For Ernest Hemingway 1919 was a year of healing and
changes. During the summer of 1918 he traveled to Italy where he served
in World War I as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross. One
day while delivering cigarettes and candy to solders at the front, he
was severely wounded. An exploding shell and machine gun fire left the
doctors thinking that he would never walk again and would be a cripple.
This near death experience left Hemingway both emotionally and
physically shattered and, as he began his recovery, he fell in love
with his nurse, Agnes Von Kurkowski. By December he was well enough to
travel home to Oak Park where he continued his healing at his parents'
home and dreamed of marriage to Agnes.
His time at home was difficult. He missed his girl, resented
living at his parents' home, and longed to recapture the excitement he
had experienced in Europe. He did several speaking engagements
(including one at Oak Park High School where he captivated the staff
and students with stories of the war). Then in early March he received a
letter from Agnes in Italy telling him she had fallen in love with
another man and that she was ending her relationship with Ernest. This
left him devastated.
He looked to Michigan as a place to escape his parents'
increasingly uncomfortable concern over his future plans and to heal
his physical and emotional wounds. Anxious to recreate previous summers
of sport and good times, he corresponded with a number of friends
urging them to join him. These included his war time friend Jim Gamble
who he pleaded with to spend time with him "up north.
Once at Walloon Lake, he spent most of his time at Horton Bay
and he went with friends on fishing trips to a favorite area called the
Pine Barrens near what is today Vanderbilt, Michigan. There they
camped and fished the Black and ,Sturgeon River Fishing pic1 fishing pic2
But perhaps the highlight of his summer was a trip he took
with Jock Pentacost and Larry Barnett to the Fox River near Seney in
Michigan's Upper Penninsula. This trip and that trout stream would
eventually be the inspiration for perhaps his most famous and best
short story, The Big Two Hearted River. In this story a wounded young man fishes deliberately and heals his body and mind.
In the fall Ernest stayed in Michigan and moved to a
rooming house in Petoskey run by Eva Potter when both Windemere and
Pinehurst were closed for the season. In
Petoskey he made friends with local schoolgirls such as Grace Quinlan
and spent time with Majrorie Bump, a girl who he had met at Pinehurst
where she was a waitress. On one occasion he was asked to speak about his war experiences at the local library.
Harriet Connable heard his talk and approached him about coming to live
with her family in Toronto to provide companionship to her disabled
son. Hemingway agreed and spent 5 months in Toronto before returning to
Michigan. While there he also established contacts that lead to a job
as a Toronto Star newspaper reporter.