Ernest (Papa) Hemingway wrote these words in 1939, a eulogy for a friend:
Best of all he loved the fall.
The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods.
Leaves floating on the trout streams above the hills.
The high blue windless skies.
Now he will be part of them forever.
Today those words are chiseled into a tall, graceful marble column. At the top of the column rests a bronze bust of Hemingway.
In front of the column bubbles a small stream where orange-spotted brook trout hide in the shadows. Behind the column, down a long, sweeping hillside, rushes another creek where Hemingway taught his son, Jack, to fish.
And on each side, their leaves waving in a fresh Idaho breeze, are the cottonwoods, which in summer shake cotton snow from their limbs, settling over the monument like a winter storm.
This place, about a mile up the river from Sun Valley Resort, is the Hemingway Memorial, a salute to the man who so loved this slice of Idaho, who came here to hunt and fish and to write. It was in neighboring Ketchum that Hemingway on July 2, 1961 placed a shotgun in his mouth and ended his life.
In Ketchum, on the main street of the town, just south of the stoplight, is the Casino bar, Hemingway's favorite drinking and gaming place. Although there are no slot machines in the bar anymore, it is otherwise little changed from the days when Hemingway and his friends would crowd in to drink and brag.
The Casino today is as rough as Hemingway's heroes, a bar where hard-eyed men drink their beer and talk quietly with women of suspicious reputations.
A single pool table is lighted by a harsh light in the bar, which otherwise is as dark as the inside of an elephant. Along the far wall, beside the pool table, are video games that took the place of the slot machines, and near the entrance of the bar is a felt-covered poker table, probably remembering the days when Hemingway played five-card stud with Gary Cooper.
Behind the bar, manned by a flinty-eyed bartender wearing a Budweiser cap, is a sign: "I don't drink in your bed; don't sleep in my bar."
The memorial and bar are two of several sites Hemingway fans can visit in Ketchum and Sun Valley--minor attractions that lure thousands of tourists each year, principally those who loved Hemingway's writings.
Ketchum and Sun Valley don't make a big deal out of their Hemingway heritage. Unlike Key West, where Hemingway has become an industry of sorts, the Idaho towns do little to promote the Hemingway connection. In fact, unless you pick up a little booklet written by Marsha Bellavance Johnson titled, "Hemingway in Idaho," you'll probably not find any Hemingway history at all.
But if you get the guidebook you'll be able to share at least a little of the heritage Hemingway has left in Ketchum and Sun Valley, where he lived for many years; his first visit was September, 1939.
Hemingway's Burial Place
One of the first stops should be the Ketchum Cemetery, where Hemingway is buried, under three towering spruce trees fringed by lilac bushes. A simple white cross fronts the grave, which is covered by a large, gray marble slab. Its inscription is simple: "Ernest Miller Hemingway: July 21, 1899--July 2, 1961."
Beside Hemingway's grave is the unmarked burial place of his last wife, Mary, who died in 1986, and beside it rests John Taylor Williams, Hemingway's close friend and hunting guide.
Hemingway's beloved Big Wood River runs far in the distance, and on the hillside behind the graveyard a housing project is about to be built. The cemetery's quiet--at least until the construction begins on new houses.
Sputtering of Sprinklers
For now, the silence is broken only by the sputtering of sprinklers casting long arms of water over the grass. It is a good place to reflect.
Ernest and Mary Hemingway's home is on a hillside not far away, but visiting is not encouraged.
The house is owned by the Nature Conservancy, and is tucked down a long asphalt lane peppered with "No Trespassing" signs. You can, if you like, poke your car into the Northwood subdivision, which sits at the base of the hill on which the Hemingway house is built, and get a glimpse of the structure, an unpretentious lump of a house nuzzled by cottonwoods and spruce trees.
Serious Hemingway buffs should plan on lunch or dinner at the Christiania restaurant, Hemingway's favorite. Ask a waitress to show you table No. 5 where Hemingway ate his last meal.
You should also visit some of Hemingway's other favorite haunts--the Ram Bar and the Duchin Lounge in Sun Valley, the Tram Bar and the Alpine (now Whiskey Jacques) in Ketchum, where Hemingway once staged a mock bullfight. You can also drive up to Trail Creek Cabin, a Sun Valley resort party cabin, where Hemingway, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman spent New Year's Eve in 1947.
A visit to the Ketchum library--a marvelously comfortable, small-town facility where you can sit by the fireplace and read--should be on your itinerary.
On the day I was there the library had an extensive photographic display on Hemingway's time in Ketchum. A search of the stacks found 41 books by Hemingway in the fiction section, and another 39 books about the author--"Hemingway in Cuba," "Hemingway in Paris," "Hemingway in Spain," etc.--on aisle 92 of the nonfiction section.
You may also want to visit the foyer of the Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum, where a bronze impala donated by Mary Hemingway in her husband's honor graces the entrance, and drive past the Ketchum Korral, where Hemingway stayed with his mistress--and later his third wife--Martha Gellhorn, in 1940.
To top off your visit, drive up the valley to the Sun Valley Lodge and Inn, where Hemingway first stayed in Idaho. Walk the long hallways of the fine old building, look at the gallery of photographs of Hemingway and others and--if you're lucky--book suite 206. It was here that Hemingway wrote much of "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
Finally, in the twilight of an Idaho evening, put on a jacket and walk the mile or so up a dirt path along Trail Creek Road. In time you'll see a modest sign with Hemingway Memorial burned into the wood. Turn right, walk down a slight incline past the cottonwoods, and you'll come to the memorial.
Sit on the stone steps carved into the hillside, read his lovely words, and remember the man. As the stream gurgles along and the wind blows the stars around the evening sky, you'll know why Hemingway chose Idaho, and this lovely valley in the Sawtooth Mountains, for his favorite and last home.
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Summer rates at the Sun Valley Lodge and Inn begin at $69 a night. A suite--including Hemingway suite 206--costs $175. For more information, see your travel agent or call the Sun Valley Co. at (800) 635-8261. You can pick up the "Hemingway in Idaho" booklet in most Ketchum and Sun Valley bookstores for $3.95. The Ex Libris bookstore is particularly good in stocking books by and about Hemingway, including some first editions.
While you are in Ketchum and Sun Valley you may want to take advantage of some of the resort towns' fine restaurants. Among the best: Soupcon (superb food served in a funky little wooden cabin with prints of dairy cows on the wall), Creekside, China Pepper (Thai food), Louie's (pizza), Christiania (sit, of course, at table five) and Pioneer (huge steaks) for dinner; Peter, Chez Michel (sit on the terrace) and Perry's for lunch; The Kitchen for breakfast.