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Hemingway Adventure

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois, USA 
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The front of 339 Oak Park Avenue looks naked with its porch removed for Hemingway centenary restoration.
Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureOh! Lovely Walloona, fairest of all the inland seas,
Oh! Lovely Walloona, ... thy laughing ripples kiss the shore

Hemingway inherited neither his mother’s literary style, nor her musical talent. However, his father’s and his grandfather’s love of nature permeates his birthplace as it permeated his life. There was nothing sentimental about this. Love of animals was not incompatible with hunting and killing them.

‘Ernest was taught to shoot by Pa when two and a half and when four, could handle a pistol,' wrote Grace Hemingway on the back of one family photograph. In another, angelic Ernest stands at the end of a happy family group, looking the picture of innocence, hair cut in bangs and dressed like Lord Fauntleroy. You have to look quite carefully to make out the double-barrelled rifle nestling by his side.

As we leave, a group of Hemingway fans from China arrives. They’re a little late and they shift around awkwardly at the door, all in dark suits like mourners at a funeral. Two departing visitors are enquiring about the recent announcement of a new range of furniture to be called The Ernest Hemingway Collection, which will include such best-selling lines as the Sun Valley Cocktail Table and the Kilimanjaro Bedside Chest.

It seems it was not just a nine-and-a-half pound boy that was born at 339 Oak Park Avenue, but an industry and, quite possibly, a religion.

Clutching my Hemingway-signed mug I step out into the leafy neighbourhood which he is said to have described as one of wide lawns and narrow minds. The wide lawns may still be there but Oak Park nowadays guards a zealously liberal reputation.

An elderly man offers to show me around.

‘I’m a socialist,’ he declares proudly. ‘My wife has twice shaken hands with Paul Robeson.’

The light is fading as we walk down to the end of Oak Park Avenue. A war memorial which bears Hemingway’s name stands in a postage stamp of greenery they call Scoville Street Park.

‘That’s so crazy,’ mutters my grey-haired guide. ‘They should rename it Hemingway Park.’
Chicago, Illinois, USA 
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Teenage Hemingway on the Oak Park war memorial.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Chicago, Illinois
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Chicago, Illinois
  • Book page no: 21

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