Ernest Hemingway

Uncle Tyler Hemingway: KC connections

Updated: 2007-08-03T20:11:47Z


The Kansas City Star

Tyler Hemingway
Courtesy of Jean Arabell Gordon Dibble
Ernest Hemingway's Kansas City uncle, Alfred Tyler Hemingway in 1922 with his wife, Arabell, and their children, Jane and Franklin.

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the June 27, 1999 edition of The Kansas City Star

Kansas City fascinated the young Ernest Hemingway.

But he may never have seen it if not for his uncle, Alfred Tyler Hemingway.

It was Uncle Tyler, as the younger Hemingway called him, who knew Henry J. Haskell, editor of The Kansas City Star. Uncle Tyler spoke to Haskell about a possible reporting job for his nephew, who, after graduating from high school in Oak Park, I ll., was not interested in college.

Uncle Tyler subsequently met Ernest at Kansas City's Union Station in October 1917 and installed him in a room at his mid-town Kansas City home.

Every Hemingway biography mentions Uncle Tyler only in passing.

And yet it was Uncle Tyler in Kansas City -- according to Patrick Hemingway, the author's second son -- who, to Ernest, represented the most successful of the Hemingways.

It's true that the Hemingways of Oak Park were an admirable and respected family: Ernest's father, Clarence, was a doctor and his mother, Grace, a singer and music teacher.

But it's also true that Alfred Tyler Hemingway, Clarence's brother, married well.

He met Arabell White at Oberlin College in Ohio just before the turn of the century. She was the daughter of John Barber White, one of Kansas City's most prominent lumbermen.

They married in Kansas City on April 8, 1903.

Alfred Tyler paid dues. After graduating from Oberlin in 1902 he worked in Louisiana's timber fields. He later spent two years managing a lumberyard in Alliance, Neb. By the time young Ernest arrived in the autumn of 1917, Alfred Tyler was working in h is father-in-law's Kansas City offices and had just moved his wife and two children into a new home at 3629 Warwick Boulevard.

Alfred Tyler also was an early practitioner of success publishing. In 1915 he wrote a book titled How to "Make Good." The slim volume is full of advice to young professionals just starting out in the business world.

By 1922 Alfred Tyler was serving as secretary and general manager of the Forest Lumber Co. If he was the "successful" Hemingway, he also looked the part. A 1922 photograph captures his strong, handsome face and striking gray hair.

He died that same year, of pneumonia, at age 44. He is buried in Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence. Not long after, a gymnasium bearing Alfred Tyler's name was built on what is today the Wornall campus of the Pembroke Hill School.

"My grandmother gave that to (the former Sunset Hill School for girls) in memory of her first husband," said Jean Arabell Gordon Dibble, a Kansas City granddaughter of Alfred Tyler. Today the building, still bearing Alfred Tyler's name on its facade, h ouses a theater and art gallery.

Dibble's grandmother, meanwhile -- familiar to Ernest Hemingway students as "Aunt Arabell" -- stood in no one's shadow.

In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson appointed her to direct local food conservation efforts. ("Aunt Arabel is doing lots of Food conservation work and is quite high up in the Food ring," Ernest wrote home on Nov. 19, 1917.) Arabell also was president of the local consumers league in the early 1920s and helped establish pure milk laws.

In 1927 Arabell married Clarence Shepard, a Kansas City architect who designed many homes in the Kansas City's Country Club district, as well as the Alfred Tyler Hemingway gymnasium.

By 1928, when Ernest Hemingway was looking for a comfortable place for his wife, Pauline, to deliver her first child (his second), Kansas City and Aunt Arabell apparently proved a more attractive option than Oak Park and his own family.

"If she were alive today, she would be very relieved and proud of Ernest's success," said Dibble of her grandmother.

Yet even in the face of her nephew's obvious success, Arabell disapproved of some of the author's habits. Dibble can still recall once seeing the author's face on the cover of Life magazine and then asking her grandmother about Ernest Hemingway.

"My grandmother," Dibble said, "said, 'Yes, darling, Ernest Hemingway is part of our family, but he drinks and swears and likes women and has never gone to college.' "

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