To modern readers looking back on Hemingway’s life, it reads like an adventure story. He was part of both World Wars, was a prolific hunter and fisherman, he monitored the Cuban coast with his own fishing boat, survived two plane crashes and numerous concussions and other bodily injuries, and published some of the most famous examples of American literature in the 20th century.
Hemingway survived two plane crashes in two days
In 1954, Hemingway and his wife Mary Welsh were in the Belgian Congo when their first plane, one which they chartered for sightseeing, crashed. Shortly afterward, they got on another plane which was supposed to take them to received medical attention. It exploded soon after taking off. Hemingway supposedly head-butted the door to get it open and get himself and his wife off. Although Hemingway survived these crashes and even got to read his obituary, he was left with numerous injuries that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Ernest Hemingway was married four times
Throughout his life, Hemingway married and got divorced frequently. Each time he divorced he was remarried within a year. His first marriage, to Hadley Richardson, who was eight years older than him. They married in 1921 and divorced in 1927. He married Pauline Pfeiffer that same year. She worked for the Paris version of Vogue and wrote a positive review of one of Hemingway’s worst novels. They were together until 1940 when he divorced her to marry Martha Gellhorn. Finally, he married Mary Welsh with whom he remained until his death in 1961.
He loved polydactyl cats
Hemingway had an unusual affection for these cats all of which have six toes or more on each foot rather than the normal five. At one point, in his home in Key West, Florida, he had around fifty of these unusual cats in the house. Nowadays they are sometimes referred to as “Hemingway cats”. Supposedly, Hemingway’s first polydactyl cat was named Snowball. Nowadays, on the grounds of the Hemingway House Museum in Key West, visitors and meet descendants of Hemingway’s own cats.
He was an avid hunter and fisherman
Hemingway killed his first animal, a porcupine, with the encouragement of his father, when he was three years old. Later in life, he set a record for the number of marlins caught in one day and is even known to have machine-gunned sharks off his boat to keep them away from his catch. He also went on hunting trips in Africa and enjoyed hunting big game, like lions, on foot. Hunting is one of the many personal past times that made its way into Hemingway’s novels.
Hemingway was awarded the Italian Silver Medal of Valor and a Bronze Star
Ernest Hemingway was serving as an ambulance driver in Italy during WWI and he was wounded in 1918 by mortar fire. Despite this, he helped get some fellow soldiers to safety. For this is was awarded the Silver Medal. Then, later, during WWII, he took part in the D-Day invasion while covering the war as a journalist. The US awarded him the Bronze Star for the courage he displayed. Controversially, he was accused of war crimes during this time period. He was accused of leading soldiers (which he wasn’t legally allowed to do as a civilian journalist) and removing patches from his clothes that identified him as a journalist. He was eventually cleared.
There is a history of suicide in the Hemingway family
It’s a well-known fact that Ernest Hemingway committed suicide, shooting himself with his own gun. But, his father also committed suicide as did two of his siblings and his granddaughter, the actress Margaux Hemingway. In total, seven members of the Hemingway family have committed suicide. Sister to Margaux, Mariel Hemingway has now become a mental health advocate, declaring “war” on depression and suicide.
The FBI spied on him
At first, it seemed like paranoia, but as the years have progressed it has become clear that Hemingway’s belief that he was being watched by the FBI had a basis in fact. In the 1940s, as reported in declassified documents, Hoover placed Hemingway under surveillance. The FBI was suspicious of his behavior in Cuba. Over the years agents watched him, tapped his phones, and filed reports on where he went and what he did. His bedside table phone at the hospital was even tapped.
Hemingway wrote standing up
Earnest Hemingway was known to write while standing, an unusual with apparently helpful technique. He is described as standing for hours at a time, shifting his weight from foot to foot while writing. On a good day, he could go through several pencils.
Later in life, Hemingway suffered from depression
Throughout his life Hemingway suffered injuries in a number of accidents, from his two plane crashes in Africa to the occasion in his twenties when he pulled a skylight down on his head. He also suffered from malaria, skin cancer, high blood pressure, and numerous other long and short term ailments. Hemingway also suffered at least six very serious concussions.
The plane crashes which also killed him left him with sprained limbs, a dislocated shoulder, crushed vertebra, a reputed liver, spleen, and kidneys as well as first degree burns. Before his death he was unable to write, feeling as though he’d lost the purpose in his life. He was treated with electroshock therapy which further impaired his writing ability and worsened his depression. There are reports of several attempted suicides before he succeeded in 1961.
He stole a urinal from his favorite bar
After taking this unusual souvenir, he installed it in his Key West home. When asked about it, he said that he’d “pissed away so much of [his] money in that urinal that [he owned] it.” Hemingway is associated with many things, cats, hunting, fishing, and always drinking. He was told by his doctor, towards the end of his life, that he needed to stop drinking to allow his liver to repair itself. He initially took this advice but then decided that he’d rather take the risk.