Nearly 50 years ago, American novelist Ernest Hemingway took his life in the foyer of his Ketchum, Idaho, home. We take a look back at his final days and explore his lasting legacy as one of the most lauded American novelists of the 20th century.One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever … The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose. —The Sun Also Rises
At Ernest Hemingway’s funeral, the priest performing the service inexplicably bumbled the family’s request to recite the above passage from Ecclesiastes 1:3–5. Instead, the priest read only the first line, stopping just short of Hemingway’s favorite part, “the sun also rises,” which, of course, is the title of one of his most famous novels. Fifty years later, though, that passage is preserved in its entirety at a memorial to the famous author at the Silver Creek Preserve in central Idaho.
From Havana, Cuba, to Zaragoza, Spain, to the Serengeti of Africa, Ernest Hemingway was known as a man who traveled the world. He was a celebrated figure whose books and short stories changed the face of literature forever. His terse prose was spartan, with each word chosen ever so carefully, and his pages were without excess. He won both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes during his lifetime, and today his work continues to captivate audiences worldwide, as does the man himself. Because in stark contrast to the clean pages of his writing, his nonliterary life was messy and mysterious, serving only to magnify the allure of the man. He boxed and hunted lions. He frequented bloody bullfights and trolled the waters of the deep ocean for prize fish. He even chased Nazi submarines from Cuba’s north shore from aboard his fishing boat, the Pilar. But he was also a drinking man, his consumption measured not in glasses but in gallons. (To this day, the Floridita bar in Havana still has a spot in the corner reserved for its frequent customer, and the man who invented the Papa Doble — the double daiquiri.)
In the end, however, it wasn’t Venice, Bim?ini or Key West where the adventuresome scribe decided to settle after years of globe-trotting. Instead, Hemingway’s final stop was the great American West and Ketchum, Idaho. It was here, 50 years ago next month, that on July 2 at 7:30 a.m., the writer took his life with a shotgun in the foyer of his home.
To pay homage to the man — widely considered one of the greatest authors of the 20th century — I’ve decided to make the pilgrimage to Ketchum and retrace the last days of his life. I begin my quest at the site of his death, the Hemingway House, virtually unchanged since he and his fourth wife, Mary, bought it in 1959. As I enter, the weightiness of the setting is suddenly thrust upon me: My first steps into the home are on the very spot where Hemingway took his last breath. Darkened by curtains, the entryway is maybe seven feet in length before I’m met by another door. Five feet wide, monochromatic,? the scene is utterly unremarkable — an unfitting setting for the literary heavyweight’s life to end.
Beyond the foyer, the home opens up, and its allure becomes more apparent. Flooded with light streaming through its four grand windows, the large sitting room is impressive. The house sits at an elevation of 5,845 feet on a hill above the Big Wood River. The east window offers a panoramic view of the Pioneer Mountains. Above the fireplace are the heads of a lesser koodoo and an impala. Upstairs, two more large windows in the bedrooms showcase a staggering view of the Sawtooth Mountains emerging to the north.