Web Editor’s note: Barry Levine, The National Enquirer’s New York City-based Executive Editor and Director of News, has been an aficionado of ERNEST HEMINGWAY and an avid collector of his first editions and memorabilia since Levine’s college days in the late 70’s. Here, in an Enquirer website special report, Levine shares with our Internet readers the secret documents Hemingway’s widow MARY kept hidden from the world when America’s greatest writer ended his life on July 2, 1961...
"What I feared occurred this morning…”
It was on this morning, a half-century ago. Clad in his robe and pajamas, Ernest Hemingway got out of bed at his secluded home in Ketchum, Idaho, loaded a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun, went into the foyer and killed himself.
In her book “How It Was,” written years later, his widow, Mary Welsh Hemingway, remembers awakening to the sound of “a couple of drawers banging shut.”
But on that tragic day, in her best effort to protect her beloved hubby’s macho image, the author’s fourth wife issued this false statement to the media: “Mr. Hemingway accidentally killed himself while cleaning a gun this morning at 7:30 A.M…”
The world would eventually learn that “Papa” (as he had fondly been called by his family, friends and fans) had sadly become a shell of his former self – having withered away following endless years of boozing, brawling and cheating death amid running bulls, world wars and back-to-back plane crashes in Africa.
Making matters worse, of course, in what had been an attempt by his doctors to cure him of “hypertension” and what they said was “a very old case of hepatitis,” Mary went along with the secret “shock treatments” Hem was forced to endure at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The end result did not help him – but, in fact, made him worse — scrambling his brains like eggs and leaving him with the inability to write.
It was the worst kind of “walking death” for a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner who had changed the face of modern literature with such classics as “The Old Man and the Sea,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “Farewell to Arms,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Only days shy of his 62nd birthday, Ernest Hemingway was finally able to find the violent peace he so desperately sought after several secretly failed suicide attempts.
While I have been fortunate enough over the years to find, collect and cherish many books signed and inscribed in Hemingway’s hand, it’s some papers in my collection – written in the hand of his wife Mary – that serve as a footnote to history and really tell the story of his shocking suicide cover-up.
These original documents are exclusive – and came to me years ago from one of the world’s leading rare book dealers in New York, Glenn Horowitz, who has helped me build my personal Ernest Hemingway collection of unique items – grown out of my love for his writing and his larger-than-life personality.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of his death, I want the share the contents of the documents.
On the morning of his suicide, Mary wrote out notes so she could send telegrams or wires to friends and relatives informing them of his death and to alert them to his funeral.
The notes are written on seven leaves of yellow “Independent Coal & Coke Company” letterhead.
The most telling was written out to Hemingway’s now sole surviving son Patrick, one of the two boys he had with his second wife Pauline.
While she told the world otherwise in her official statement, she couldn’t keep the truth from his son and the beginning six words of the note – never revealed until now – say it all:
“What I feared occurred this morning stop Funeral services will be arranged after I talk with Jack (John “Bumby” Hemingway, Hemingway’s first son, with first wife Hadley Richardson) who (sic) fishing in Oregon.”
Other pages bear names, addresses and phone numbers of people to be contacted, along with the note: “cleaning gun.”
In her 1976 book “How It Was,” Mary kind of apologizes to the public for not telling the truth, but insists she was “not consciously lying.”
Further writes Mary, who would die in 1986 at age 78, “It was months before I could face the reality” of Ernest’s death.
Another fascinating never-before-seen doc in my collection that should be noted today is an original carbon of a typed letter signed by Mary to the Sheriff in Ketchum, Frank Hewitt.
Written Sept. 7, 1961, Mary makes the request to get the shotgun back which killed her husband.
“For reasons which I am sure you will understand, I am most eager to regain possession of the shotgun which killed Ernest,” she writes, adding: “I am awfully sorry for my rudeness and discourtesy to you on the telephone a week or two after my husband’s death.”
Ernest Hemingway, meanwhile, lives on in spirit – and remains even larger than life 50 years after his death.
Woody Allen’s newest movie “Midnight in Paris” features Owen Wilson’s character living out a fantasy in which he drinks with “Papa” and others from what Gertrude Stein called “The Lost Generation.”
In addition, an upcoming HBO film has been made about Hemingway’s stormy marriage to his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman co-star.
Even Papa’s great-granddaughter Dree Hemingway, who is the daughter of actress Mariel Hemingway, has made a name for herself as one of the hottest models out there right now.