Hemingway's Guns - The sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway
184 pages, about 11" x 8", Hard Cover. Published by Shooting Sportsman. 101 Sepia-toned photos. Retail $39.95 our price $19.95
Contents - Index:
- Pages: 184
The Story Behind Hemingway’s Guns
by Silvio Calabi
In September 2007 I received an email from a professor in the Department of English at the University of Tel Aviv—Miriam Mandel, a Hemingway scholar who was preparing a book about Ernest Hemingway’s African works (Green Hills of Africa, Under Kilimanjaro, True at First Light, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “Snows of Kilimanjaro”). She was looking for input from someone knowledgeable about guns and hunting and Africa:
“I worry that readers of Hemingway (me among them) don’t know one end of a gun from the other, and how can one write responsible criticism of a book about a safari if one doesn’t know anything about guns? I think this sort of information would be exceedingly valuable for Hemingway studies, which tend to float off on clouds of literary theory without being grounded on the stuff that’s in the text.”
An academic not squeamish about firearms or hunting? I agreed to write a chapter for Prof. Mandel’s book, a chapter that steadily became longer as the research became more and more interesting.
It was impossible to stop. My friends Steve Helsley and Roger Sanger offered to help research Hemingway’s other guns, the ones he used, from childhood on, in Europe and in Cuba and the US. From each one the ripples spread outward across world history and to Hemingway’s wives and sons, his remarkable friends and extraordinary experiences—a life nearly unreal to us today. The result is our book called Hemingway’s Guns, published last month.
Our research extended from Sun Valley to Key West and from Nairobi to Madrid to the JFK Library in Boston (which houses the Hemingway archives). It included Hemingway family biographies, many books about Hemingway, period issues of Look, True, Ken, Esquire, Rogue, the New Yorker and other periodicals; auction catalogs and gunmakers’ histories; and personal communications with people who knew Hemingway or his family as well as with Patrick and Valerie Hemingway and A.E. Hotchner. Hemingway bought many of his guns from Abercrombie & Fitch, and the owner of the company’s records—Griffin & Howe—made them available to us. Especially valuable to us was Abby’s unique inventory of vintage firearms catalogs here at Cornell Publications. For example: The Hemingway family had at least two Model 21 Winchesters; neither Tony Galazan, who now builds the M21, nor Warren Newman, curator of the Cody firearms museum, home of the vast Winchester collection, could tell us the origin of the “21” in the gun’s name. If you’d like to know, you’ll just have to buy Abby’s mid-1960s Winchester Model 21 catalog reprint—a bargain at just $9.95 plus postage.
The Colt .22 pistol that Ernest acquired as a teenager in Michigan just after the First World War disappeared in Kenya in 1954, then re-surfaced there briefly in 1997 before vanishing again. His Westley Richards .577 Nitro Express has a connection to Winston Churchill and played a completely improbable role in hunting German U-boats in the Caribbean in 1942. His matched pair of Merkels, bought second-hand after WWII, had been made for a grandson of “robber baron” Jay Gould, a playboy who may have been the model for the great Gatsby. Sheer luck and some detective work led us to the gun with which Hemingway ended his life on 2 July 1961, a question that has remained a mystery until now.
There are many more guns and man more stories, and it proved impossible to separate the guns from the man, Hemingway the hunter and Alpha male. As we all know, the choice of guns is as personal as the car one drives or the mate one marries—another expression of wealth, status, education, experience, skill and personal style. Hemingway’s guns, as well as how he acquired them and what he did with them, tell us about him as a man. And as a man, not just a writer, Hemingway fascinates us to this day.