As a young boy, Ernest Hemingway led the life of a typical summer resort visitor in Northern Michigan. There was fishing, swimming, roasting marshmallows, hunting and “going into town.” But lurking beneath the surface was genius.
Hemingway would never forget those days and sometimes would later describe scenes and activities from the 20-plus summers he spent with his family in the Petoskey area and at Walloon Lake with intense detail in his books.
We can thank Kodak and Central Michigan University history professor and Hemingway expert Michael Federspiel for giving us a fascinating look at Hemingway and his family during the time they spent at their summer cottage from 1899-1921.
Federspiel’s new book “Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan” (Painted Turtle Book) uses more than 250 photographs to tell the story of Hemingway’s youth. Many of the photographs have never been seen before and Federspiel carefully mined the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the Clarke Library in Mt. Pleasant and family photo albums to assemble a carefully curated history of Hemingway in Michigan.
Using his knowledge of Hemingway’s life and writing, Federspiel illustrates how the iconic author used scenes from his childhood and teen years in his later books.
“Whether it was the Nick Adams stories, ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ or ‘True at First Light,’ scenes from Hemingway’s time up north in Michigan appear, and often in great detail,” Federspiel said.
In one photographic example, Federspiel points out how Hemingway recalled a cabin of a nearby neighbor, which he transplants to Africa and then describes in exquisite detail in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
In order to put the slice of time Hemingway and his family spent in Northern Michigan in context, Federspiel includes a prequel and history of the Petoskey area as it was transformed from a sleepy village to a summer destination that would attract Hemingway’s parents.
By using photographs and postcards, Federspiel pieces together the bustling community the young Hemingway and his sisters would be see when they landed in nearby Harbor Springs.
The book drew from detailed scrapbooks kept by Ernest Hemingway’s mother, Grace, for her children. Fortunately for Hemingway fans, Grace was a tidy hoarder.
The book shows photographs (likely taken by Ernest’s dad, Clarence) of the young Hemingway swimming, displaying his catch of the day or, in one poignant moment, writing a letter home to friends.
Federspiel said about the times Hemingway spent in Michigan, “It was one of the most likeable stages in his life. He may have missed the timber and Indian era, but he conjures them up in his writing.”
There are photographs of Hemingway’s lady friends, including Marjorie Bump and possibly Prudence Bolton, a young native girl who served as the inspiration for several of the Nick Adams stories.
A particularly striking photo of Hemingway in 1919 shows him as he would have looked just prior to speaking about his World War I experiences at a local high school. He has already grown into adulthood and, in his black leather jacket, steadying himself with a cane, you can see already what the future holds for the handsome literary rake.
His marriage to Hadley Richardson in Horton Bay in 1921 closes out Hemingway’s time in Michigan, except for a brief sojourn in 1947, which is detailed in a clipping from the Petoskey Evening News.
Federspiel said his most difficult chore, besides deciding what to leave out and what to keep, was how to make the book appeal to those who aren’t Hemingway aficionados.
“I wanted to create a book for someone who knows nothing about Hemingway and that strikes to the heart of what it is like to go up north.”
The author is working on a trail of Hemingway haunts in Northern Michigan to create a literary tourist destination. Again, he has the problem of what to leave out, because Hemingway really did sleep here.