Northern Michigan's Petoskey Region was a summer home for a young Hemingway

Northern Michigan’s Petoskey Region was author’s summer home for the first 22 years of his life

posted Aug. 6, 2017 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Dave Carlson

  • con_Hemingway_1_080617
    Photo by Dave Carlson | Enlarge
    - A life-like sculpture of Ernest Hemingway at downtown Pennsylvania Park in Petoskey, Mich. Petoskey was the summer home of Hemingway the first 22 years of his life.
  • con_Hemingway_2_080617
    Photo courtesy of Petoskey, Mich., Chamber of Commerce | Enlarge
    - The statue is based on this photo of Hemingway leaving Petoskey, Mich., after recuperating from wounds during World War I.
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    Photo by Dave Carlson | Enlarge
    - This plaque on City Park Grill in Petoskey, Mich., describes the city’s connection to Hemingway.

PETOSKEY, Mich. — Told by a motel desk clerk that the downtown area of this historic Lake Michigan tourist community had several Ernest Hemingway haunts, we headed for a spot that was a favorite hang-out in his young adulthood, now called the City Park Grill.

Immediately, my wife Susan and I were struck by the furnishings of this 1870s vintage bar and restaurant.

Wanting for refreshments, we strolled up to its ornate 32-foot long mahogany bar, which the waiter said was shipped in the late-1800s from Chicago. 

With nearly all the bar stools occupied, my wife took the last seat from the end of the bar and I settled into the second to last.

After ordering drinks, we read on a menu about the much-celebrated Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning author's connection to this place, this bar, MY seat!

“Ernest Hemingway made Northern Michigan his home in the summer,” the menu read. “The Annex (as this place was once known) was one of his favorite places. He would sit at the second seat from the end of the bar and write his ideas down for short stories and books.”

“Gawd,” I thought. “R-I-G-H-T here?”

Memories abound

More Hemingway memories awaited us in a park next to this charismatic restaurant, an authentic throwback to the passionate Hemingway era.

Hemingway aficionados nurture Hemingway's use of real places, people and events — be they bull fight arenas, war front lines or saltwater fishing and African safari escapades — to weave his style-setting fictional writings.

Lining up ahead of Paris, Spain and Italy, Key West, Africa, Cuba, Ketchum, Idaho, and other regions of the American West, is Northern Michigan, the fountain of ideas and characters for his emerging alter ego adventures of “Nick Adams” (“The End of Something,” “The Three Day Blow,” “Big Two-Hearted”) and many other short stories.

Later came his revolutionary novels: “In Our Time,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and my personal favorite, “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Childhood home

During the first 22 years of his life his family made their summer home in Northern Michigan's Petoskey region, at Horton Bay near Walloon Lake.

Recognition of Hemingway's works evolving from this community recently took a artistic twist with the unveiling of a life-like sculpture of Hemingway in Petoskey's downtown Pennsylvania Park.

Wildly popular during his living years and more so after his suicide July 2, 1961, some of the local folk he portrayed in fiction were upset with his stories based on their town and culture.

But time has a way of amending history.

Tourists can contemplate his creativity and relevance in the shadow of the “Young Ernest Hemingway” sculpture. 

It portrays him standing at his full six-foot height with a cane and suitcase as he prepared to board a train for a new job in Toronto. 

The work replicates a 1920 photo of Hemingway leaving Petoskey after recuperating here from wounds — physical and psychological — inflicted in Italy during the World War I.

The sculpture by Michigan artist Andy Sacksteder was commissioned by Robert Jensen Dau. 

His daughter, Fernanda Dau Fisher, said the sculpture actually is not entirely identical to the photo. The photo shows Hemingway carrying a wine bottle in his right coat pocket. The sculpture has a book in the pocket instead.

Sculpture unveiled

At the unveiling ceremony last month, Fisher reportedly told the Petoskey News Review:

“Those who knew Ernest knew he liked to drink. I requested a book be put in his pocket, but it's actually supposed to be a flask.”

After getting married to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson in nearby Horton Bay, Mich., in 1921, Hemingway never returned to the Petoskey area until passing through in 1947 en route to his home in Idaho.

Other Hemingway points of interest include the local train station, library, a rooming house and beaches and other bars, stores and diners scattered around the area.

A downtown Petoskey bookseller has a large selection of Hemingway biographies and his prize-winning works. The Red Fox Inn and General Store in Horton Bay offer Hemingway books and memorabilia.

For more background, I'd suggest turning to “Hemingway in Michigan” by Dr. Constance Cappel and a recently released “Picturing Hemingway's Michigan,” by Michael Federspiel, which has some excellent early-years Hemingway family photos. Another good new read, albeit tedious at times with Hemingway letter references, is "Ernest Hemingway," a newly released biography by Mary V. Dearborn.

So, find a bench in the pleasant city park. Take a Hemingway book to absorb. Enjoy the setting of Victorian houses and buildings enveloping Petoskey (pop. 5,670).

Sections of rusty railroad tracks cutting through the park grass and sidewalks still “lead” to the outdoors world Hemingway and his companions revered.

Then sample drinks and Northern Michigan atmosphere on that second-from-the-end stool at the City Park Grill, in the footsteps of a literary giant — “Papa” Hemingway.

Carlson is a freelance writer from Eau Claire.