Hemingway museum was once a quiet place for the author

  • By Jon Gambrell Associated Press
  • Friday, July 10, 2009 11:59am
  • Life

PIGGOTT, Ark. — The quail rose out of the cornfields and briars of northeast Arkansas, giving the young writer just enough time to swing his shotgun up like a pitchfork toward their flight.

Ernest Hemingway still remained years away from depression and turning another shotgun on himself as he picked off the birds along Sugar Creek in Piggott.

In Piggott, the family of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, gave generously to the writer as the Great Depression took hold of the country. He wrote about 100 pages of “A Farewell to Arms” from a converted studio over an old barn near their home before the heat of an Arkansas summer — and his own restlessness — drove him away.

Now, 80 years after the publication of the tale of love and loss, the Arkansas home where Hemingway stayed has seen an increase in the number of visitors coming to the out-of-the-way museum.

“He was not social with Piggott. He came here because he could get away from everybody and he could write,” said Deanna Dismukes, an education coordinator at the museum.

You have to want to go to Piggott to get there, even today. It’s a three-hour car trip from Little Rock or St. Louis.

Pfeiffer graduated from journalism school and took on several reporting jobs before landing in Paris to work for Vogue. There, among the Lost Generation writers of the Left Bank, Pauline Pfeiffer met Hemingway and his then-wife at a party. Soon, the sharp-dressed and sharp-minded reporter won over Hemingway, who divorced in 1927 and married Pfeiffer a month later.

Their marriage, though likely based on lust and mutual respect for their writing styles, also included a financial incentive as well, said Ruth Hawkins, who heads the Arkansas State University program that manages the Piggott museum. The trust fund of Hemingway’s first wife had dwindled to “almost nothing” by the end of their marriage, she said.

“I think he found she was a good editor and came from a family with money. Those were important to Ernest,” Hawkins said.

By late 1927, Pfeiffer became pregnant with their son Patrick and wanted to return to the U.S. to have the child. At Piggott, the Pfeiffers built a writer’s studio for Hemingway in a loft over the old horse barn.

The studio included a bathroom, bed and a slanted ceiling, but it offered a more important luxury — distance between the writer and his new in-laws as he struggled to decide what to do with Frederic Henry, the protagonist of “A Farewell to Arms.”

He and Pauline traveled to Kansas City for the baby’s birth by cesarean section, an experience that later would enter the tragic final act of “A Farewell to Arms.”

Hemingway soon cut out to Wyoming to finish the novel as Pauline and his new son waited at the Pfeiffer family home.

Hemingway “was not one to be in one place for a terribly long time,” Dismukes said. “He suffered from some depression and in order to alleviate the depression and get him writing again, he needed a new locality.”

The Pfeiffer family accepted that and Pauline’s uncle even helped fund an African safari for the couple at a cost of $25,000 during the Great Depression. That uncle even helped pay for Hemingway’s deep-sea fishing boat and the couple’s apartment in Paris.

As Hemingway became more popular, his relationship with Pauline strained. They divorced in 1940 and Hemingway remarried quickly, later speaking poorly of Pauline in letters and among friends.

“By the time he divorced Pauline, I think he was trying to forget he ever had anything to do with the Pfeiffers because he didn’t want to have to admit they supported him financially,” she said.

Pauline died in 1951 of a brain hemorrhage, and drifted into Hemingway history.

Arkansas State bought the Piggott property in 1997. The school remodeled everything, restoring the home and Hemingway’s loft to the memory of those who visited or worked in the Pfeiffer home.

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