A mile and a half down the road, in the valley beneath Bald Mountain, is the quaint hamlet of downtown Ketchum and its nearly indistinguishable neighbor, Sun Valley. On Main Street, the stores are rustic and made of stone, brick and wood. The area is known for its skiing, particularly the world-famous pitch of Bald Mountain, or Baldy. Hemingway first became familiar with the area in 1939, when he was offered complimentary lodging and amenities at the Sun Valley Lodge in exchange for the use of his name and likeness in promotional materials for the lodge. The publicity campaign was a success, and the remote area became a playground for the rich and famous, from Hemingway’s pal Gary Cooper to newer stars such as Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks, who have homes in the area.
Eventually, in 1959, looking for a suitable place to store his extensive collection of manuscripts — and sensing the stirrings of revolution in Cuba, his home at the time — Hemingway bought this house for $50,000.
On the front sun porch of Bud Purdy’s Picabo Store, I listen as the 93-year-old reminisces about Hemingway’s Idaho days. Purdy is one of the last of the writer’s old hunting buddies. He wears a tan button-down shirt, a blue cap, blue denims and a rugged caramel jacket with a corduroy collar. His face is dark from the sun, and even now, he’s an incredibly active rancher — despite his age. Purdy met Hemingway during the author’s first years in the area. From Sun Valley, Hemingway would venture south to Silver Creek, just down the road from Purdy’s, to hunt ducks and to take his sons fishing.
“He was a good shot,” Purdy remembers. “Very much an outdoor guy. He liked outdoor people, like farmers and ranchers. Common people. He was a macho guy, but at the same time laid-back. He wasn’t one to throw his weight around.”
But why Ketchum, people often wonder? For one, the remote setting of central Idaho (there are no major airports nearby, even to this day) suited the famous author. ?Instead of being hounded by the masses, he was afforded the luxury of going out and being one with the people, partying and socializing in peace. In fact, Purdy, who often ate and drank around town with his good friend, never once saw Hemingway sign an autograph.
Today, Hemingway’s presence in Ketchum and Sun Valley, from the numerous outdoor memorials to a space devoted to him at the Heritage and Ski Museum, is still very much alive. Locals say the author has become immersed in the culture of the area. At a neighborhood bar, I’m offered a “Death in the Afternoon” cocktail, a drink Hemingway invented that happens to be an unhappy mixture of Pernod and champagne; it tastes remarkably similar to Good & Plenty candy. The thought of finishing it is nauseating, but I’m on a Hemingway assignment, and I can feel the author urging me to man up, so down the hatch it goes. At the Heritage and Ski Museum, I find Hemingway’s Underwood typewriter and a typed, hand-corrected page from For Whom the Bell Tolls (he wrote the first 20 chapters of the novel in room 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge). Touring the museum, I meet Bob Ulrich, a tourist from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who has, with a friend, taken a day off from a ski trip to take in the town’s Hemingway offerings. While snapping photos, Ulrich explains that while he’s always enjoyed Hemingway’s books, he’s really more drawn to Hemingway the man rather than the writer. Worldwide, the attraction to Hemingway seems to be split between those drawn to the words on the page and those interested in the nearly mythical stories of the man. But maybe the two need not be mutually exclusive.