Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Grand Traverse Scene magazine. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor centers, chambers of commerce, or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Its legendary heritage is rooted in the woods and water of northern Michigan.
And while Ernest Hemingway’s literary genius would be etched elsewhere – on the battlefields, in the jungles, on the sea, and in many places between and beyond – the 20-year-old “Ernie” spent the summer in northern Michigan with his family at the dawn of the 20th century would play a central role in the development of an unparalleled style of writing that is still appreciated and celebrated today.
“There is no doubt that the woods and waters of northern Michigan played a huge role in all of his writing,” said Dr. George Colburn. “His love of water and Mother Nature was ingrained in him during his summers here.
“Her deep sea fishing, her love for the water – all that Mother Nature – was all learned here in northern Michigan. He spent three months every summer here and almost all the trips, until the Model T arrived, were by boat, to Harbor Springs and Petoskey. It was around 1914 that the family finally took about eight days to get here in a Model T. ”
Until then, the Hemingways had made their annual summer trip from Chicago to Harbor Springs by steamboat, sometimes a bare-handed ride through the unpredictable waters of Lake Michigan. Once carried to Harbor Spring, they traveled by one train, then another, and another, through Petoskey and to Walloon Lake, where they eventually ran out of tracks to continue. So they once again traveled by boat, and most often even by horse-drawn wagon, to their affectionately named thatched cottage, Windemere, which still stands today.
“It was a very adventurous family,” said Colburn. “Each year was just amazing. They were a well-educated family – he knew operas, he knew symphonies, he read literature. But the idea of taking a three week old child to an unfinished house on Lake Wallonia in 1899 is beyond my comprehension.
Colburn, 83 from Petoskey, researched, wrote and produced the 90-minute documentary, “Young Hemingway – the Path to Paris”, which was well received by historians and Hemingway enthusiasts.
“My program was designed to tell people the real story of her connection here and what that meant in the long run,” Colburn said. “I was like, ‘Well, I’ve done something for the story here.’ “
After spending his youth growing up in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, and his childhood and teenage summers vacationing in the Petoskey area, near Walloon Lake, Hemingway traveled to Paris to begin his career as a ‘writer. He became the author of literary giants such as “The Old Man and the Sea”, which won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, “A Farewell to Arms”, “The Sun Also Rises” and the series Nick Adams. short stories set in northern Michigan that reflect her own life growing up in that region.
Petoskey businessman Christopher Struble, president of the Michigan Hemingway Society in Petoskey, said that “Hemingway’s legacy, not only in Petoskey, but throughout northern Michigan, is reciprocated.
“Northern Michigan provided the main influence on the young Hemingway that inspired him to create his legendary prose that changed American literature,” said Struble, 54, a 1985 graduate of Traverse City Central High School. “And, in return, Hemingway immortalized the very essence of what made Northern Michigan such a special place for so many over the past century and a half, with the critically acclaimed short story he wrote. from the time he left Michigan for Paris to celebrate after his marriage here in 1921.
“Northern Michigan, including Petoskey and Lake Walloon, has never been properly credited and only recently is recognized for the relevance of this connection between the famous author and the region where he spent his 23 summers of training.” , Struble said. “Dr. Colburn’s documentary, as well as Constance Cappel’s book, ‘Hemingway in Michigan,’ are the two projects that have documented this important interrelation.”
Hailing from Highland Park, Colburn is an independent producer of history-driven shows. His previous film projects have included those on Dwight Eisenhower, the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, and more. He received his BA in history from Aquinas College in 1959, his MA in 1964, and a doctorate in history from Michigan State University in 1971.
On July 21, minutes after noon, Colburn led a small group of people to sing “Happy Birthday” to Hemingway as they gathered near the Young Hemingway statue in Pennsylvania Park in downtown Petoskey. Born in 1899, “Papa Hemingway,” as he was later called, would have had 122 candles on his cake.
“Every year on her birthday, we bake cakes and ice cream for a few hours at noon at the statue,” said Colburn, rubbing purple frosting on his thumb that had rubbed against the cake. The cake was decorated with lilac flowers.
“For Hemingway, if there was a reason to come to Petoskey, he would come in,” he said. “Everywhere he went, he spoke to summer visitors – his friends – in and around Horton Bay. Growing up, it was rowing your boat on Wallon Lake, then walking the five or so miles to Horton Bay, which was right on Pine Lake.
