I’ve just returned with my daughter, Kristi, from a sentimental journey to Ketchum, Idaho. A goal — not the primary one since breathing mountain air and photographing the magnificent scenery were paramount for both of us — was for me to pay my respects at the writer Ernest Hemingway’s grave.
Like many readers my age, I’ve been fascinated by Hemingway’s work from the first day I encountered it. In my case, that was as a freshman at the University of North Dakota, just weeks after his suicide in Ketchum.
Over the years, I’ve visited many of the places where Hemingway lived — among them Oak Park, Ill.; Kansas City, Mo.; Key West, Fla.; Upper Michigan; Paris; the south of France; Venice; a couple of locations in Montana; and Rochester, Minn., where some say his medical care at the Mayo Clinic prior to his death would today result in a malpractice suit.
Hemingway visited Ketchum many times, beginning in 1939 when the Sun Valley Lodge was being established. Its owner W. Averell Harriman, as a public relations stunt, invited celebrities to spend time there free of charge. Hemingway worked on his draft of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” published in 1940, while in residence.
Kristi and I visited the lodge and witnessed its still elite, high-end operation. On the walls today are pictures of the rich and famous, including two of Hemingway.
He often returned to Ketchum with his children and the current wife of the four he married during his life. Those days were documented in 1968 in an excellent book by the resort’s then official photographer Lloyd Arnold, “Hemingway: High on the Wild.”
Hemingway was living in Cuba when Castro came to power, and although the island country then and now admired him (and today preserves his home, “Finca Vigia” outside Havana), he found it prudent in 1958 to move permanently to Ketchum.
He bought and lived in a house near his favorite trout stream, donated after his death by his widow, Mary, to The Nature Conservancy.
At first guided tours were available, but the Conservancy found the activity not suited to its primary goals. When it sought to lease the house to another nonprofit to continue the accessibility, the now upscale “trophy house” neighbors scuttled the plan. Hemingway’s last home remains off limits.
So what evidence exists today — other than the photos in the lodge — that Ketchum still celebrates Hemingway’s life there decades ago?
As he himself would might have described it, “not much.”
There is his grave in the town cemetery, where also are buried Mary and his eldest son, Jack.
I stopped there while taking an early walk on each of the four mornings we were in Ketchum. The cemetery was out of town when Hemingway was buried in 1961 but now is surrounded by commercial development.
Visitors still leave flowers and objects such as pebbles, coins and wine bottles. On each day, there is a slightly different configuration of memorabilia, indicating other visitors had been there, too.
Once a couple about my vintage was already at the grave site. Fellow aficionados, we chatted for a few minutes about our favorite writer.
There also is, photographed with my iPhone and seen above, a Hemingway display in the city’s visitor center, connected to the local Starbucks. Several of us looked it over as we sipped our coffee.
Someone said there was another display at the community library, but time ran out before I could get there.
I still hope to visit Hemingway’s home in Cuba. But as he often said in French:
“D’abord, il faut durer” (first you have to last).