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Idaho Remembers the Times of Papa Hemingway : IDAHO: Hemingway Is Well Remembered

July 12, 1987|MICHAEL CARLTON | Carlton is a Denver Post travel columnist

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Ernest (Papa) Hemingway wrote these words in 1939, a eulogy for a friend:

Best of all he loved the fall.

The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods.

Leaves floating on the trout streams above the hills.

The high blue windless skies.

Now he will be part of them forever.

Today those words are chiseled into a tall, graceful marble column. At the top of the column rests a bronze bust of Hemingway.

In front of the column bubbles a small stream where orange-spotted brook trout hide in the shadows. Behind the column, down a long, sweeping hillside, rushes another creek where Hemingway taught his son, Jack, to fish.

And on each side, their leaves waving in a fresh Idaho breeze, are the cottonwoods, which in summer shake cotton snow from their limbs, settling over the monument like a winter storm.

This place, about a mile up the river from Sun Valley Resort, is the Hemingway Memorial, a salute to the man who so loved this slice of Idaho, who came here to hunt and fish and to write. It was in neighboring Ketchum that Hemingway on July 2, 1961 placed a shotgun in his mouth and ended his life.

Favorite Pub

In Ketchum, on the main street of the town, just south of the stoplight, is the Casino bar, Hemingway's favorite drinking and gaming place. Although there are no slot machines in the bar anymore, it is otherwise little changed from the days when Hemingway and his friends would crowd in to drink and brag.

The Casino today is as rough as Hemingway's heroes, a bar where hard-eyed men drink their beer and talk quietly with women of suspicious reputations.

A single pool table is lighted by a harsh light in the bar, which otherwise is as dark as the inside of an elephant. Along the far wall, beside the pool table, are video games that took the place of the slot machines, and near the entrance of the bar is a felt-covered poker table, probably remembering the days when Hemingway played five-card stud with Gary Cooper.

Behind the bar, manned by a flinty-eyed bartender wearing a Budweiser cap, is a sign: "I don't drink in your bed; don't sleep in my bar."

The memorial and bar are two of several sites Hemingway fans can visit in Ketchum and Sun Valley--minor attractions that lure thousands of tourists each year, principally those who loved Hemingway's writings.

Ketchum and Sun Valley don't make a big deal out of their Hemingway heritage. Unlike Key West, where Hemingway has become an industry of sorts, the Idaho towns do little to promote the Hemingway connection. In fact, unless you pick up a little booklet written by Marsha Bellavance Johnson titled, "Hemingway in Idaho," you'll probably not find any Hemingway history at all.

But if you get the guidebook you'll be able to share at least a little of the heritage Hemingway has left in Ketchum and Sun Valley, where he lived for many years; his first visit was September, 1939.

Hemingway's Burial Place

One of the first stops should be the Ketchum Cemetery, where Hemingway is buried, under three towering spruce trees fringed by lilac bushes. A simple white cross fronts the grave, which is covered by a large, gray marble slab. Its inscription is simple: "Ernest Miller Hemingway: July 21, 1899--July 2, 1961."

Beside Hemingway's grave is the unmarked burial place of his last wife, Mary, who died in 1986, and beside it rests John Taylor Williams, Hemingway's close friend and hunting guide.

Hemingway's beloved Big Wood River runs far in the distance, and on the hillside behind the graveyard a housing project is about to be built. The cemetery's quiet--at least until the construction begins on new houses.

Sputtering of Sprinklers

For now, the silence is broken only by the sputtering of sprinklers casting long arms of water over the grass. It is a good place to reflect.

Ernest and Mary Hemingway's home is on a hillside not far away, but visiting is not encouraged.

The house is owned by the Nature Conservancy, and is tucked down a long asphalt lane peppered with "No Trespassing" signs. You can, if you like, poke your car into the Northwood subdivision, which sits at the base of the hill on which the Hemingway house is built, and get a glimpse of the structure, an unpretentious lump of a house nuzzled by cottonwoods and spruce trees.

Serious Hemingway buffs should plan on lunch or dinner at the Christiania restaurant, Hemingway's favorite. Ask a waitress to show you table No. 5 where Hemingway ate his last meal.

You should also visit some of Hemingway's other favorite haunts--the Ram Bar and the Duchin Lounge in Sun Valley, the Tram Bar and the Alpine (now Whiskey Jacques) in Ketchum, where Hemingway once staged a mock bullfight. You can also drive up to Trail Creek Cabin, a Sun Valley resort party cabin, where Hemingway, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman spent New Year's Eve in 1947.

Comfy Library

A visit to the Ketchum library--a marvelously comfortable, small-town facility where you can sit by the fireplace and read--should be on your itinerary.

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