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Ernest Hemingway and The Star

By the time Ernest Hemingway arrived in Kansas City to join the newsroom staff of The Star in October 1917, the United States had entered the war in Europe.

Hemingway was only 18. He had graduated from high school in Oak Park, Ill., spent the summer at his family's place in northern Michigan and put off college in favor of growing up fast.

A Kansas City uncle had connections at the newspaper, and the young Hemingway, already interested in writing, made the most of his six-and-half month stint as a cub reporter here.

The European war was on Hemingway's mind from the start. The war was a daily presence in the newspaper. Hemingway joined the Missouri Home Guard. His work put him in frequent contact with generals and soldiers and the local war bond effort. He often expressed his expectation to find a way to serve, because, he wrote to his sister, "I couldn't face any body after the war and not have been in it."

By spring, Hemingway was writing frequently about local recruiting efforts for the army, navy and the American Red Cross. And, by then, too, he had decided to join the Red Cross ambulance service, which would have him on the Italian front by summer.

Hemingway, of course, became a force of nature in 20th century American literature. The Great War provided the backdrop for A Farewell to Arms, which he wrote 10 years after leaving Kansas City.

A good handful of un-bylined stories that Hemingway wrote for The Star have been identified over the years. (Many are posted on The Star's Hemingway Web pages.) One of the most memorable was headlined, "Mix War, Art and Dancing." The story appeared April, 21, 1918 on Page 1:

Outside a woman walked along the wet street-lamp lit sidewalk through the sleet and snow.

Inside in the Fine Arts Institute on the sixth floor of the Y.W.C.A. Building, 1020 McGee Street, a merry crowd of soldiers from Camp Funston and Fort Leavenworth fox trotted and one-stepped with girls from the Fine Arts School while a sober faced young man pounded out the latest jazz music as he watched the moving figures. In a corner a private in the signal corps was discussing Whistler with a black haired girl who heartily agreed with him. The private had been a member of the art colony at Chicago before the war was declared.

Three men from Funston were wandering arm in arm along the wall looking at the exhibition of paintings by Kansas City artists. The piano player stopped. The dancers clapped and cheered and he swung into ``The Long, Long Trail Awinding.'' An infantry corporal, dancing with a swift moving girl in a red dress, bent his head close to hers and confided something about a girl in Chautauqua, Kas. In the corridor a group of girls surrounded a tow-headed young artilleryman and applauded his imitation of his pal Bill challenging the colonel, who had forgotten the password. The music stopped again and the solemn pianist rose from his stool and walked out into the hall for a drink.

A crowd of men rushed up to the girl in the red dress to plead for the next dance. Outside the woman walked along the wet lamp lit sidewalk.

It was the first dance for soldiers to be given under the auspices of the War Camp Community Service. Forty girls of the art school, chaperoned by Miss Winifred Sexton, secretary of the school and Mrs. J. F. Binnie were the hostesses. The idea was formulated by J. P. Robertson of the War Camp Community Service, and announcements were sent to the commandants at Camp Funston and Fort Leavenworth inviting all soldiers on leave. Posters made by the girl students were put up at Leavenworth on the interurban trains.

The first dance will be followed by others at various clubs and schools throughout the city according to Mr. Robertson.

The pianist took his seat again and the soldiers made a dash for partners. In the intermission the soldiers drank to the girls in fruit punch. The girl in red, surrounded by a crowd of men in olive drab, seated herself at the piano, the men and the girls gathered around and sang until midnight. The elevator had stopped running and so the jolly crowd bunched down the six flights of stairs and rushed waiting motor cars. After the last car had gone, the woman walked along the wet sidewalk through the sleet and looked up at the dark windows of the sixth floor.

To reach Steve Paul, senior writer and editor, call (816) 234-4762 or e-mail paul@kcstar.com.

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