EUGENE, Ore. — People will tell you where they were when JFK was shot, or when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, but only in a university town such as Eugene will they tell you where they were when “Papa died.”
“I think someone like Hemingway — who had so much and achieved so much — was thought of as someone who would be around for awhile. But he decided to take his own life, and I think he knew that would shake his fans up. I’m still shaken,” says Martin, a retired English teacher who adds that “I made many of my Eugene students read a lot of Hemingway back in the day.”
In fact, you will still note Hemingway books on the University of Oregon book shop in Eugene because “they are the classics.”
Hemingway quite deliberately shot and killed himself 50 years ago
“The world breaks everyone… but those that will not break it kills,” wrote Ernest “Papa” Hemingway in his semi-autobiographical novel “A Farewell to Arms;” while, in turn, his wife Mary noted that life finally did break “Papa” when he killed himself – some 50 years ago – on July 2, 1961 at the age of 61.
American literature still morns the great Ernest “Papa” Hemingway because “he does so much with both dialogue and description in his novels,” stated one reviewer listed in the “Hemingway Archives” at the John F. Kennedy Library. While another critic said: “Hemingway makes the reader feel without every saying it.” Hemingway, who earned the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, said he was ready to end it all “when life was no longer interesting.”
Papa did just that in the early morning hours of July 2, 1961, when he “quite deliberately” shot himself with his favorite shotgun. “He unlocked the gun cabinet, went to the front entrance of their Ketchum home, and pushed two shells into the twelve-gauge Boss shotgun, put the end of the barrel into his mouth, pulled the trigger and blew out his brains,” wrote Michael S. Reynolds, in his book “Hemingway: The Final Years.”
Papa was a brawling drinker who liked to party in Oregon
Up in nearby Astoria, Oregon, where Hemingway “liked to hang out in the old Norwegian and Finish sailor drinking bars, “ back in the 1950’s, there’s numerous regular sightings of “Hemingway look a likes,” says local Astoria writer Larry “Loki” Carter, who writes stories about Astoria being the “San Francisco of the Pacific Northwest.”
“Astoria was the oldest American city west of the Mississippi. It was founded in 1811, and it’s claim to fame – other than being one of Papa’s hangouts – is it once was called the salmon capital of the world,” explains Carter who also notes that Astoria’s annual “Hemingway” look-a-like contests of the Sixties that are now history, but looking like “Papa” is still popular in the Florida Keys and in Cuba where Hemingway also liked to drink.
“If you go to some of the older bars and “watering holes” along the docks in Astoria there’s still photos and drawings of Hemingway. There’s even a big old bottle of Navy Rum that he autographed at one former bar. Papa apparently drank the whole bottle and that meant something to him. The signed bottle is now in a private collection here in town,” adds Carter.
Hemingway myth and legend lives on because he was the real deal
Both Reynolds, in his book “Hemingway: The Final Years,” and Jeffrey Meyers in his book “Hemingway: A Biography,” quote Hemingway’s wife Mary in accounting how the writer died on July 2, 1961.
They write that Mary Hemingway called “the Sun Valley Hospital” after finding Papa died in what Dr. Scott Earle described at the time as Hemingway “had died of a self-inflicted wound to the head.” In turn, the local, national and worldwide media of the time were told that Hemingway’s death “had been accidental.”
Both Ernest and Mary Hemingway are buried in the town cemetery in Ketchum, Idaho.
Hemingway called a writer’s writer
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writings,” wrote Hemingway in “Death in the Afternoon.”
In addition to the posthumous release of Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” in 1964, another novel, “True at First Light” was published in 1999. Papa is most famous for his books: “The Sun Also Rises” (1926), “A Farewell to Arms” (1929), “For whom the Bell Tolls” (1940) and “The Old Man and the Sea” (1951). In fact, local legend here in Astoria has Papa interviewing local Norwegian and Finish sailors in 1950 for ideas that he later wrote about in The Old Man and the Sea.
Hemingway is “immortal” for hard-drinking adventures who love good writing
“He is not dead. In Cuba, he is always live. Hemingway is immortal,” asserted one fan of Papa’s in Cuba during recent anniversary of his death events in Hemingway’s other favorite haunt in Cuba.
Also, the L.A. Times featured a July 2 interview with yet another writer who writes about Hemingway in the recently published book, “The Heming Way.” Mary Beckerman told the L.A. Times that his book is a combination of “loving tribute and tongue-in-cheek how to guide” for what Beckerman, 28, “sees as today’s Facebook generation of timid metrosexual males.”
“I think that everybody knows the Hemingway cartoon character, even guys who’ve never read ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and ‘Farewell to Arms,’ says Beckerman, a writer for Esquire magazine whose book is subtitled, ‘How to Unleash the Booze-Inhaling, Animal-Slaughtering, War-Glorifying, Hairy-Chested, Retro-Sexual Legend Within… Just Like Papa!’”
The L.A. Times also noted that Beckerman “also wanted his book to remind people of the other Hemingway: intrepid war correspondent, colorful bohemian and virile man of action, whose muscular short stories and novels define modern writing the way Picasso’s paintings define modern art.”
“I think there’s a lot of lessons that Hemingway taught that definitely could apply to modern guys,” Beckerman says. “I think that guys today aren’t really living on our own terms and have lost a certain passion. Everything we know comes from Wikipedia, and everything Hemingway knew came from adventure. Get off your iPad and get off your smartphone and go slaughter some bulls and some lions!”