“ The young Ernest weighed in at nine and half pounds…”
An ex-mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon told me some time ago that she was the great-great niece of Ernest Hemingway, on his mother’s side. She went on to say that it was something her family didn’t talk about much, although she was a fan of the novelist.
It’s a small world.
Although born on the 21st of July, 1899, in the very American, very upper-middle-class village of Oak Park, Illinois, just a stone’s throw from Chicago, Ernest Hemingway’s roots go much further back.
Both sides of Hemingway’s family came from Yorkshire, England. His maternal grandfather, Ernest Hall, was born in Sheffield in 1840, and as a teenager worked for the family cutlery business before, in 1860, emigrating to America. After serving bravely in the Civil War as a corporal with L Troop of the First Iowa Volunteer Cavalry — and stopping a Confederate rifle ball in his thigh — Hall, refusing a disability pension, started his own wholesale cutlery business in Chicago. He soon became wealthy and built a large house in Oak Park — not far from the Lloyd-Wrights — and cultivated the appearance of an English country gentleman by sporting mutton chop sideburns, carrying a silver headed cane, smoking cigars, and walking his white Yorkshire Terrier.
Hemingway’s paternal grandfather, Anson Tyler Hemingway — born in East Plymouth Connecticut in 1844 — was descended from 17th century Doncaster immigrants. He too served bravely in the Civil War as a private with the 72nd Illinois Infantry before being promoted, in 1864, to the rank of Lieutenant by President Lincoln himself, who then ordered him to raise a Negro infantry regiment in Natchez, Mississippi. After the war Anson attended Wheaton College in Illinois before working as general secretary of the Chicago YMCA for ten years. In the 1880s he started his own very successful real estate business in Oak Park. Anson was a tall, upright, and religious man — and an active member of the temperance movement — who conducted Sunday morning prayers knelt upon the parlour rug of the large house he built at 439 North Oak Park Avenue, just across the road from Ernest Hall’s home. Anson, and his wife Adelaide, raised four sons and two daughters, who were all educated at Oak Park High, and Oberlin College, Ohio.
Ernest Hall, and his wife Caroline, had one daughter, Grace, who was an accomplished singer and pianist. Grace had studied in New York under Madame Capriani and made her singing debut at the old Madison Square Garden. But when her mother was taken seriously ill she gave up her career and returned to Oak Park to nurse her dying mother. After the death of her mother Grace started visiting the Hemingway home across the street and was soon smitten with Anson’s oldest son, Clarence, a newly qualified doctor. After a short courtship she and Ed — his middle name was Edmund — married in 1896. Three years later, on the 21st July 1899 Ernest Miller Hemingway, their second child, was born in the front, south facing bedroom of widower Ernest Hall’s home.
The young Ernest weighed in at nine and a half pounds, was twenty three inches long and had dark blue eyes that would later turn brown, and black hair that later became fair. Grace considered Ernest to be “…one of God’s little lambs.” Hemingway usually referred to his mother as “…that bitch.”
Grace always tried to raise Hemingway as a cultured child, ensuring he read widely and listened to classical music ( he learned to play the cello reasonably well), as well as attend church (the Third Congregational Church, where Grace was the choir director and a soloist), and for all his later bluster and pretence of being a latter day Huck Finn, Hemingway — although he never went to university — was extraordinarily well read, with a love of music that spanned all genres, from jazz to opera, and although not much of a church-goer he was nevertheless a religious man.
But it would be the time that he spent with his doctor father, Clarence Hemingway, that Hemingway loved the most, especially hunting and fishing; and not least helping his father treat patients on the Indian Reservations.
Consequently it would be his knowledge of the world through his reading, and his practical abilities as a hunter, fisher — plus his fund of medical knowledge — that gave him his sense of adventure, a sense of adventure that, in 1918, brought him to Italy as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross.