-- Ernest Hemingway, "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen," 1933
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Ernest Hemingway lived and worked in Kansas City for more than a year, if all his trips here are added together. The longest, a six-month stay, was while a cub reporter on The Kansas City Star from October 18, 1917 to April 30, 1918. The rest was a series of six-week stopovers between visits to Arkansas, Wyoming and Florida. He used that time to complete two important works: A Farewell to Arms and Death in the Afternoon.
Using Hemingway's later writing as a basis, it's clear that his time in Kansas City was one of the most important periods of his life. His experiences during that short period were recast and presented in at least five of his novels, four of his published sketches and half a dozen of his short stories. And there were other unpublished stories, specifically about his days in Kansas City, that were lost in 1922 in a train station.
The following are a few selections of Hemingway's Kansas City-influenced writings. For specific works, use these links: Across the River and into the Trees, Death in the Afternoon, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises, In our time, Nick Adams stories, ``A Pursuit Race,'' ``God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,'' ``One Reader Writes,'' ``Soldier's Home.''
In early summer 1917, Ernest Hemingway was faced with three choices: he could go to college, go to work, or go to war. His father, Dr. Ed Hemingway, wrote his younger brother Tyler in Kansas City about a possible job for his son. Ed Hemingway was against his son going to war, and hoped to forestall Ernest's tour of duty as long as possible. Tyler Hemingway had been a classmate of Henry Haskell, chief editorial writer of The Star, and wrote his brother that Haskell could take Ernest in October.
Hemingway took the train to Kansas City in mid-October, arriving on Oct. 15, 1917. Dr. Hemingway accompanied him to the station. Ernest, who ``was disgusted with teary fairwells,'' recast that scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
As a reporter on The Star, Hemingway covered
``the short-stop run, which included the 15th Street police station, the
Union Station, and the General Hospital. At the 15th Street station you
covered crime, usually small, but you never knew when you might hit
something larger. Union Station was everybody going in and out of town...
Some shady characters I got to know and interviews with celebrities going
through. The General Hospital was up a long hill from Union Station and
there you got accidents and a double check on crimes of violence.''
Vignettes in Hemingway's In our time greatly resemble the work he did for The Star, especially his newspaper story ``At the end of the Ambulance Run.''
One in particular concerned the shooting of two robbers by racist cops:
It is thought that Hemingway got the main idea for ``God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,'' from Dr. Logan Clendening, a Kansas City doctor whom Hemingway met in 1931 while awaiting the birth of his son, Gregory. Clendening conducted a syndicated medical column, and he sent Hemingway a sheaf of six letters from his correspondents. One of those letters was from a woman in Harrisburg, Penn., whose husband had contracted syphilis while serving in Shanghai. With very minor alterations, Hemingway concocted a story: ``One Reader Writes.''
Another, unpublished, work mentions The Kansas City Star, ambulances and a ``Doc Kling,'' which might also have something to do with Dr. Clendening.
Another powerful story written from his Star experiences was ``A Pursuit Race,'' about an advanceman for a burlesque company who loses himself to drugs and booze and stays in bed all day with a sheet over his head:
Hemingway left Kansas City in the spring of 1918 and did not return for 10 years. He became ``the first of 132 former Star employees to be wounded in World War I,'' according to a Star article at the time of his death. He used his return to Michigan as the basis for another story that related to his work on The Star. It was called ``Soldier's Home:''
``Pauline's labor pains began at last on June 27, and she entered Research Hospital under the charge of Dr. Don Carlos Guffey. Her labor lasted for 18 hours and was terminated by Caesarean section on the 28th. The child was a 9 1/2 lb. boy whom they named Patrick. Pauline writhed for several days with postoperative gas pains....''
Pauline's difficult childbirth took place while Hemingway was attempting to finish one of his greatest masterpieces, A Farewell to Arms. In that book, Hemingway writes of Catherine Barkley's caesarean, while, in reality, his own wife is undergoing the same operation:
Hemingway and Pauline returned to Kansas City in 1931 because Pauline was pregnant again and wanted to have Dr. Guffey perform the delivery. Gregory Hancock was born on the morning of Nov. 12, 1931. During that time Hemingway completed Death in the Afternoon.