Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ernest Hemingway

Next time you think you're doing enough in life, consider the case of Ernest Hemingway. In 1917 he quit a good job as a reporter for the Kansas City Star to volunteer in World War I to be an ambulance driver in Italy. He was seriously wounded and returned home a medal-winning war hero, having carried an Italian soldier to safety despite his own life-threatening wounds.

Some people's life's work would have essentially ended right there and they might have gone on to work a quiet job in an insurance agency, but by the 1920s Ernest was in Paris with the first of his four wives, working as a foreign correspondent.

He then discovered Florida's Key West, which became one of his numerous outposts of sanity in a world increasingly gone mad. He bought a house on 907 Whitehead Street, whose proximity to a lighthouse made it easy for him to find his way home after a long night of drinking - and boy, did Ern drink. He was well known at every spot on the islands, but Sloppy Joe's was his watering hole of choice.

A lifelong boxing enthusiast, Ernest set up a boxing ring in his yard and held guerilla unlicensed boxing matches wherein he went up against local fighters. He was also a referee at boxing matches at Blue Heaven, at 769 Thomas Street.

Hemingway converted a urinal obtained after a renovation at Sloppy Joe's into a water fountain in his yard, where it remains on display at the house to this day. It served as a water source for his collection of rare six-toed cats, and today the descendents of those polydactyl cats are still thriving in Key West.

In the midst of all this tropical lush life, he didn't stop working, though. In the 1930s he traveled to cover the Spanish Civil War right on the front lines of action, and in the 1940s he was present at the Normandy Landings and the liberation of Paris.

Hemingway was also a master fisherman and hunter, and loved to go on safari in Africa. In 1954, he and his wife chartered a flight over the Belgian Congo but the plane crash-landed in the wilderness. Hemingway's head was severely wounded. The next day, attempting to reach medical care in Entebbe, they boarded a second plane - and it exploded at take-off. Miraculously they survived, though Ernest now suffered burns and a concussion serious enough to cause leaking of cerebral fluid. When they finally made it to Entebbe, they discovered that newspaper headlines around the world were covering the story of Hemingway's death. The world was surprised when he emerged to inform them that, like Mark Twain, the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

Hemingway set himself up another outpost, this time in Cuba - where he became quite chummy with Fidel Castro and fit right in with its nightlife culture of cigars and rum. But after the Bay of Pigs invasion, he became gradually aware that he was being monitored by the FBI (who actually had been spying on him since World War II). Ern wasn't just being paranoid - J. Edgar Hoover had, in fact, been following him around via agents in Havana and the IRS was taking an interest as well.

The stress of these governmental concerns, coupled with his lifelong powerhouse drinking habit, were taking its toll on the man's nerves. Though Ern once said "A Corona is the only psychiatrist I would ever submit to" (and he meant his typewriter, not a cigar) he sadly agreed to check into the Mayo Clinic for barbaric electroconvulsive therapy - as many as fifteen times in December 1960. In January 1961 he was "released in ruins". And in precisely the same way that unscrupulous medicos do today, Hemingway was given a combination of medications that induced depression, and then subsequently the shrinks gave him more medication and treatment to deal with the depression that they themselves gave him in the first place.

In the early morning hours of July 2, 1961, Hemingway committed suicide with his favorite shotgun. He unlocked the basement storeroom where he stored his hunting rifles, went upstairs to the foyer of their home, and pushed two shells into the twelve-gauge Boss shotgun. He put the end of the shotgun barrel in his mouth, pulled the trigger and blew his brains out.

Today a statue of Ernest stands in a bar called El Floridita in Havana, and The Compleat Angler Hotel in Bimini (another of Ern's secret outposts) housed a museum dedicated to the man's life. It unfortunately was destroyed in a fire in 2006. The minor planet 3656 Hemingway, discovered in 1978 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh, was named after him.

(Oh yeah, I nearly forgot to mention: Mr. Hemingway was also, some say, a Nobel Prize-winning author.)

1 comment:

  1. Congratulatios for your magnificent story on Hemingway!
    With short comments and a few photographs you achieve
    quite a concise briefing of this great writer and man of action.