Where would you go if you needed a picture of Ernest Hemingway at the age of six? Or a copy of The Sun Also Rises in Spanish ... or Japanese or Singhalese? To the Ernest Hemingway Archives, of course, which are now on the third floor of the Oak Park Public Library and housed in beautiful new rooms, a far cry from their former sites in a crowded room in the Hemingway Museum and the basement of the Hemingway birthplace. The Archives are maintained by Barbara Ballinger, former head librarian of the Oak Park Public Library, who is now archivist for the Ernest Hemingway Foundation.
"We have many items that are ours exclusively," said Ballinger, such as:
• 600 family photographs.
• The large assemblage of theater posters advertising Hemingway movies.
• Books in many foreign languages.
• Extensive material on Grace Hemingway, Ernest's mother, including some of her paintings.
• The famous "Dear John" letter from nurse Agnes von Kurowsky to Ernest.
• Childhood notes and school lessons of Ernest's.
The collection focuses on Hemingway's family and the Oak Park years. Morris Buske, who was a Hemingway scholar and a former history teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School, deeded his complete collection to the Ernest Hemingway Foundation upon his death last year. Included were a large volume of letters from Hemingway family members and six file drawers of correspondence, photographs and his collection of slides used in lectures. Ballinger says they are hoping to computerize this material, making it more easily accessible.
The Archives rooms, which include a reading room and a special collections suite, were wished for, hoped for and planned years before the library was built. The Hemingway Foundation was sadly in need of clean, safe, climate-controlled storage space for its growing collections. The handsome rooms, fronted with glass windows, are rented from the library.
Part of the agreement requires the foundation to provide interesting displays; the current exhibit is on Grace Hemingway, and includes several portraits of her, painted by artists in the art class in which she was enrolled. Grace was a musician who taught piano and voice; she also wrote music. Many copies of the sheet music are in the archives. "She was a woman ahead of her time," said Ballinger. "She helped design their home on Kenilworth. She also earned money by teaching to pay servants to do the cooking and house work. She was a very interesting woman, and I would be surprised if someone is not writing a book about her."
Where did the collections come from? Waring Jones, a Hemingway collector of books and memorabilia, donated his collection, which was the nucleus of the original Hemingway Museum on Oak Park Avenue. The Hemingway family has also been very generous. Marcelline, Ernest's older sister, donated all the typescript, the research material, and photos from her book "At The Hemingways."
Besides the Morris Buske collection, there have been donations from Hemingway Foundation members, residents, friends and scholars. Frank Laurence has been fascinated by Hemingway's relationship to Hollywood and the movies. His book "Hemingway and Hollywood" is a study of the making of the movies from Hemingway books, and Hemingway's opinions of them (mainly "not great"). In addition, he collected vintage posters and lobby cards.
In 2003, the library purchased a collection from a Hemingway relative. It contained considerable new material, including some high school essays (mostly about brooks and trout) and a love poem to "Annette." Morris Buske, who was writing a book about Ernest and the high school, held up the publication until he saw what the collection contained. His book, "Hemingway at a School for Writers," was completed before his death and is scheduled to be out soon.
"The archives contain a valuable collection of over 600 photos of Ernest and the Hemingway family," noted Beth Robinson Rogers, a volunteer working with the photographs. "Currently, I have sorted, identified and documented about half of them. Some are original, taken by Ernest's father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, and many are from studios. Most are of a young Hemingway; many are gifts from his older sister Marcelline who helped identify them. She said that Grace saved everything."
Ballinger said a number of foreign scholars have consulted the material, including a professor from Japan and a graduate student from Poland. One of the most-asked-for archival treasures is the "Dear John" letter. This was written to Ernest from the love of his life, Agnes von Kurowsky, after he returned home to Oak Park from his European stint. A PBS documentary will be shown this fall; considerable material was filmed here, including the famous letter, and the Hemingway houses.
Many scholars have also supplied Hemingway books which have been translated into foreign languages. In addition, there are collections of audio and video recordings. The Oak Park Public Library has a Special Collections Department, administered by Bill Jerousek, local history librarian, which includes first editions and three original Ernest Hemingway letters.
The Hemingway Archives are open regularly on Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. on the third floor in the northwest corner. Ballinger said they try to accommodate any legitimate request and have opened the room for groups occasionally on Saturdays. All calls should be directed to the Ernest Hemingway Foundation at 848-2222 or on line: EHFOP@sbcglobal.net. Ballinger also wants to thank the ardent volunteers, Cynthia Van Swearingen and Loretta Christensen, who work diligently on the archives.