Up North with the Hemingways
By Michael Federspiel

Michigan History Magazine September/October 2007

Spending time "Up North" in Michigan is one of summer's special delights. The rituals repeat summer after summer - packing, enduring the unbearably long ride, making friends (and saying goodbye), enjoying beautiful water, and longing all winter for the next summer. While much has changed in Michigan over the last 100 years, the essential elements of the "Up North" experience remain consistent. The lure of summer vacations is a powerful force for generations of families. A century ago, the Clarence and Grace Hall-Hemingway family was one of those who loved summering in northern Michigan. They were in most ways a very ordinary family for their time but in one way they were quite unique. Their son, Ernest, would eventually become world famous, write stories set in northern Michigan and win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. But when he spent summers in Michigan, Ernest Miller Hemingway was simply "Ernie," a boy who loved getting away from home and spending time "Up North". This is the story of his and his family's Michigan experiences between 1898 and 1921.

The Hemingways
Clarence Edmonds Hemingway was a successful doctor in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, when in 1896 he married Grace Hall, a talented musician and artist. Dr. Hemingway was a naturalist and sportsman who enjoyed fishing, hunting and spending time outdoors while Grace's interests were the arts and Oak Park society. Beginning with their first born in 1898, the family would eventually include six children (Marcelline, Ernest, Ursula, Madelaine, Carol, and Leicester). They all would keep busy with school and community activities from Labor Day to Memorial Day but the summers were set aside for leisure. Grace and the children could enjoy long summer get-aways bracketed only by one school year's end and the beginning of the next but Dr. Hemingway's busy medical practice would somewhat limit his ability to be gone for long periods of time. Rather than vacationing at traditional resorts around Chicago, the Hemingways decided early in their marriage to instead enjoy the developing opportunities in Michigan.

Bear Lake
The railroads' arrival in the 1870s changed much in northern Michigan. With easier access, people from all over the midwest "discovered" the area and their numbers led to new boarding houses and resort hotels on many lakes - including Bear Lake, south of Petoskey. The first residential cottage was built there in 1878 and by the 1890s new structures dotted the shore. In 1900 the lake's name was changed to Walloon Lake to keep it from being confused with other Bear Lakes around Michigan. In August 1898, Dr. Clarence (often referred to as "Ed") and Grace Hemingway visited Bear Lake with their infant daughter, Marcelline. They stayed at a cabin owned by Grace's cousin, Madelaine Randall Board, on Bear Lake's Wildwood Harbor and were so captivated that they spent two weeks looking at property to purchase. Finally they found the perfect spot and bought an acre of land from Henry Bacon, a local farmer, on a small bay. Returning home to Oak Park in September, they commissioned the building of a cottage and in August 1899 they briefly returned to the lake to check on its progress. Staying about a mile from their property at the Echo Beach Hotel, this was to be six week old Ernest's first Michigan trip. The following year the family of four spent their first summer at "Windemere," their new cottage, beginning a relationship that would last decades.

Are We there Yet? With the new century, the Hemingways started their annual tradition of traveling "Up North." Compared to today's trips, it was a slow and awkward affair beginning with the excited packing of most of what they would need for a three-month stay. The trunks and boxes were heavy and awkward -- filled with clothes, personal items, and precious library books borrowed from the Oak Park Public Library. Their luggage was first conveyed eight miles to the Chicago River docks and was then loaded on a steamship such as the Manitou, Missouri or Illinois to travel north with the family along Michigan's coastline. On their first trip in 1898, the Hemingways took the luxurious SS Manitou. Forty-two feet wide and almost as long as a football field (274 feet), its top speed was 19.5 miles an hour, making it among the fastest ships on the lake. But even at this speed, the trip to Harbor Springs took over a day to complete. Once there, porters transferred the Hemingway's possessions to the nearby rail depot where a local suburban train took the family the eleven miles to Petoskey. Hugging Little Traverse Bay, the train stopped at as many as eleven resorts along the line. At Petoskey, the Hemingways and their trunks transferred to a different station and yet another suburban train to Walloon Lake Village. The village, originally known as "Talcott," gained train service in 1892 making it possible to reach it and Walloon Lake via luxury rail coaches from far away cities such as Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, and Detroit.

Once at Walloon Village, the Hemingways completed their journey by taking a wood-burning lake steamer such as the two-decked Tourist or the smaller Outing, directly to their cottage. These steamers made regular trips around the lake providing a valuable link to the outside world. A white banner or flag at the dock end (or occasionally a blast from Clarence's Swiss ram's horn bugle) signaled them to stop at the Hemingways.

