Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part Three: Hemingway Country

On our recent trip Up North in Michigan, we spent a few days in Petoskey, a fine little town on Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay which, among other things, sits in Hemmingway country.

I grew up near Hemingway’s boyhood home in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, and I went to high school there as well (though at a different school than Hemingway's).  Because of his particular local fame I have had a passing interest in his life and writing, although I am not especially partial to his style which I find excessively sparse and metaphorical.  I have though enjoyed his semi-autobiographical (which of his work is not, for that matter) Nick Adams short stories, about a sometimes barely-fictionalized boy and young man growing up in northern Michigan. 

On this trip we did not make it over to the Walloon Lake – Horton Bay area, a short distance outside Petoskey.  Hemingway spent twenty summers there starting when he was practically a newborn.  Early on he stayed with his family at their summer cottage on Walloon Lake.  Later his parents bought additional property on the opposite shore and developed a truck farm there that Hemingway worked for a few years as a teenager.  He would rough it in a tent on that side of Walloon Lake, and gravitated for meals and company to nearby Horton Bay, a small settlement a few miles west down the road on neighboring Lake Charlevoix.  Later on at 20 years old, after his return from his WWI experience in Italy, he spent one autumn and early winter in a Petoskey boarding house, as the cottage was too cold and he chose not to return to Oak Park to stay with his parents.    

At Horton Bay Hemingway met two siblings named Smith who would figure large in his life.  They were from St Louis but spent some summers in the area with a rich aunt.   He would have an affair with Kate Smith, a beautiful girl who would go on to introduce him to two of her girlfriends who would become his first two wives and the mothers of his three sons.  Bill Smith became a close friend.  Later, Hemingway would live for a while on Chicago’s near north side in the apartment of the oldest Smith sibling, Kenley, who would introduce him to some literary figures who would set him off on his career.  One of these was Sherwood Anderson, who entranced Hemingway with stories of his recent time in Paris among the “Lost Generation” and encouraged the young man to move there (which of course he soon did).  As an aside, some years later, after Hemingway was married to his second wife and living in Key West, Kate Smith came to visit both her friends and there met Hemingway’s pal and fellow writer John Dos Passos, whom she soon married.

Hemingway married his first wife in a small church on the shore of Lake Charlevoix in Horton Bay.  After their honeymoon at his family's cottage on Walloon Lake, the couple left to live in Chicago near Kenley Smith.  Less than three months later they moved to Paris.  Although his experiences in northern Michigan with family, friends, lovers, and the outdoors would loom large in his writings, Hemingway returned to the area only once more in his life, for a short time when he was about 50 years old.    

I have particularly enjoyed the biography of Hemingway’s early life – "Along With Youth" by Peter Griffin.  I have also read parts of, and relied upon, "Hemingway: A Biography" by Jeffrey Meyers.

R Balsamo

Part One here; Part Two here.

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