Its been a couple weeks now that we’ve been back from our three-day weekend in Chicago, and I’ve neglected to share the photos I took of our sight-seeing adventures. There’s been an influx of interesting things for me to blog about lately — which is never a bad thing — but it’s high time to get these photos up on the blog. Because who better to share them with, than you?
On the Saturday morning before the wedding ceremony, we made the quick drive over to Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace home. A classic Victorian style home that can easily be spotted by the wrap-around porch and corner turret.
Inside the home, we saw things very typical of a house in that era — floor-length curtains to show off the family’s wealth, a modest, no-frills kitchen since cooking was the sole role of the servants and rose-patterned everything to demonstrate the grandmother’s affinity for her favorite flower. But the things that were most interesting were the people who Hemingway was surrounded by as a young boy.
His grandfather was an Englishman who spent a great deal of time in the dining room after breakfast, telling stories to Ernest and his older sister about his worldly adventures (many of them embellished). Our tour guide suggested that these were the early seedings of Ernest’s storytelling abilities.
Hemingway’s mother, Grace, was also an interesting character. She didn’t live the life of a typical lady in those days. She was an opera singer, loved being in front of a crowd, performing and entertaining. At one point, she came across an opportunity to make her singing debut at Madison Square Garden. But at the time, Madison Square had just converted to electric lights from gas lights, and the bright impact of the new lighting affected her eyes in such a way that performing was painful. She didn’t perform that night. The pain was a result of suffering from what I believe was Scarlet Fever at a younger age. The disease had blinded her for a period of time after she had contracted it. Scary to think how vicious Scarlet Fever was. Years later, it ultimately ended her singing career.
Hemingway’s Uncle Tyler was a frequent visitor at the Hemingway house. He resided in the guest bedroom and often had affairs with the women staying in the servants’ quarters next door. (There’s a juicy tidbit for ya.) Aside from that, Uncle Tyler was also known for telling elaborate stories about being away at war. So Ernest may have also picked up on some storytelling abilities from Uncle Tyler at a very young age.
The last character in the Hemingway household is Ernest’s father, who our tour guide referred to as Doc. Yes, he was a doctor. Also an avid hunter that believed if you’re going to kill anything for sport, you have to eat it. He followed through on that policy when Ernest and his older sister killed a porcupine that had pricked the family dog. Not that I’ve ever eaten a porcupine, but something tells me if it didn’t taste good to Ernest back then, it probably wouldn’t now.
One of the stories that our tour guide told us about Doc was the birth of his first-born daughter. Back then, doctors weren’t allowed to deliver their own children, so another doctor was hired to perform the birth. The night that Grace went into labor, Doc heard a loud thump from outside her bedroom door. When he went to investigate, he found the doctor had suffered a heart attack in the middle of Grace giving birth, forcing him to step in to deliver his first born, a baby girl that they named Marcelline. From that point on, he refused to let anyone else deliver his children.
When you think of Hemingway, you probably think of Key West, not Oak Park. Or his love for drinking or his multiple wives or even sadder — his suicide. He was definitely known around Oak Park as a troublemaker — someone the town did not want to be associated with. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Oak Park finally started embracing Hemingway as a literary figure to be celebrated. And the celebration of his life really is the focus. You won’t hear about the long history of depression that thrived throughout his family’s history on the tour. Or the rocky relationship he had with his mother. The Hemingway Foundation likes to focus on the positive, which I think is a good thing. Definitely piqued my interest about his life. Who knows, you might find me reading a Hemingway novel in the near future.
Stay tuned for the next stop on our Oak Park sight-seeing tour, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. Hoping to get that post up in the next day or two.