The Old Man and the Secret

Where to find Ernest Hemingway's stuff

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rnest Hemingway had no Boston connection, which is what makes it such a surprising secret that his manuscripts and mementoes of his adventurous life are here. You won’t find any signs leading to the Ernest Hemingway archive, either, but the stuffed impala over the fireplace might give it away. It’s in the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, given by the author’s widow, Mary, who snubbed the Library of Congress. The author’s manuscripts and letters line one wall of a room separate from the rest of the Kennedy Library, written on the backs of tailor bills, train tickets, and whatever else was handy. But what makes this collection really unique is the assortment of objects Hemingway accumulated in his real-life adventures: the cartridge bag he carried as an ambulance driver during World War I and pieces of the shrapnel taken from his legs when he was wounded by a mortar shell in 1918. His infatuation with a nurse while he was recuperating was the basis for A Farewell to Arms. There’s the author’s wallet with his a World War II correspondent’s visa, his 1946 Montana fishing license, and—who’d have thought?—tough-guy Ernest Hemingway’s AAA membership card. Unlike the rest of the JFK Library and Museum, the archive is free, but you have to call ahead to schedule a visit.

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Getting Ernest Hemingway’s manuscripts and materials to Boston was an adventure in international intrigue worthy of, well, Hemingway. Some was recovered from the back room of Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, where he was a regular, and from the basement of the Ritz in Paris. But most was at Finca Vigia in Cuba after Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. Fidel Castro, an admirer, let the author’s widow retrieve his papers, and President Kennedy agreed to let her go despite a travel ban imposed amid the tensions heightened by the Bay of Pigs invasion.

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