For Hemingway’s Birthday, A Gift to the World

Hemingway Scrapbooks

JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY / AP (The birth certificate and family photograph of Ernest Hemingway from a scrapbook created by his mother, Grace Hall Hemingway.)

Long before “scrapbooking” was a verb, mothers were collecting memories about their children and their achievements in volumes for posterity.  Fortunately for both fans and scholars of Ernest Hemingway, his mother, Grace, was one of these women who kept meticulous journals of her now-famous (and infamous) son.

This week, in honor of what would have been the iconic American author’s 114th birthday, July 21, 1899, the  John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston has made available to the public the digitized journals.   There are a total of five volumes and all can now be viewed online here.

For scholars, this is particularly exciting news as the majority of the collection has never been available and only a few fortunate researchers have seen it at all. Prior to their digitization, the leather books were kept in a dark vault to prevent them from crumbling and otherwise becoming damaged.

As for the content, there are notes about much of Hemingway’s life from age five until his graduation from high school. Grace chronicled nearly everything about young Ernest’s development.  On the day he was born, she noted that the day was sunny and birds were chirping. Later, some of the entries and memorabilia hint at the young boys future as a writer.  For example, his mother proudly notes that at age 3, her son is “using long words” and making “sage remarks.”  At age 5, Grace Hemingway said young Ernest had begun collecting war cartoons and expressing his admiration for acts of courage.

In addition to notes, written by both his mother and Ernest himself, there are dozens of photographs, including those of his childhood home in Oak Park, Illinois (which the adult Hemingway called “a neighborhood of wide lawns and narrow minds”) and shots from his family’s lake house in Michigan, the setting for some of the Nick Adams stories.

One of the volumes includes a letter from 13-year-old Ernest to his mother expressing regret for his behavior in church.  “My conduct tomorrow will be good,” he promised.  Other bits of relatively unknown information include reports of Ernest’s progress on the cello and his service on his high school’s prom committee.

The release of the materials is not only of interest to scholars and fans, but also to some of his family members.  Hemingway’s grandson, Sean, is now forty-six. His grandfather committed suicide in 1961, so Sean never knew him.  “Looking at these kinds of things … I feel like I have gotten a chance to know him a bit,” he said.  (Source)