Certain locales just naturally come to mind when you think of Ernest Hemingway. Oak Park, of course. Paris, where he started his writing career. Africa, where he hunted. Key West and Cuba. Idaho, where he died. Petoskey.
Petoskey? Yes, Petoskey—the resort town on Little Traverse Bay in north central Michigan.
In the late 1890s, the former lumber region around the bay was remaking itself as a tourist destination. Oak Park physician Clarence Hemingway and his artistic wife, Grace, were among those who vacationed “up north,” and they were so taken with the area that they bought land on what’s now called Walloon Lake and built a cottage they christened Windemere. Ernest was only six weeks old on his first visit, but he spent every summer there for 22 years of his life.
In Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan (Wayne State University Press), Central Michigan University history professor Michael R. Federspiel uses personal letters, historical background, novel and story excerpts, and more than 250 photos to document the Hemingway family’s Michigan idyll. Clarence, it seems, promoted an active lifestyle for his six kids—even the four girls learned to shoot—and “Ernie” took to splitting wood, fishing, hiking, hunting, and camping with a passion. (The same didn’t apply to the arts: young Hemingway, Federspiel writes, “grudgingly endured years playing the cello.”)
Most of the images in the book are typical family vacation shots, interesting for their sepia-toned period flavor and remarkable only in that some of them depict a future Nobel laureate as a boy. There’s one of the children playing dress-up, with Ernie wrapped in a bearskin. There he is again with a Prince Valiant haircut, roasting marshmallows over a campfire. In another photo, he’s about three feet tall, standing on a log with a ten-foot fishing pole in his hands. More than a few pictures show him proudly holding up a string of fish.
Hemingway returned to Petoskey only once after he and Hadley Richardson were married there in 1921—for an overnight stay in September 1947, while en route to Sun Valley, Idaho. But the place remained in his heart and appeared often in his work. His first novel, The Torrents of Spring (1926), was set there, and his Nick Adams stories, though written in Paris, are about a young man with a physician father and an artistic mother whose family vacations up north.
“Northern Michigan was not where you read about nature, it was where you lived with and in it,” Federspiel notes in the introduction to Picturing Hemningway’s Michigan. “It was a place where bare feet replaced shoes and where the sounds you heard at night were the wind and birds, not the hum of a Chicago suburb. . . . And, especially for Ernest, it was a place of solitude.”
The cottage still remains in the Hemingway family’s possession. It isn’t open to the public.