One notable exception to the usual travel routine was the 1917 trip. With knowledge of improving roads and a sense of determination, Dr. Hemingway decided to make the journey in his Model T touring car. Ernie, Grace and young Leicester accompanied him while the girls went ahead on the familiar steamship SS Manitou and met the family at Walloon. Dr. Hemingway's journal and family photos tell the story of the five-day journey with nights in tents, freshly caught fish fried for breakfast, terrible roads, and adventure. The 487-mile trip had 100 miles added on for detours and the family carried a shovel to use when the car became stuck on rutted roads. A thirty-one mile stretch between Traverse City and Walloon Lake was especially difficult. The road was only a sand track on which they averaged a whopping 8 miles an hour! During the remaining summer, daughter Marcelline remembered Clarence driving to Petoskey over sand hills on unimproved roads. He carried a shovel and an axe to cut branches along the way. One can image his embarrassment when he became so stuck he needed to be pulled out by a laughing farmer and his team of horses. The return to Oak Park was much easier with the Hemingways and their car returning via steamship.

Cottage Life at Windemere The journey's frustrations were forgotten when the family finally arrived and threw open the cottage door and windows. As designed by Grace, Windemere cost $400 to build and was a simple, functional structure measuring 20 X 40 feet. Facing southwest, it included a living room dominated by a large brick fireplace and two window seats that doubled as children's beds. Additionally it had two small bedrooms and a kitchen complete with a wood burning range and an iron-handled pump that supplied fresh well water. Oil lamps provided evening reading light and a piano, music for sing-alongs. White pine was used on both the interior and exterior where the clapboards were painted white. The porch was a perfect place to look out at the lake and to watch the children play. While water for drinking came from the well, bathing and clothes washing used the cool lake water. An outhouse was discreetly tucked in a pine grove at the back of the property. The beach was sandy and the water, a beautiful blue. Birch, cedar, maple, and beech trees surrounded the lot and tree covered Murphy's Point provided shelter from the north wind. As the years passed, this point would be the site of many adventures, picnics and campsites.

As the family grew to include all six children, additions and improvements were made to the original structure. With the birth of their third child, Ursula, in 1902, a kitchen wing was added complete with a screened dining area linking it to the main cottage. A sleeping annex was built behind the cottage containing three additional bedrooms and providing more peace and quiet for the parents. Having four sisters undoubtedly contributed to Ernest's eventual desire to get away from the annex. After his fifteenth birthday in 1914, he slept on a cot in a canvas tent pitched close to the back fence. There he kept a kerosene lamp and a pile of magazines and books that sister Marcelline remembered him often reading late into the night. Behind the back property line was the Bacon's Farm. The Bacons were just one of the local families who became good and valued Hemingway friends. In 1879, Henry and Elizabeth Bacon homesteaded an eighty-acre farm that gave the Hemingway children many new experiences. It also supplied the family with much needed milk, meat, cream and vegetables during the summer. Indeed, the farm's proximity had been an important factor in the original land purchase. In return, Dr. Hemingway provided medical services to the Bacons (and any other locals who were in need) at little or no cost. So strong were the bonds with the Bacons that the Hemingway children referred to Henry as "Grandpa Bacon."

Clarence delighted in the physical activities and work associated with cottage and farm life. On July 13, 1900 - the day Ernest took his first solo steps - Dr. Hemingway attended a barn raising at the Bacons where he helped with construction, photographed the proceedings and was given the honor of driving in the last stake - something he fondly remembered for years. Marcelline Hemingway Sanford recalled the improvised trestle tables made of long boards and sawhorses filled with food for over a hundred people and the cheer that went up when the final timber was put in place.

Items the Bacon's didn't supply were purchased locally or were shipped directly from Chicago. Stores such as Crago's Delicatessen at Walloon Lake Village were a source of provisions and, in extraordinary circumstances, the family might even travel to Petoskey. But these trips to town were rare indeed. According to daughter Madelaine, before each trip north Dr. Hemingway made careful and elaborate lists of what would be needed for their stay. Staples such as flour, sugar, slab bacon, chocolate, and spices were ordered from the Montgomery Ward catalog and delivered to Walloon Lake. Dr. Hemingway sometimes even ordered special treats for the family. Madelaine remembered the children delighting in peppermint candy, gingersnap cookies, and marshmallows.

Wish You Were Here!

Like most families, the Hemingways' cottage life revolved around the water. It was a source of food and entertainment and at this time of few roads, it connected the Hemingways to others on the lake and to the outside world.

Dr. Hemingway taught his children to swim and spent much time in the lake with them. Beginning with postcards made in 1901 showing Ernest and Marcelline paddling along side the family rowboat, dozens of photographs capture the family splashing and posing. One can picture the growing family with deeply tanned Dr. Hemingway conducting swimming lessons while the fair skinned Mrs. Hemingway watched anxiously from the porch as the family moved to deep water. (She sun burned easily and disliked the "slimy" lake bottom.) Dr. Hemingway was very safety conscious and he often conducted lifesaving drills involving what to do if a boat capsized. Turning them into races, the children enjoyed the competition while at the same time learning valuable swimming skills.

