive contents of Ernest Hemingway?s Ketchum home

Express Staff Writer

In Ernest Hemingway?s master bedroom, relics of his life decorate the tabletops and walls. Some hearken back to the author?s days in Spain, where he often attended bullfights. Photo by Chris Pilaro

Rooms in the Ketchum house once owned by acclaimed author Ernest Hemingway are frozen in time. But which era do they represent?

The 1951 home overlooking the Big Wood River was built and first occupied by Bob Topping. Hemingway and his wife, Mary, didn't move in until 1959. After Hemingway's death in the house in 1961, Mary and various caretakers periodically occupied the building before it was turned over upon Mary's death in 1986 to The Nature Conservancy. TNC used the space for offices until it built a new Idaho headquarters in Hailey.

Now, TNC is undertaking an inventory and archiving effort to sort out which objects were part of the home during Hemingway's stay.

"Originally, the idea had been floating around when I came on board in 2005 that we needed an inventory of everything for our general knowledge, and so we can keep our eye on things" said preserve caretaker Taylor Paslay, who lives in the home's restored basement.

The effort expanded to a house-wide archiving project, with emphasis on the history of the house during the Hemingways' stay.

"There have been three owners of this house," Paslay said. "Not everything is identified as having to do with Hemingway."

Hemingway bought the house furnished, then introduced some of his own items into it. Much of his personal effects were given to The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, but curators left behind some objects to keep a touch of Hemingway's personality in the home.

"Part of our responsibility is making sure we have as close to a veritable history of this house and its contents as related to Hemingway as possible," Paslay said.

Detailed information will be catalogued so institutional knowledge is not lost as people associated with the home move on. It will also be useful to have that information as a way to keep track of things, especially when the home is opened for fundraising dinners and parties.

"If something goes missing, we'll know," Paslay said. "It's just for our safety."

Paslay is five months into the cataloging effort, which he hopes to complete by spring.

Room by room, item by item, Paslay photographs items and jots down information about furniture, artwork, lamps, curtains, shoes and books. That information is logged into an archiving software program.

Saltwater sandals, circa 1950, that sit on a trunk at the foot of the bed are known to have been Hemingway's. But where did he get them? Are they from his days in Key Largo or Cuba?

A lamp on a desk is circa 1950, but could it have been purchased from a local thrift shop in the 1990s?

Pink reading glasses that sit in the bedroom could be Mary's—or they could belong to a guest who inadvertently left them behind.

"There're a lot of stories in this house that aren't necessarily verified," Paslay said. "If we didn't do this inventory, who knows what kind of stories we'd be telling in 20 years."

Once Paslay inventories everything, he'll go back and supplement what he knows with interviews with other people.

Integral to his work has been Marty Peterson, a Hemingway scholar at the University of Idaho. Valerie Hemingway, the author's assistant who married one of his sons, is also being called upon for her knowledge of what was where and what was added, as are former caretakers.

"We've actually used the house more than Hemingway ever used it," Paslay said about TNC. "There are well-meaning additions for historical significance but having nothing to do with Hemingway."

The project is being paid for through donations specific to the Hemingway house. No funds will come from The Nature Conservancy.

"There's a real big interest in restoring the house to what it was like when they lived here," Paslay said. "If I can put this together in a solid way, in 20 years people who are interested in this house ... information will remain."

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