One Hundred years after his birth, Ernest Hemingway's proud and painful legacy endures.
Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99
(continued from page 9)
That year, Fidel Castro's revolution against Cuban president Fulgencio Batista initially pleased Hemingway. He believed the Batista government to be irretrievably corrupt. "I wish Castro all luck," he said, and had a brief, cordial meeting with the new leader on May 15, 1960, at the annual Hemingway Fishing Contest in Havana, during which Castro won a trophy for the "largest individual accumulation."
Politics had never been a preoccupation for Papa, however, and as Castro came to power, Hemingway was coming apart at the seams, emotionally and physically. The turmoil in Cuba and Castro's proclamation of a communist regime in 1960 made little impression on Hemingway, as depression and paranoia began overwhelming him. He was convinced friends were trying to kill him, the FBI was after him, and that he was on the verge of poverty. Hospitalized that November at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, he was given electroshock treatments over the next two months. He had to turn down an invitation to attend the January 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy, whom he admired, and upon returning to his new home in Ketchum, Idaho, he began work again on his Paris memoir. Soon he found that he could write practically nothing at all. Asked to contribute a couple of sentences for a book of handwritten tributes to Kennedy, he spent hours at the task but was unable to complete it.
Having lost the one ability that meant more to him than anything--and perhaps having finally acknowledged his alcoholism--Hemingway sank ever deeper into depression. He was hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic again in April 1961 and received more electroshock treatments. The last thing he wrote was a warm, encouraging letter to a friend's nine-year-old son, who was hospitalized with a serious heart ailment. He still had a fine eye for scenery: "Saw some good bass jump in the river. I never knew anything about the upper Mississippi before and it is really a very beautiful country and there are plenty of pheasants and ducks in the fall. But not as many as in Idaho and I hope we'll both be back there shortly and can joke about our hospital experiences together." He signed off: "Best always to you, old timer, from your good friend who misses you very much. (Mister) Papa."
Hemingway persuaded his doctors that he was well enough to be released in late June. He put the shotgun to his head only two days after he got home.
He was buried between two towering pine trees in the Ketchum town cemetery. Five years later, a bust of him was placed on a stone pedestal at Trail Creek, outside of town. On the pedestal was inscribed something Hemingway had written about a friend:
Best of all he loved the fall
The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
Leaves floating on the trout streams
And above the hills
The high blue windless sky
Now he will be a part of them forever.
Neil A. Grauer, a Baltimore writer and caricaturist, is the author of Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber.
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Dale Siemon — May 6, 2011 11:32am ET
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