The importance of being Ernest

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

That's the question, of course, for those who live on our wide streets with sometimes narrow minds — at least when it comes to Oak Park's most famous native son. 

The unresolved question being: How important is Ernest Hemingway to Oak Park? Every July, we find out when the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, a dedicated group of volunteers and devoted fans of America's most popular writer of the 20th century, throws a birthday bash. Many Oak Parkers react with a shrug — or like it's not politically correct to like Hemingway. 

This year, July 21 is also the 15th anniversary of the Hemingway centennial, which brought all three of his sons to Oak Park for the first — and last — time. Two of the three sons are now dead.

Certainly Oak Park was important to Ernest Hemingway. Promoting that notion has been the focus of the Hemingway Foundation's efforts over the past 31 years. This year's birthday festivities focus on "Hemingway and the Arts" — not just the literary arts. 

Ernie came from a highly artistic, cultured family, which will be demonstrated at the Hemingway Museum in a "pop-up" exhibit, putting a number of items from the foundation's collection on display — everything from ball gowns and shoes to sculpture.

His mother, Grace, was a serious singer and painter (she taught vocal lessons and was a mainstay of the Oak Park Art League). His sister was a sculptor and writer.

The items will be on display at the museum, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., this weekend. Both the museum and the Birthplace Home, 339 N. Oak Park Ave., will be open for tours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Check on admission fees.

The official birthday celebration takes place on Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Scoville Square Building, 137 N. Oak Park Ave. (southwest corner of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street). The theme is "A Night in Paris," which, as anyone who saw Woody Allen's film, Midnight in Paris, or read the marvelous A Moveable Feast knows, was a major inspiration for the ex-patriate author. 

Sandra Spanier, editor of the Hemingway Letters Project will read from his Paris letters to recreate his life there. French music and cocktails will intensify the mood. Attendees are invited to dress in 1920s style. 

Sunday, the focus shifts to the younger set with a "Children's Run with the Bulls" between Scoville Park and the Birthplace Home, scheduled for noon. Kids can decorate their own bull costumes, then join in the race. They'll also get the chance to write a six-word Hemingway short story that will be featured at the Oak Park Public Library. This is likely inspired by the famous episode where someone challenged Hemingway to write a "six-word novel." His response?

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

While the kids consider their own six-word masterpieces, volunteers will fortify them with lemonade, cookies and live music on the Birthplace Home's porch until 5 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Hemingway Foundation's "Love Locks" installation under the Oak Park Avenue viaduct recreates the romantic tradition on a bridge over the Seine River in Paris. Lovers can mark their names or initials on a padlock and affix it to the recently installed chain link fence (east side of the underpass) throughout the month of July. If you don't have a padlock, you can buy one at the Hemingway Museum. Just drop the key in the lockbox when you're done, which we hear is a departure from the Paris version where lovers reportedly toss the keys in the Seine. 

The foundation is hoping those participating will take photos of their locks and tag them on Instagram at #ehfop.

For more information about the upcoming Hemingway birthday weekend (there is a fee), call 708-848-2222 or email


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