July 23, 2018

In Hemingway's Time

Chicago may be the “second city,” but its culture might be second to none. Of all the famous painters, writers, moviemakers, musicians, and artists that have called Chicago home over the last 150 years, there aren’t many who have had quite as big an impact as the great Ernest Hemingway, who would have celebrated his 119th birthday this past weekend. Most of us know Hemingway as the consummate expatriate writer: France, Spain, Italy, the whole European tour. What fewer know is that he was born and raised in good ol’ Oak Park, Illinois, an old suburb on Chicago’s western border. So what did he leave around here for us to see?

While he grew up in Oak Park and went to Oak Park-River Forest High School, Hemingway actually spent about a year and a half living in Chicago, including an apartment in what’s now the Gold Coast neighborhood, just about a mile east of us. He met his first wife while living here on the North side, and the Oak Park house where he was born (pictured below) is now a Hemingway museum—incidentally, it’s right around the corner from the home and studio museum of world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, so if you want to make a day trip out of it, there’s a few cool sites to check out in the area!

It might be hard to imagine Chicago with its 10 million-strong metro area as the great city on the Prairie, but that’s exactly what it was when Hemingway was around. Maybe nothing about him or his books is more famous than his penchant for the outdoors, nature, the wilderness, and being in the middle of it. He was the prototypical manly-man’s man. Back in the day, going West of Oak Park didn’t mean another 10 miles of suburban sprawl: it really was the prairie. It was on the plains west of Chicago that Hemingway learned to hunt, shoot, fish, and do all those things he would make famous in his writing. Usually when you think of Chicago and its history, you tend to think of the industry and the water and the rise of the great steel skyline that you’ll find yourself enveloped by when you visit. Now you can think of it another way, something more in line with the great outdoors and the promise of untouched nature that drew American exploration from the East Coast all the way to the West. When you stay here, you can get a glimpse of both sides: spend all the time you want doing all the amazing things there are to do downtown and around the city, but for something on the quieter, more thoughtful side, this might just be the trip for you.