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Picturing Hemingway's Michigan by Michael R. Federspiel (review)

From: The Hemingway Review
Volume 32, Number 1, Fall 2012
pp. 141-144 | 10.1353/hem.2012.0022

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I recall one of Hemingway's sons saying, "My father wrote his best when he was close to his Middle Western roots." In 200 photos (many of them seen here for the first time), along with a lyrical text, Michael Federspiel's Picturing Hemingway's Michigan documents those roots from childhood at the year-round homes in Oak Park, Illinois to summers at the cottage on Walloon Lake in Michigan to camping trips to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Also included are illuminating quotations from Hemingway's letters and stories about Michigan.

Michael Federspiel brings an ideal background to this work. A Michigan native, he has summered in Alanson in Northern Michigan since he was a small child. Federspiel is a graduate of Central Michigan University where he received his B.S. degree in 1981 and his M.A. in 1985. He is a lecturer there as well as president of the Michigan Hemingway Society. Since April 2012 he has been Executive Director of the Little Traverse Bay Historical Society which operates the Little Traverse Bay History Museum in the old Pere Marquette railroad station in Petoskey. Federspiel also serves on the Board of Governors for Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.

In his Preface, Federspiel draws the parallel between Hemingway's Nick Adams stories and the countryside portrayed in this book. He writes, "Those interested in the Little Traverse Bay region of northern Michigan will find information on that area between 1900 and 1920. ...People with a casual interest in Ernest Hemingway and his Michigan connections will find that story on these pages. ...Those who bring to this work a solid knowledge of Hemingway's life and writing will find detailed evidence of the places, experiences, and people who inspired his writing" (ix).

The book is organized into three main sections. "Up North" provides historical context about the tourist industry which replaced the declining lumber industry and was promoted by the railroad companies and steamship lines. The arrival of the railroads in 1873 opened up the towns of Harbor Springs, Petoskey, and Walloon Lake and Village to summer tourists from Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. There are maps of the train and steamship routes along with extensive documentation of the vessels the Hemingways took from Chicago before roads were sufficiently passable for convenient automobile traffic.

The book continues with "The Hemingway Family in Michigan, " which includes photos of the "The Family," "Windemere," and "Summers at the Cottage." We are reminded that Hemingway spent the first twenty-two summers of his life "Up North," arriving in 1899 as a newborn and leaving in 1921 as a married man. Federspiel writes that the area provided Hemingway with a "prolonged exposure to the natural world and to places and people that, to him, were exotic and far removed from his respectable middle-class life in Oak Park." "Michigan was also a place of local color where real "Indians" lived and where the legacy of the wild lumber era was still palpable." (xv)

Students of Hemingway's writings will be pleased to find photos of many of the places and people evoked in the Nick Adams stories and in Hemingway's early satire, The Torrents of Spring. Thanks to Clarence Hemingway's photos and Grace Hemingway's albums we are treated to a detailed documentary of the famous author's youth at the family's Windemere cottage at Walloon Lake. We see the young Ernest rowing, canoeing, and fishing on the waters of Walloon and hunting and camping in the adjacent woods.

The book's final section is "Ernest's Michigan: Fact and Fiction." In it we see rare photos of Hemingway camping and fishing at locations including Horton Bay and the Pine Barrens, as well as pictures of the 1919 fishing trip on the Fox River that would form the basis of one of his most famous short stories, "Big Two-Hearted River."

Among the treats in Picturing Hemingway's Michigan are photos of the Hemingway's neighbors, the Bacon family, who appear disguised as the Garner family in several Nick Adams stories. We find photos of Marjorie Bump, who appears in "The End of Something" and "The Three Day Blow." There...

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