In 1926, Lac des Pins was renamed Lac Charlevoix.
“Basically northern Michigan was ignored (by historians) because it didn’t write anything here and what I learned from interviewing these researchers (Hemingway) in 2012 was the fact that anything to do with its Handwriting was settled during those early years, ”Colburn says. “It was his 20 summers in northern Michigan – the area we live in here in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula – is what he’s lived with, his entire life.
“He came back here in the 1950s. He drove from Arkansas to Minnesota to the Mayo Clinic where he was going for treatment, then to Idaho. He had lunch with an old friend in Petoskey, and he’s gone. But he never returned to his chalet, or never returned to this region.
“So why did he never come back here (to live?), Because he didn’t want to come back and see that that had changed,” Colburn said. “He wanted it to be in his head his whole life, and in his writing, so he never came back (to live).
“His 20 summers here have been a third of his life. The thing to remember is that he was recognized for the short stories he wrote about our area, especially the Horton Bay stories, first published in a book, “In Our Time”. Four of the short stories it contains are played in and around Horton Bay.
Struble said Hemingway’s early presence in northern Michigan has garnered greater appreciation in recent years from historians and visitors. And, more and more community recognition has been brought out to honor one of the people many consider America’s best novelist.
“We have the statue of young Hemingway in downtown Petoskey, as well as several bronzed markers placed in various places that have a Hemingway connection,” Strubler said. “Local establishments with a Hemingway connection that can be visited include the City Park Grill, the Carnegie Library and the Perry Hotel.
A plaque near the young statue of Hemingway reads: “Ernest Miller Hemingway, 1899-1961, Nobel Laureate – Literature – 1954. Northern Michigan and a small cottage on Lake Wallon named ‘Windemere’ are became the summer residence of the Hemingway family of Oak Park, Illinois, from the childhood of young Ernest in 1899 until the time of his marriage in nearby Horton Bay in September 1921. The statue is based on a January 1920 photograph near this location that shows him ready to leave Petoskey for a job in Toronto. At the time, young Ernie had just spent several months in Petoskey recovering from his WWI injuries and working diligently to become a “writer.” Ernest Hemingway’s first published fiction included a group of short stories written in Paris that featured the adventures of “Nick Adams” in places in northern Michigan. These stories, demonstrating his love of the outdoors in this region, drew the attention of New York publishers in the early 1920s to his revolutionary writing style. A pair of novels followed, and a few years after leaving northern Michigan he became a famous author known to readers around the world. Ultimately, Hemingway’s fiction led to the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for Literature and enduring status as one of this country’s greatest writers.
The photo the statue was cast in shows young Hemingway standing with a cane, suitcase and a flask of alcohol in his jacket pocket. The sculptor, Andy Sacksteder, chose to replace the bottle with a book.
On September 3, a “Hemingway Centennial Wedding Reception” was to honor the Talcott Center in Walloon Lake, in recognition of Hemingway’s marriage to Hadley Richardson, who would become the first of the writer’s four wives.
At the same time, the community will unveil various “art and historical installations” that focus on Hemingway’s life in and around the village of Walloon Lake. Hemingway and Richardson were married on September 3, 1921, in nearby Horton Bay.
Hemingway’s reunion culminates over Labor Day weekend with a reception to mark the 100th anniversary of Ernest’s marriage to Hadley Richardson in nearby Horton Bay and the unveiling of art and historical installations focused on Hemingway in the village of Walloon Lake. The couple divorced in 1927.
The reception will benefit the Michigan Hemingway Society.
“Hemingway fans have been drawn to the Petoskey area for years,” said Diane Dakins, deputy director of the Petoskey area visitors bureau. “There is almost a romantic side to the attraction of following in the writer’s footsteps and visiting some of his old haunts like the Perry Hotel, Horton Bay and City Park Grill.
“The connection between Hemingway and this part of northern Michigan is so great that the Michigan Hemingway Society is holding its fall conference here from October 1-3. It will be again at the historic Terrace Inn and Restaurant 19111 in Bay View.
For more information on the Michigan Hemingway Society, visit michiganhemingwaysociety.org; petoskeyarea.com/media/area-history/the-hemingway-connection; or for information about Dr. Colburn and how to get his “Young Hemingway – the Path to Paris” DVD, visit georgecolburn.com. Copies of the documentary Young Hemingway are available free of charge in all school media libraries and public libraries in Charlevoix and Emmet counties.