Over the years, the Hemingways owned several boats including launches, rowboats, and a canoe that they kept in the off-season in Windemere's living room protected by a favorite bed quilt. The rowboats, Marcelline of Windemere and Ursula of Windemere, were well used and loved. In about 1910 Dr. Hemingway purchased the family's first motorboat, an 18-foot launch christened Sunny (in honor of daughter Madelaine's nickname). It was powered by a Gray Marine inboard engine that proved to be an ongoing challenge to the non-mechanical father.

It was also with Dr. Hemingway's guidance that Ernest and his siblings learned about and developed talents with fishing rods and reels. Countless photos attest to the family's success at catching trout, pike, perch, and bass. The Hemingway Collection at Central Michigan University's Clarke Historical Library is home to a wonderful letter from Ernie to a friend in 1919 describing the perfect way to catch trout on a lake. It details how to bait the hooks with skinned perch, how to position the rods and reels on the boat, and even describes the screeching sound the reel makes when you get a strike. In his youthful enthusiasm, he proclaims it "the best rainbow trout fishing in America."

Hunting and shooting were also a part of the summer experience. Dr. Hemingway was an excellent shot who knew the importance of safety and responsible hunting. Marcelline, recalled Dr. Hemingway enjoying a skeet trap and barrels of clay pigeons shipped from Chicago. Shooting skeet on the grassy hill behind the cottage soon became a Sunday afternoon tradition with everyone learning how to shoot. When it came time to move on to game rather than targets, Clarence insisted nothing be killed unless it could and would be eaten. This included a porcupine that Ernest and his friend Harold Sampson shot in retaliation for quills it left in the Bacon's dog in 1913. It's easy to imagine the look on the boys' faces when they were reminded of the family rule. The haunches cooked for hours but years later "Sam" still remembered that the meat "tasted like a piece of shoe leather." But usually, hunting brought in more tasty fare.

Like other families then and now, the Hemingways entertained guests and celebrated special occasions. Frequently family members, including grandparents, visited them from Oak Park for extended stays. Holidays like the Fourth of July were celebrated with friends who were fed with pit barbequed lamb, oven roasted pig, potato salad, and gallons of lemonade. Friends came from around the lake and as far away as Boyne City. The evening's highlight was sky-rockets set off at the lakeside by Dr. Hemingway. The children were allowed Roman candles and could light the pinwheels the Doctor nailed to the dock's flagpole.

A very special occasion for the Hemingways was the birth of a new baby in July 1911. Rather than stay at Oak Park that summer, a very pregnant Grace Hemingway escaped the city heat and made her way to Windemere. When she went into labor on July 19, Marcelline reported being sent a half-mile away to Murphy's Point with a sketch pad and book, Ernest went off fishing, and the younger children were hurried off to Bacon's farm with a promise that they would be summoned when they had a new sibling. With a trained nurse assisting Dr. Hemingway, a beautiful baby girl was born and named "Carol." Beginning the following year, she and Ernest (whose birthday was July 21) would annually celebrate with a special tradition of cutting and decorating the "birthday tree." With great pageantry, a small evergreen was cut each July, decorated, and placed in a special stand on the dining porch in celebration of their birthdays.

As anyone who owns a cottage knows, there is always some work mixed in with the play. The Hemingways began their stays by removing the winter shutters, opening windows and airing out the cottage. There were sticks and branches to clear from the yard and firewood to cut and split for the woodstove and fireplace. Older girls who either came along from Oak Park or were hired locally for the summer assisted with housekeeping, cooking and childcare. There surely was much to do with a family of six children - especially with Dr. Hemingway's frequent absences to attend to his patients at home.

While many Oak Park formalities were abandoned at Windemere, Dr. Hemingway insisted others remain. According to son Leicester, the Doctor demanded that meals remain formal with freshly scrubbed children wearing proper clothing and exhibiting dignified manners while eating correctly served food. Chores were assigned and expected to be performed with both the beach and yard raked daily. Ernest went to Bacon's farm with Mason jars on a "milk run" for that day's supply. As the oldest male when Dr. Hemingway was away, an increasing number of expectations would eventually frustrate Ernest who really longed to enjoy his friends, books, and summer rather than tending to chores.

