Oak Park’s most famous native son, Ernest Hemingway, is often accused of saying, “Oak Park is a neighborhood of wide lawns and narrow minds.” The authenticity of the quote is doubtful (it has never been documented), but many agree that the famous writer, who left his hometown for more exotic locales such as Paris, Havana, and Key West, was happy to leave home.
As part of the 17th Biennial International Hemingway Society Conference (July 17-22) and in conjunction with Hemingway’s 117th birthday (July 21), local Hemingway scholar and lecturer Nancy Sindelar will try to illuminate the young writer as she leads a walking tour, Hemingway in Oak Park, on July 19 from 8:30 to 10 a.m.
Sindelar, who has lived in Oak Park and River Forest, for more than 32 years, says that, in many ways, Hemingway thrived growing up in Oak Park. Her interest in Hemingway as a young man was piqued by her work at OPRF High School.
“I taught American Literature at the high school,” she recalled. “Many of my students were enthralled with Ernest Hemingway, which prompted me to find out what he was like as a high school student.
“I did my research and found out that he was just as active and involved then as he was later in life. During high school, he was on the football team and swim team, as well as on the school newspaper. He published three short stories while in high school. His life is a great testament to public education in Illinois.”
Sindelar’s research informed her book, Influencing Hemingway – People and Places That Shaped his Life and Work (see sidebar), and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others.
Big footsteps to follow
The walk begins at 339 N. Oak Park Ave., the Hemingway Birthplace and home of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park. The 1890 Queen Anne Victorian was home to Ernest’s maternal grandparents, and Ernie was born in a second floor bedroom on July 21, 1899. He lived in the house with his widowed grandfather, Ernest Hall, his parents, and his siblings for six years. The birthplace home was purchased in 1992 by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and underwent extensive restoration to return the home to its appearance when the Hall and Hemingway families lived under its roof.
From the birthplace home, the tour will proceed to the Hemingway Boyhood Home located at 600 N. Kenilworth Ave. The 1906 Prairie-style stucco home was designed by architect Henry G. Fiddelke under the watchful eye of Grace Hemingway. Ernest lived in the home until the age of 17, and Grace lived there until 1936, selling it eight years after her husband, Dr. Clarence Hemingway committed suicide in a second-floor bedroom.
Participants will also stop at First United Church, on Lake Street, formerly First Congregational Church of Oak Park. Clarence and Grace Hemingway were active members of the church, and Ernest’s grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Anson Hemingway were founding members of the church when it met in a small school building and was known as the Oak Ridge Church of Harlem in the early 1860s. Ernie was christened at the 848 Lake Street location, and his mother sang in the church choir.
The tour will also stop by Oak Park and River Forest High School, parts of which Sindelar says are little changed since Hemingway walked the halls as a teenager. “I have pictures of him sitting on the steps of the southern section of the athletic wing. The physical part of the two older buildings haven’t changed all that much since he was there.”
Sindelar will bring the group by the Oak Park Public Library as well. Although the modern building did not exist when Hemingway lived in Oak Park, she notes that the Scoville Institute, the library from the early 1900s till the early 1960s, was important to young Hemingway who was a voracious reader.
During construction of their Kenilworth Avenue Home, the Hemingway family briefly lived on Grove Avenue just north of the Scoville Institute and, according to local lore, Ernie and his sister Marcelline spent hours in the library. The “Interim House” as it was called, was moved in the 1990s to the northwest corner of Chicago and Elmwood avenues.
From the library, the tour will stop at Scoville Park’s War Memorial to consider Hemingway’s service in World War I, which inspired his novel A Farewell to Arms.
Sindelar’s walk is part of the 17th Biennial International Hemingway Conference, taking place in Oak Park from July 17-22. Hemingway Foundation board Chair John Berry is thrilled that the conference is being held for the first time in the village where Ernie grew up.
In the past, the conference has been held in Lausanne, Switzerland, where Hemingway enjoyed ski trips; in Petoskey, Michigan, where the Hemingway family summered on Lake Walloon; and in Venice, Italy. Berry notes that over 350 scholars and Hemingway devotees from around the world will attend the conference.
He expects that many attendees will be particularly excited about events scheduled in the Boyhood Home at 600 N. Kenilworth. After Grace Hemingway sold the home, it became a three-flat, and remained so altered until it was purchased by its current owners in 2012.
“The Sunday reception on July 17 and the after-party for our Foundation’s July 23 Benefit at the Oak Park Public Library will be held at the Boyhood Home,” Berry noted. “Most people coming to the conference have never had the chance to see [it] as a single family home. Mary Jane and Kurt Neumann have done a beautiful job of restoring the home to the way it might have looked when the Hemingways lived there.”
Highlights of the conference include several plenary sessions open to the public, and National Book Award-winning author Tim O’Brien will speak about how Hemingway influenced his own writing on war (The Things They Carried) at Dominican University on Tuesday July 19, with tickets available to the public: http://events.dom.edu/obrien
Full details about the conference can be found at: https://www.hemingwaysociety.org/oak-park-2016-0