Inside the Hemingway House

A lady sat at a desk in the home’s entrance. She greeted us happily and I told her I needed an adult ticket and a student ticket.

She gave me a knowing smile and explained, “WE call them youth.”

Well, okay. The list of fees I had seen talked about students and ID cards, but I wasn’t going to argue.

She went on to say that we’d have to wait 20 minutes for the next tour and we could go get a cup of coffee if we wanted. Not sure where we would’ve been able to do that in 20 minutes (which neither of us wanted), so we turned around to wait in the small entrance amidst a display of Hemingway’s books and a display of magnets that we could buy to help the upkeep of the home. The magnets said, “Write Drunk.” I didn’t feel the need to buy one.

Then another lady appeared and said that we could just go on the present group , they were only one room into the tour. (This began another interesting conversation which I won’t bother repeating.)

We decided to do that.

Hemingway’s childhood story is convoluted and interesting. His father was a doctor and his mother was a musician, often involved in her music to the extent that housekeepers and cooks took care of the house.. His parents were both well educated. His dad took him camping, his mother took him to the opera. Hemingway often said he hated his mother.

He didn’t like his name because it made him think of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest.

They were upper middle class and spent their summers in a Michigan cabin. The home we visited was Hemingway’s birthplace – later they moved to a much bigger house on Kenilworth (another Oak Park Avenue). That home is owned by private residents who hope to restore it for future visitors. Hemingway lived in Oak Park until he went to war. (Seeing where E.H. lived negates his stories about growing up in poverty which he often told the women in his life.)

Hemingway’s own description of Oak Park was: a place of wide lawns and narrow minds.

Hemingway was a direct descendent of John Hancock. Another relative – either his grandmother or great-grandmother (couldn’t find anything to back this up) was the first female student at Wheaton and graduated with honors.

Anyone who knows even a little bit about the Hemingways, knows that there were a lot of suicides in the family including Ernest himself and two of his five siblings. The family was a strange mixture of achievement and depression.

Here are some pictures of the inside of his house.


This is the kitchen – the family lived in the house for nine years and his mother never, ever cooked a meal.


Upstairs  hallway.


One of the first – if not THE first – bathrooms in town. I just liked the look of the tile and paneled walls.


Ernest as a one-year-old.DSC_0283DSC_0286

His dad was a scientist and a photographer and took Ernest hunting and fishing and taught him to be a naturalist.


I took this picture because I have a chair like this that belonged to my grandmother. The tour guide explained that it was a sewing chair and that’s why the arms were low. I never knew that. Hmmm …

Would I recommend you visit the house? That’s a good question. If you’re interested in literature and the personalities of well-known authors – I would say yes. But it’s not a place to take small children. Or, if you do take kids, there needs to be good conversations about what you heard.


An Afternoon in Oak Park

DSC_0265Recently when Mallory and I have been together, we’ve ended up talking about books and writing. So about three weeks ago, while waiting for our cheese and pepperoni at California Pizza Kitchen, she listed some of the classics she’s been reading lately and in the process mentioned Ernest Hemingway.

“Not a super good role model,” I told her. “He married a lot of women and drank a lot of alcohol.”

“I know, but I’d like to read one of his books. Maybe like The Old Man and the Sea.”

“A story of a Cuban fisherman fighting a marlin,” I told her. “I read it on a flight from Chicago to New York, so it’s not too long.  But wait, how would you like to visit his house and learn more about him? Maybe over spring break?”

So that’s what we did. We arrived at lunchtime, parked the car and then wandered around in the Hemingway Historic District. (A place well known to me because coincidentally it’s where I get my taxes done which has nothing to do with our trip nor anything to do with Hemingway.)

We looked around for a place to eat and found a small cafe, cozy and filled with a group of ladies celebrating “Margaret’s” birthday. We chose the salad bar and talked about the quaintness of the restaurant. Afterwards we wandered up to a bookstore that was quite proud of the fact that it was started by women, owned by a woman and only women worked there. Which didn’t necessarily make me anymore anxious to browse, but I will say the woman behind the counter was friendly, kind and helpful.

I mentioned to her that we were thinking of getting a cupcake at a bakery across the street, but she told us that we shouldn’t because they use “oil.” Instead we should go to the one down the street that used cream and butter. “Down under the tracks,” she told us.

So we walked “down under the tracks” and out the other side – but they didn’t have cupcakes, just cookies and pies. We each got a cookie and then meandered back up the street, enjoying the cityscape.


Interestingly, the town’s couples were transforming the fence under the bridge into a Pont des Arts bridge – with padlocks signed and dated by the couples. Didn’t have quite the same effect as a bridge over the Seine River in Paris, but it’s an attempt. (And the bridge railing in Paris has been removed because the padlocks had reached a weight of 48 tons and there were fears that the whole bridge would topple over and hit a boat below. Look up the pictures on the internet – interesting.)



Last time I was here, you went to the museum first where there were several pictures and exhibits of Hemingway’s books, but that is temporarily closed s they are putting a new museum behind the house so everything is in one place. (Before the two locations were separated by a few blocks.)


The area is filled with sprawling Victorian houses and you can imagine life in the late 1800s and early 1900s and the upper middle class sat on their porches on warm summer nights.


Get it? The Old Man and the Sea … the Young Girl and the Sign.DSC_0267

More about the inside of the house … and what we learned in my next post.