The year was 1899.
The intersection of Bay and Lewis streets in downtown Petoskey was taking shape with the completion of The Perry Hotel—the only one of this city’s grand turn-of-the-century resort hotels still in existence and the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad Station—which was part of the 500-plus-mile passenger and freight system that traveled between Cincinnati, Ohio and the Straits of Mackinac from 1854 until 1918.
On July 21 of that year, Ernest Hemingway—who would become one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century—was born in Oak Park, Illinois. That October, a three month old Hemingway made his first visit to northern Michigan when the family constructed its first cottage on the shores of Walloon Lake, known as Windemere.
Ernest was the second of six children born to Clarence Edmond Hemingway, a local doctor known as “Doc Ed” and Grace Hall, a classically-trained opera singer who debuted at Madison Square Garden in New York. His impressionable youth was spent at the summer cottage, where he learned to fish and appreciate the healing properties of nature.
At the age of 16, Hemingway and his Oak Park friend, Lewis “Lewy” Clarahan, set out to hike their way from Illinois to Petoskey for a summer stay. Upon arrival, a would-be wearing Hemingway stayed at The Perry Hotel, paying 75 cents for his room, before heading along to the family cottage.
Although war, work and women kept him away as a young man, Hemingway found solace among the woods and waters of Walloon Lake, Horton Bay and Petoskey. This is where he came to recover—from battle wounds, broken hearts and the mental anguish that tormented him most of his life.
These locales would also find their way into the pages of his books, specifically “The Torrents of Springs”—a parody novella published in 1926 and many of “The Nick Adams Stories,” which were published posthumously as a chronological collection in 1972, although they were originally written in random order.
Regarded as one of the most influential writers of our time, Hemingway was honored with a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for “The Old Man and the Sea” and the Noble Prize in Literature in 1954. Yet, even with the success of his articles, short stories, novels and screenplays that became movies, he could not escape his demons. In 1961, he—like his father, two siblings and several other descendants since—ended his own life.
One might surmise that without such tragedy in his life, Hemingway may not have been able to pen such dramatic and descriptive stories that will live on for generations.
Certainly the communities of northern Michigan brought a certain amount of peace to Hemingway. And today they return the favor by hosting events focused on the author’s life and works.
The 2nd Annual Hemingway Birthday Celebration will be held on Thursday, July 21 at 6 pm at the historic Stafford’s Perry Hotel in downtown Petoskey. For $50 per person, guests will enjoy a five-course Hemingway-inspired dinner alongside distinct Hemingway historians, in honor of the author’s 117th birthday. Space is limited and reservations are required by calling (231) 347-4000.
Residents hope that this will also be the summer that a statue based on a 19-year-old traveling Hemingway will be unveiled in Pennsylvania Park. A documentary “Young Hemingway Finding His Muse in Northern Michigan” by Michigan filmmaker George Colburn may also be released in time for the birthday celebration. If not, locals expect at least a sneak peek of clips from the film.
Later in the season, the Michigan Hemingway Society Fall Conference, October 14-16, will once again feature lectures, authors and tours. This non-profit organization was founded in 1990 to preserve and celebrate the legacy of the area’s most-noted summer resident and beloved author.
Downtown Petoskey also hosts “A Moveable Feast Weekend” with events like the “5k Run with the Bulls,” “Winner Takes Nothing Chili Cook Off” and “To Have and Have Another Drink Tent,” as well as Hemingway movie screenings, to coincide with the conference.
Hemingway’s Horton Bay & Walloon Lake
Ask Chris Struble, president of the Michigan Hemingway Society, which passage by Ernest Hemingway he thinks describes the northern regions where both men spent their summers and he is quick to flip to the opening paragraph of one of his favorite works, “Summer People”—one of the 24 pieces in “The Nick Adams Stories.”
“Halfway down the gravel road from Hortons Bay, the town, to the lake there was a spring. The water came up in a tile sunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing away through the close growing mint into the swamp. In the dark Nick put his arm down into the spring but could not hold it there because of the cold. He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers. Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there. I bet that would fix me. He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road. It was a hot night.”
The area in reference can be found just across the lake from the Hemingway family’s summer cottage, Windemere. Struble says Hemingway also mentions the spring and the “close growing mint” in “The Last Good Country,” also part of the collection. He says the mint still grows there and the freshwater still rises from the ground.
Horton Bay and Walloon Lake both lie within the boundaries of Charlevoix County, adjacent to Emmet County and the city of Petoskey. It was in this region where Hemingway spent his first 22 summers, from 1899 until 1921.
At first glance, little has changed here in the past 100 years. The Horton Bay General Store still stands proudly, offering a seasonal bed-and-breakfast, tavern, garden patio and soda fountain. The Red Fox Inn, one of the area’s earliest homes and a one-time restaurant, is now a bookstore specializing in Hemingway titles and memorabilia.
Just down the road, the village of Walloon Lake has experienced a recent revival with the new boutique waterfront Hotel Walloon, Barrelback Restaurant and a collection of quaint shops, sheds and markets. For an interesting look at the Walloon Lake area, check out walloonlakewanderings.weebly.com.
Reprinted from the summer 2016 issue of Michigan BLUE Magazine.