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7 Little Known Facts about Ernest Hemingway

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 20, 2021

Author Ernest Hemingway was born 122 years ago in 1899. From wartime heroics to globetrotting adventures to tumultuous love stories, the literary giant refused to live quietly. In celebration of his July 21st birthday, we present seven surprising facts about the iconic figure.

1. He survived back-to-back plane crashes one day apart.

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.

Vacationing in Belgian Congo, Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary, were injured when their flight was forced into a crash landing. The following day, they boarded another plane to Entebbe for medical treatment and the aircraft exploded at takeoff, leaving the author gravely wounded. When he finally reached Entebbe, journalists had already reported his death, so he got to read his own obituary.

Hemingway's global travels inspired much of his writing, including Green Hills of Africa. A book by his niece, Hilary Hemingway, chronicles outrageous stories from her father Les about traveling the world and Hunting with Hemingway.

2. He dedicated a book to each of his four wives.

If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.

After being jilted by his first love, Hemingway seemed to develop a habit of leaving wives before they had a chance to leave him. And he moved on quickly, marrying again within a year of each divorce. But his wives all received a dedication in one of his books. The Sun Also Rises honored his first wife, Hadley. Death in the Afternoon was dedicated to second wife, Pauline. For Whom the Bell Tolls was for number three, Martha. And Across the River and Into the Trees went "To Mary with Love."

3. An expert fisherman, he set a world record in 1938 when he caught seven marlins in one day.

Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for.

Two of Hemingway's biggest passions were fishing off the coasts of Florida and Cuba and big-game hunting. One of his most famous works, The Old Man and the Sea, tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba. The book received the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; and in 1954, it was cited when Hemingway won The Nobel Prize in Literature.

4. He rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms, about his experiences in World War I, 39 times.

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

After being rejected by the U.S. Army for poor eyesight, Hemingway responded to a Red Cross recruitment effort and served as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. In July of 1918, he was badly wounded by mortar fire, but still managed to lead Italian soldiers to safety, earning an Italian Silver Medal of Valor. He was later awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery as a journalist in World War II.

5. Gertrude Stein was Hemingway's son Jack's godmother

There is no friend as loyal as a book.

While living in Paris, a young Hemingway became close friends with renowned modernist writer Gertude Stein, author of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Stein hosted regular salons that were attended by such luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain presents a fictionalized account of these years from the POV of Hemingway's first wife.

6. One of Hemingway's best works came about because of some misplaced luggage.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

In 1956, Hemingway recovered two long-forgotten steamer trunks that he had stored nearly three decades earlier in the basement of the Hôtel Ritz Paris. The notebooks stored in these trunks became the basis for his memoir, A Moveable Feast, which was published posthumously by his widow, Mary. The book details Hemingway's life in Paris during his first marriage and his associations with other cultural figures of the Lost Generation.

7. He decorated his house with a urinal from his favorite bar.

I drink to make other people more interesting.

When his favorite local watering hole underwent renovations, Hemingway claimed one of the urinals, converting it into a fountain in his home. He quipped that he'd already poured enough money into it to make it his. Hemingway wrote several of his most iconic books, including To Have and Have Not, from this residence.

Hemingway's life was marked by both zealous exuberance and deep despair. In a distinct economical style, he drew from his extravagantly boisterous life to write rich, stirring tales. A 2017 biography by Mary V. Dearborn offers a nuanced portrait of the complex, enigmatic artist.

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