Pages From Hemingway's Baby Books

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
July 23 2013 6:00 AM

Pages From Hemingway's Baby Books

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The JFK Presidential Library and Museum has just released fullly digitized copies of Ernest Hemingway’s mother’s scrapbooks, which chronicle the writer’s childhood and adolescent years in five volumes. Here are three spreads from those volumes, showing “Ernest Miller” (as his mother often called him in her captions) at three different ages.

For Hemingway aficionados, the scrapbooks shed light on the writer’s complex relationship with his mother, Grace. Born in Oak Park, Ill., in 1899, Hemingway was the second of six children and the first son. Later in life he would profess to despise his mother, blaming her controlling habits for his father’s suicide. He famously refused to attend her funeral.

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But later biographers have argued that Grace, who was a musician and teacher, was unfairly confined by her domestic role and restless as a result. Looked at from this perspective, the maternal attitudes that Hemingway perceived as overbearing were actually expressions of frustrated creativity.

The scrapbooks, which juxtapose Grace’s observations and notes with photographs, drawings, and other ephemera, bear out this hypothesis. Grace recorded all of the bits of baby talk that she found brilliant and (as she wrote) “spontaneous and original.” She called Ernest “Mama’s little mink” and delighted in their confidential conversations.

Other revelations of the first scrapbooks include evidence that Ernest’s interest in hunting, nature, and animals started early. His 2-year-old ambitions, as Grace recorded them: “Ven I det to be a big boy I do-in to de moakey mountains wif Daddy, and I take a big dun an sute bears and lions, an evvy-sing.”

From Grace’s perspective, at least, the mother and son’s early intimacy extended into his teenage years. In the scrapbook covering Ernest’s adolescence, Grace pasted in two portraits, one of Ernest with a closed, serious expression and another in which he has a small smile. She captioned the first: “The way he looks whenever his Father speaks to him.” The second: “The way he looks whenever his Mother speaks to him.”

Transcripts of Grace Hemingway’s captions, which appear underneath each image, are courtesy of the JFK Library.

Hemingway Book 1

Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Scrapbook 2, pages 18-19

Page 18:

Photo: Caption - “Photo taken by Gibson Nov 5th. 1901.”

Large Caption: “Ernest Miller Hemingway. 2 years 3 mo. old. went to Sunday school for the first time October 27th 1901. Aunt Emma’s Infant Class at Onward Mission. He says The Lord’s Prayer almost correctly and ‘Now I lay me’ at night. “He sings ‘Neo, Neo, my Dand to Dee.’ He likes ‘Taw-bewee dam on fied bed.’ He electrifies us with his out spoken desire for some ‘dam douce’ (Jam juice). The other night he begged me to sing.”

Page 19:

Photo: Caption: “35 inches tall. Weighs 35 lbs. / Such a quaint little figure. 2 years 3 months old”

Large Caption: “’Onward Christian Soldiers’ while he went to sleep; when I had been singing some time he said ‘Feetie, oh Feetie B., ven I det to be a big boy-e, I don’t to be a onward tistian solder.’ (Spontaneous and original.) ‘Hello silky socky.’ ‘When I come in with a silk or satin dress on. ‘It’s a terrible windy day today.’ ‘Won’t Mockme be delighted’ ‘Papa said Hannah and Margarete were duts, I sink dey are dermans.’ ‘Ven I det to be a big boy I do-in to de moakey mountains wif Daddy, and I take a big dun an sute bears and lions, an evvy-sing.’”

Hemingway2Final

Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Scrapbook 2, pages 88-89

Page 88:

Top Photo: Caption – “’Mama’s little Mink.’ Marcelline calls him ‘Coxy Carlo.’ Oct. 1904.”

Bottom Photo: Caption – “Abba and Gigs [Gregory] at the rock pile. Aug 1904.”

Page 89:

Top Photo: Caption – “My darling boy was so delighted when he came into my bed one morning this November and I told him the happy secret that God was going to give us another little baby. He wanted to understand all about it, so I explained and he felt the little one move and rejoiced over the good news.”

Bottom Photo: Caption – “Our secret is so precious. Often he comes up and whispers to me ‘We know don’t we?’ and then adds ‘I hope it’s a little Cox-y’ (His own pet name.)’”

Hemingway3Final

Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Scrapbook 5, page 38-39

February 15, 1916

Page 38:

Photo: Portrait of Ernest Hemingway. Caption – “Feb 15th. 1916 Ernest 16 yrs 7 mo old / The way he looks whenever his Father speaks to him”

Page 39:

Photo: Portrait of Ernest Hemingway. Caption – “The way he looks whenever his Mother speaks to him.”

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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