Visiting Hemingway’s Grave in Ketchum, Idaho

3 Jul
2012

Ernest Hemingway’s grave is in Ketchum, Idaho. The gravestone is spare and reserved. It’s off the main road, under a grove of trees, next to members of his family, and decorated with notes, coins, and the occasional bottle of booze. His gravestone reminded me of Mies Van Der Rohe’s gravestone in Chicago. The setting reminded me of Ernest Hemingway.

Paris is the city I most associate with Ernest Hemingway. When there, we had a drink at Le Select and pretended we were expatriates. Idaho only makes sense if you know more of the story. Michigan, through the Nick Adams stories, seems to have more of a Hemingway connection than Idaho. Same with Florida and Key West thanks to Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway supposedly completed For Whom The Bell Tolls here, in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Hemingway liked how the dry mountains reminded him of Spain (supposedly), but I also think the Sun Valley Resort hooked him up with a free room in its early days to score some publicity. The resort opened in the 1930s as a destination created by the Union Pacific Railroad Company to promote tourism. Hemingway retired here at the end of his career before ending his career here. It may have started with a comped room at the resort, but eventually Hemingway bought a place of his own. It was supposedly worth $1.5MM at his death. Even by the inflated Sun Valley standards, it must have been quite the spread. The end, end involved a double-barreled shotgun and the ability to pull both triggers while wrapping his lips around the tubular end. Messy but quick. That happened here.

Like in Paris, it was time for a drink. The Casino Bar has been in business since Hemingway’s day. In the beginning, it was a legal casino. Then it was an illegal casino. Then it decided to just be a bar.

Ketchum is an interesting place. Some of the residents are millionaire skiers that fly in on their own private jets. Others clean the rooms of the Sun Valley Resort. It feels like a barbell town with very little middle, but it somehow works. The library is a privately-owned operation. The visitor center has iPads mounted on the pine-tree columns for use by tourists (and it shares its space with the town’s Starbucks). The Iconoclast Bookstore serves coffee, is huge, and is fantastic. The entire town feels very bookish. The area publishes a way-more-per-capita-than-is-normal number of periodicals. It jumped into the #2 spot behind Durango on Lisa’s favorite mountain town list.

“The pain lasted for 45 minutes,” the man next to us at the Casino Bar is explaining to his friend. “I mean, it travels through your urethra.” He’s talking about his kidney stones. I’m babbling to Lisa about some bullshit just to keep her from hearing this guy drone on and cracking up. It’s hilarious, but I don’t want to have to explain that to kidney-stone guy.

Then: a woman approaches the pair discussing kidney stones. She’s looking for work. They talk about construction work. She seems open to … other employment opportunities as well. She’ll be set when the millionaires return, I imagine.

Another man approaches the bar. He wants a shot. The bartender, who seems very comfortable in the place, can’t seem to place the guy. He tells her how to make the drink. “We made it up the other day and couldn’t think of a name, so we named it after me,” he tells her, modestly, of course. Then he tells her how he’s got a pack of cigarettes stashed behind the bar and how he’s going to grab one. He leaves after that. He wants to be considered a regular very badly.

I want to laugh in the guy’s face, but I love this place. This town is OK. I could snowboard here, Lisa could ski, I’m just one or two  Nobel Prizes for Literature away from being able to afford a house.