Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hemingway's antlers

Hunter S. Thompson ventured up to Ketchum in 1964 to figure out why the old man would settle in such a remote place at the tale end of his life. Young Hunter took in the town, chatted with a few of its denizens, had a drink at the town watering hole and in the end took home the set of antlers that hung over the front door of Hem's chalet.  I could only find this complete copy of the article dated May 25.  

According to his wife, he didn't know what came over him and meant to return the elk horns, but the years passed and the antlers stayed with him.  This past summer, Anita decided to return the antlers.  The Nature Conservancy, which manages the site, didn't know what to do with them, and suggested she contact the family.  She tracked down one of Hemingway's grandsons in New York and arranged to have the antlers shipped to him, as he seemed to be the only one really interested in them.  I imagine there were plenty of other souvenirs from Hemingway's hunts that the antlers really didn't mean much, but it satisfied Anita's conscience.

Thompson seemed to struggle with the article, focusing a bit too much on Hemingway's "power of conviction" than what it was that drew him to Ketchum.  In the end, it appears that Hem preferred the anonymity of the place and the wild game to be had in the mountains.  He had come there off and on for years, but only chose to buy his place in 1960, and subsequently blow his brains out in 1961.  Thompson doesn't even mention the suicide, although he notes that Big Two-Hearted River would serve as his epitaph.

John Walsh chalks it up to depression.  The words ran out in 1960 and Hem couldn't fill that hole with hunting, with Walsh offering a few clinical references to back up his argument.  Hem also carried a number of aches and pains left from the past that no doubt reared their ugly head in cold weather.  It probably would have suited him better to stay in Cuba, or at least Key West, rather than seek refuge in Idaho, but maybe this was all planned out, and he wanted to go the same way as Harry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which just as easily could have served as an epitaph, with a coyote in place of a hyena.

Thompson felt Cuba lost its magic for Hem after the revolution.  Hemingway met with Castro on a fishing trip in May 1960, but according to Jacobo Timerman, the "revolutionaries" didn't feel Hem was one of them.  Thompson says that Hemingway never was a political man and saw this as a convenient way out, seeking the apolitical hole of Ketchum instead.  This still doesn't explain why he didn't go back to his home in Key West, which he still held title to.  Maybe it was all the memories the house evoked of an earlier time he didn't want to relive.

The sad part is that Hunter Thompson would wrestle with many of the same demons when he chose to make Woody Creek, Colorado, his home, although he would live much of his adult life in this town near Aspen before eventually blowing his brains out in 2005.  Thompson was dealing with a considerable amount of pain, so this is generally seen as a mercy killing, unlike Hemingway's shocking suicide.  Still, they both chose to end their lives looking down a barrel of a gun, leaving their young wives to pick up the pieces.  

I suppose both Mary and Anita saw it coming.  It must have been hell living with these two "frontier men" at the tale end of their lives.  The words had given out, and there wasn't much more to say other than to wallow in their own self pity and loathing.  Both cleaned up the mess their husbands left behind, leaving us with the legacies of these great writers to pour over in unfinished scripts, letters and other manuscripts.  

Both places serve as pilgrimage sites for devoted fans.  Anita will be personally managing the Thompson estate, even serving you Hunter's favorite breakfast at 2 in the afternoon.  I suppose she enjoys the company.  I think she should have kept the antlers as they would have made a great conversation piece.

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