Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hemingway's Birth Home

Hemingway's birth home sits a few blocks up from the museum's location, on Oak Park Ave, in Oak Park, IL.  The home has been refinished and refurbished over the years.  Some things in it are replicas of what would have been in the home at the turn of the 20th century, when the Hemingway family lived there.

You can find a pretty decent oral review of the home at

After my tour at the museum,  I purchased a coffee mug, a tee shirt, and a Nick Adams book that I didn't have.  It was a bit worn, but I liked the idea of buying a used book that someone else had, makes it feel more authentic.  Strange, I know.  A crowd was picking up in the museum, so I didn't mill around too long.  

It was almost eleven and I wanted to make the next tour of Hemingway's childhood home, so I boogied back to my parking meter, put in more quarters, and hoofed it up the street several blocks.  Rain was threatening, but it was cool, the air fresh and clean.  I felt like a real writer, a true researcher.  I felt free.  I know that might sound strange to you, but with what personal things going in my life at the time, this trip, however brief it was, was the exact thing I needed to reground myself, rejuvenate myself. 

I could have spent all day there, but I was meeting friends later, in a neighboring town, and because of my goof up on the time the museum opened, I was already running a bit behind. I made it just before eleven.  John and Julie were my tour guides.  Julie was a guide in training, and if I thought Conni knew her stuff about Hemingway, well, John... whew.  He knew his stuff and more!

The tour begins in the foyer where the tour guides will meet you and give you a brief run down of what you will expect throughout the home.

The man on the bottom is Mr. Hall, Ernest's maternal grandfather.  He lived in the house with his wife, Caroline.  The paternal Hemingway family lived across the street.  When Caroline passed away, Mr. Hall asked his daughter, Grace, Ernest's mother, to move in with him, and when she married Dr. Hemingway, Ernest's father, they all lived in the home together.  Ernest and his older sister were both born in this home.

Grace, to me, seemed to be an interesting person, to say the least, almost eccentric, if that is appropriate.  Hemingway had a love - hate relationship with his mother, which came through more so as he grew older.  She was meticulous, smart, and very inclined to absorb the arts, mainly music.  Hemingway's relationship with his father was equally interesting.  You can see how he viewed his father and their relationship through the years through many of Hemingway's stories, especially the Nick Adams stories.

There's a story that Hemingway wrote, "Indian Camp," about a boy and his father, who is a doctor, who go into a neighboring Indian camp one day to help a woman give birth.  John, the tour guide pointed out to me that that story was based on one of Hemingway's own experiences with his father, and the Indian camp they went to wasn't far from the home.

As a side note, the great thing I always appreciated about Hemingway's writing, and why I wanted to study it in depth, is the fact that he was not afraid to take his real life experiences and work them into fiction.  There comes a great debate with fiction writers and readers of Hemingway's work: if you write from real life experiences, how do you know, or how do you draw the line, between what is real and what is not?

You've heard the phrase write what you know?  You've heard the phrase that the best fiction can come from real life?  Even if you write mystery, horror, or sci-fi, there's a chance that there is something, however small or large, in your story, in a character, that is based on something or someone you know.  Hemingway readers know the difference between his non-fiction and his fiction work.

The parlor.  Note the photo of Grace.  It is placed just as her father had it placed originally.
I believe this is a chair John the tour guide noted as being an actual chair Caroline used.
From the parlor, looking into the dining room
Dining room table
This is a chest of draws in the servants' room, upstairs.  The sheets of paper propped up are lists that Grace, Grandpa Hall, and Dr. Hemingway all wrote out declaring their personal possessions.  Grace appeared to be meticulous at keeping track of what belonged specifically to her; the the pages alone on the left is her list.
Hemingway as a child
Hemingway's birth certificate
Master bedroom, where Caroline and Grace both slept.
Fireplace in Grandpa Hall's room.
Family photo; Ernest is on the far right.
Dr. Hemingway's room
Grace and Dr. Hemingway's marriage certificate
The library, where Grandpa Hall would entertain, smoke cigars.
This is the war sketch that Grandpa Hall wrote on his experience serving during the Civil War, which hangs in the library.
This is the war sketch for the other grandfather, on the Hemingway side.  He had far more to say about his experience in the Civil War than Grandpa Hall did.  Grandpa Hall did not like, nor did he often at all, speak about his time in the Civil War.
John and Julie, the tour guides.  Note the owls on the bookshelf between them.  Grace and Dr. Hemingway were away one time, staying in a cabin, and two owls were hooting in the middle of the night, much to the dismay of Grace.  Dr. Hemingway, if I recall the story correctly, killed the owls and then had them stuffed, and presented them as a gift to Grace.  She was very proper, so stuffed owls might not seem like such a romantic gift, but she never got rid of them.
I'd like to do more research and blog further on the family dynamic of the Hemingway household.  I'm intrigued by Hemingway's relationship with his parents.  I am also intrigued by the depression Hemingway fought.  Like his father, Hemingway killed himself, and there are so many aspects of that alone, psychologically, that intrigue me.

I made note of this in my personal blog, and debated mentioning it here, but I figured, why not?  Makes my experience a bit more unique.

When I arrived at the museum, my feet hurt due to my "these sandals are cute but aren't made for walking fast on an uneven sidewalk" shoes.  As I entered the house, I had made a comment about my feet hurting and how I'd love to take my shoes off.  One of the guides said go ahead!  Take them off.  I was like, oh sure, okay.  And she was like, no, really.  Go ahead.  We don't mind.  And she was serious!  I looked at her and smiled.  She said, you can keep them right here (pointing to a folding chair), and your purse too, if you want.  No one will bother them.

I slid my shoes off and wiggled my toes.  So yes, I got to tour Hemingway's childhood home barefoot!  I think I actually did a goofy glee dance in the foyer too.  I'm pretty sure not too many people can say they have done that (go barefoot in the home OR do a goofy dance)!

This concludes the tour!  Hope you enjoyed it.


  1. His birth house is so cute. I would love a little house like that. I loved the woodwork in there. Thanks for sharing these!

  2. Hi Michy! I agree, I loved the home. From what I understand, it was owned by a few different people over the years, and was a rental at one time, so when the foundation got it, it was a bit of a mess. I think they said the woodwork was the original still, along with the floor. Most other things in the home were donated over time, or things that were restored, and from what I understand, it's taken a long time to get it where it is now. I'd say they have done a fabulous job on restoring it. It really is a pretty little place.

  3. What a great idea for a blog. The pictures and interesting details you shared were fascinating. Thanks for the tour!

  4. Hi Jo! Thanks for stopping by!