“Oak Park is a neighborhood of wide lawns and narrow minds.” – Ernest Hemingway
After a meal of falafel (at Falafill), we set out on our Hemingway adventure in Oak Park. It was my last day in Chicagoland. I had lived in Forest Park next door for a year and a half, but never went to the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum. It’s often that way, isn’t it? You live in a city, thinking you have all the time in the world to do everything you want to in the city, but then life and routines happen and you often only end up going to those things if someone comes to visit, or not at all.
Kate suggested we get a drink. After some rambling we ended up at an Italian restaurant and bellied up to the bar. Figuring Ernest would be disappointed at my vegan lunch, I tried to make it up to him by ordering whiskey on the rocks. From there we made our way to the museum, talked with a nice lady and bought tickets. The museum, we were told, has a four-part BBC documentary that the Hemingway family refuses to allow to be shown or sold in the United States, but that the museum had been grandfathered in. As intriguing as that was, however, we didn’t have the time.
The exhibit chronicles his entire life, from Oak Park to Idaho. There are some really great pictures and lots of memorabilia, although it didn’t seem to be set up chronologically or actually in any sensible order. It felt like flipping randomly through the pages of his biography. That’s not so much a complaint as an observation. The entire thing is well done and anyone who loves Hemingway would enjoy it. What Papa himself would think of it, however, who knows.
From there we walked the block or so to the home he was born in and jumped into a tour that had just begun. Ernest himself only lived there for a few years and much of the tour dealt more with his family than him. The house was allowed to fall into disrepair over the years and did not become a museum until the 1990s. We were told it would have been demolished in the 60s but that the lot was too small to build on.
Winding our way though each of the rooms of the two levels, we got history lessons and were able to stand in the room that he was born in.
The best part of the tour, however, came when our guide meant to reference A Farewell to Arms but said For Whom the Bell Tolls instead. A woman on the tour politely corrected him and it would have been forgettable if he simply acknowledged it and moved on, but instead he decided to tell us, people clearly interested enough in the life of Ernest Hemingway that we would pay money to tour the place, that he had never read anything that Hemingway wrote. Nothing. Not one book or story. Say goodbye to your credibility, sir. I was speechless and couldn’t help but laugh.
After the tour we walked down to Hemmingway’s Bistro (note: that’s not misspelled), where we ordered two gin rickys to cap the day. We were the only two people there for most of the time and had good conversation with the bartendress, who momentarily stole my heart.
It was a perfect Hemingway adventure. Nowhere, however, did I ever see the Hemingway quote above. Oak Park has an entire area known as the “Hemingway District,” which I can only imagine he would have found ridiculous. But what do I know?