For the Hemingways work soon extended beyond normal routine cottage maintenance. In 1905 a forty-acre farm on the opposite shore of Walloon Lake was being sold for back taxes. Standing on it were an old house, some sheds, and a nice timber stand. Dr. Hemingway liked the potential for teaching his family the value of good, honest physical labor and for securing a food source during the summer months. It was purchased, named "Longfield Farm," and introduced into the family's summer routine. The Frank Washburn family agreed to be tenant farmers with Clarence paying the bills and receiving a third of the crops. The Hemingways put in long hours planting trees -- black walnut, cherry, plum, peach and evergreens -- and vegetables. In good years there was enough surplus produce for the children to go around the lake selling potatoes, beets, carrots, and peas to other cottage owners and small resorts. Ernest likely preferred spending time fishing with friends to planting and digging potatoes, but he accepted his father's desire to have him help the Washburns and his own family. Understanding his son's claim to a vacation, Dr. Hemingway contracted work with him. Leicester explained that this provided Ernest with spending money and at the same time accomplished the tasks Dr. Hemingway wanted done.

In 1917 twenty additional acres were purchased and Warren Sumner, a local farmer, was hired to take Washburn's place. Ernest usually slept at the farm in his tent and worked that summer with Sumner removing the tenant farmhouse, cutting 20 acres of hay, and building an icehouse that they then filled with sawdust. During the cold winter, Sumner stocked it with ice cut and hauled from Walloon Lake. All summer long, chunks of that ice were brought across the lake to Windemere and kept in an icebox under the trees until needed to preserve food or cool drinks on hot, muggy summer days.

As they grew older, both Marcelline and Ernest spent more time away from Windemere with friends their own age. This was especially true in 1917, the summer after their high school graduation. While Marcelline's attention turned toward Petoskey where she played viola in the Bay View Orchestra, Ernest became a regular across Walloon Lake at Horton Bay. Nestled on the shore of Lake Charlevoix (and a three mile walk from Longfield Farm), the village had a slow pace and a nice mixture of locals and summer people. Family friends included the village blacksmith, Jim Dilworth, and his wife, Elizabeth, who ran Pinehurst, an inn famous locally for its chicken dinners. Ernest often stayed there and was comfortable eating his suppers and then lounging, reading day old newspapers. Away from his family, he was free to act as a typical teenager - trying to impress the girls, hanging out with buddies, telling exaggerated stories about his fishing exploits and life back in the city.

While the family would continue to enjoy Walloon summers, Ernest's experiences there ended in 1921. In all, he spent at least part of his first twenty-two summers in Michigan. In 1918 World War I was raging and he only had a few days of fishing with friends before being called back home to join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. Shortly after arriving in Italy he was wounded and spent the rest of the year in a hospital recovering before sailing back to America in January. He would head back to northern Michigan in 1919 and 1920 but spent most of his time away from Windemere living at Horton Bay where he enjoyed friends whose interest were more in keeping with his. When he decided to marry in 1921, he did not do so in Oak Park. Instead he selected Horton Bay where he wed Hadley Richardson, a woman from St. Louis, Missouri, whom a Horton Bay summer friend had introduced him to at a Chicago party the year before. The service was held September 3 at the now demolished Methodist Church and was followed by a two-week honeymoon at Windemere. It would be the last time he ever stayed there or visited Michigan for any amount of time.

From Reality to Fiction
All the love went into fishing and the summer. He loved it more than anything. He had loved digging potatoes with Bill in the fall, the long trips in the car, fishing in the Bay, reading in the hammock on hot days, swimming off the dock, playing baseball at Charlevoix and Petoskey, ... the fishing trips away from the farm, just lying around. He loved the long summer. It used to be that he felt sick when the first week of August came and he realized that there were only four more weeks before the trout season closed...the hills at the foot of Walloon Lake, storms on the lake coming up in the motorboat, holding an umbrella over the engine to keep the waves that came in off the spark plug, pumping out, running the boat in big storms delivering vegetables around the lake, climbing up, sliding down, the wave following behind, coming up from the foot of the lake with groceries, the mail and the Chicago paper under a tarpaulin, sitting on them to keep them dry, too rough to land, drying out in front of the fire, the wind in the hemlocks and wet pine needles underfoot when he was barefoot going for the milk. Getting up at daylight to row across the lake and hike over the hills after a rain to fish in Hortons Creek... (Ernest Hemingway, from On Writing, The Nick Adams Stories)

Today, Ernest Hemingway is remembered as a world famous author, not a young boy tagging along on family vacations. While his later life and writings focused on extraordinary stories of marlin, African safaris, and wars, in truth, a good part of him never left the ordinary experiences of a boy learning about life in northern Michigan. A firm believer that good writing was based on firsthand experiences, he began creating stories about the Michigan people and places he knew and loved when he was still in high school. Those writings grew into many published short stories based in Michigan and The Torrents of Spring, a novel set in Petoskey. Sometimes controversial because they too closely (and unfavorably) suggested actual friends and family, the stories nonetheless provide readers from around the world amazing northern Michigan experiences from the comfort of far away easy chairs. While "Ernie" was a son, brother, and simply a part of a regular family that called northern Michigan home for part of the year, "Ernest" gave the world timeless stories that recall the magic "up north" holds for all of us who spend time there.