Remembering Hemingway's death

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By Shawn Gilley


July 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Oak Park's most famous native son, Ernest Hemingway. The Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park is busy planning the annual birthday celebration (July 21), but lately they've been getting more questions about his death.

Hemingway's suicide in 1961, did not catch the local newspaper entirely by surprise. An editorial in the Oak Leaves described the news as an "anti-climax [for a man who had] brushed death frequently throughout the years." They also carried a full obituary.

John Berry, chairman of EHFOP, explained that suicide ran in the family before and after Ernest. His grandfather, Ernest Hall, attempted suicide with a Civil War-era .32 caliber pistol but failed because his son-in-law, Clarence, Ernest's father, had removed the bullets.

Ironically, Clarence took his own life in 1928 with that same pistol, Berry said. When Ernest refused to attend the funeral, his mother sent him the pistol. It was not, however, the gun he used in Idaho to take his life.

Hemingway's brother, Leicester; his sister, Ursula; and his granddaughter, Margaux, committed suicide as well.

By 1961, Hemingway was suffering from depression, partly caused by the sudden departure from his longtime home in Cuba, Finca Vigia, following the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Rose Marie Burwell explains in Hemingway: the postwar years and the posthumous novels that he was also diagnosed with hemochromatosis, a rare blood disease that, left untreated, causes extensive organ damage, especially when compounded by drinking. That condition appears to have run through the family as well.

Redd Griffin, founding director and longtime member of EHFOP, said the organization is not ignoring the anniversary of his death. The foundation has held seminars about the suicide in the recent past. And less than a month ago during a Memorial Day service at the World War I memorial in Scoville Park, Berry placed a wreath by Hemingway's name to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death.

Berry says the lack of fanfare devoted to the anniversary is not a result of shame. "The foundation, for its part, is really focused on the fine work of Ernest Hemingway over a span of highly productive years. It's about Hemingway the writer and his global impact, not so much about a life lived large."

Griffin said the 50-year milestone does afford Oak Park a chance to memorialize Hemingway personally.

In July of 1961, he recalled, "I was on the sidewalk at the northeast corner of North Avenue and LaSalle Street when I saw a front-page story about Hemingway's death in the window of a newspaper vending stand. After working the late shift, I drove with a fellow reporter from City News Bureau to see the house where Hemingway was born in Oak Park. When we arrived at daybreak, the roof and third floor windows of its turret were faintly lit by the sun.

"That is my memorial, that's what is important," he explained. After 50 years, he added, "[Hemingway's] legacy and impact is still very much alive. In fact, it's constantly growing."

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McCann from Gilroy CA  

Posted: October 22nd, 2011 10:15 PM

Good to see Hemochromatosis mentioned. It is, however, not a "rare blood disease." It is a genetic condition that is quite common (1 in 8 are carriers.) It's the diagnosis that is rare! In addition to symptoms mentioned, liver damage, liver cancer, and depression are common problems in undiagnosed patients. Like Hemingway.


Posted: June 29th, 2011 2:12 PM

Elitst leftest? Really has nothing to do with politics. Oak Park is about good and "wright". Integration was after his time. Shame

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 1:50 PM

OP, I disagree he'd be proud of the elitist leftist Oak Park of today. Same M.O., different slant. Still broad lawns and narrow minds.You're correct in that in Ernie's day Oak Park was more Republican than now. Of course, in his day the Democrats were the ones violently enforcing Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, segregating schools, etc. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed with a greater percentage of Repub votes than Dem votes. He'd scoff at todays OP with the same intensity as he did back in the day


Posted: June 29th, 2011 1:18 PM

Ernie would be proud of what Oak Park is TODAY!! Remember, OP in his time was a Republican town with a much different M.O. Just Sayin

Brian Gordon Sinclair from Alliston, ON, Canada  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 11:40 AM

HEMINGWAY ON STAGE was pleased to present IN DEADLY ERNEST at the 13th International Colloquium Ernest Hemingway in Havana. While acknowledging the passing of Hemingway, I am exceptionally pleased to be able to bring his literary works and accomplishments to a new generation.

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