KETCHUM, Idaho — I came to this small town in the foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains to fulfill my childhood dream of visiting the last home of my favorite American writer, Ernest Hemingway.
In 1979, during my only trip to Paris, I went to a hotel where Hemingway had a long-term room, and I had a few drinks in some of the bars and cafes he loved. While working in Chicago, I went to the site of the author’s birthplace in nearby Oak Park. When I taught at Florida Keys Community College in Key West, I took students to Hemingway’s home and to the original Sloppy Joe’s bar where the author regularly drank.
I enjoyed these places, but they never intrigued me like Ketchum, where on the morning of July 1, 1961, Hemingway killed himself with a shotgun. Like other Hemingway devotees worldwide, I wanted to experience as fully as possible the place the author had called home for the last time, where he hunted and fished in Silver Creek Valley, where he drank and ate, and where he is buried.
Hemingway scholar Kirk Curnutt wrote that such readers look beyond the author’s printed words for understanding. We come to Ketchum “searching for traces of the personality that saturates (Hemingway’s) every sentence.” We want to know what “Papa,” as he was called in his later years, was really like. As a journalist, I have a special interest in how Hemingway, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954, honed his skills as a correspondent for the Kansas City Star, the Toronto Daily Star, the North American News Alliance and other publications.
As I ventured onto hillsides in Sun Valley, down into the meadows and along the banks of Silver Creek and the Big Wood River, Hemingway’s evocations of nature came alive. I imagined the cries of sandhill cranes and the honking of Canada geese as Hemingway described them. I could see mallard and cinnamon teal take flight. In the rivers and creeks, trout leaped through the surface for insects.