Oak Park : Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds

The Chicago suburb of Oak Park is probably best known for its connections with Frank Lloyd Wright. I mentioned his Home and Studio are here in a previous post and also a large number of fine examples of his work. Twentieth century novelist Ernest Hemingway was born on Oak Park Avenue in 1899 so I decided to visit his home and museum to find out more about ‘Papa’. He left Oak Park as a teenager for a world of adventure and I’m not sure he ever came back.  My Michelin Chicago Guide says “He later derided the conservative suburb for its ‘wide lawns and narrow minds'”.

North Oak Park Ave

North Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park

Hemingway Museum

The Hemingway Museum

To get to Oak Park I took the bus down Michigan Avenue to the Loop business district and then the Green Line El Train to Oak Park Avenue. Straight up from the station, on Oak Park Avenue itself, and just a few minutes walk from it, is the Hemingway Museum. This is the place to find out all about the novelist and his life but for the tour of his birthplace you need to book a ticket in advance. Luckily I was able to join the next tour.

Hemingway Birthplace

Ernest Hemingway Birthplace, 339 North Oak Park Avenue

The birthplace is just another 5 minutes walk along the same avenue of gracious homes and low-rise apartment buildings. The tour was as interesting to me for the guide (whose home it now is) as for what I found out about Hemingway. Still, he (the guide/owner) had managed to furnish the house with some original artefacts and furnishings and all the rest seemed very much in keeping with the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Breakfast Table

Breakfast with the Hemingways


The Room where ‘Papa’ was born

We learned that Ernest and some of his siblings were born in this house but that his family actually lived diagonally across the street and that this house was the home of his maternal grandparents.

Photographs around  the House and the Museum show Ernest and his elder sister looking remarkably alike.

Hemingway family photo

Ernest (left) and Marcelline (right) with their Grandfather

“The two were a year apart in age, and their mother early on decided to raise them as twins, even to having them photographed in matching gowns and bonnets in the style of the day. Whatever injury Ernest felt he had suffered from such embarrassments, it may have been Marcelline who made the greater sacrifice: she was kept out of school for a year so they would be in the same class, and, despite her own considerable talents, she seems to have willingly stood in his shadow a good deal of her early life.”

[Idaho Librarian book review]

I can’t say I’m very familiar with Hemingway’s work. I’ve read his “A Moveable Feast” and didn’t really warm to him. Recently I read “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain a novelised version of his life with Hadley Richardson, his first wife. Oh, and I saw him in the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris

After the House Tour I made my way back to the Museum. There was lots to read and look at and time was getting on so I had skip through much of the Museum. Here are some pictures of the displays and film posters.

Nick Adams display

Ernest Hemingway’s early trips to Michigan made a big impression on him and he relates lots of his own adventures in The Nick Adams Stories. Nature had a huge influence on many of his works.

Family picture

Hemingway with his family

Film posters

In Love and War

Hemingway-related Cinema Posters

On my return to the train back to Chicago I diverted briefly to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple on Lake Street. It was already closed to visitors that day. Read about the Temple and the current restoration programme here.

Unity Temple

Unity Temple