From the mid 1920’s through the mid 1950’s, Ernest Miller Hemmingway produced some of the world’s greatest literary works. His books are considered American classics for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize. Ultimately Hemmingway died by his own hand, and odd ending to a life plagued with bizarre, horrific accidents, many of which nearly killed him.
Hemingway’s early near-death events
Hemingway nearly loses a leg after being hit by mortar fire
Shortly after high school, Ernest Hemingway enlisted for the Army in order to serve in World War I. He worked as an ambulance driver, transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to field hospitals. While at camp and returning from a run to grab chocolate bars for the soldiers, he was wounded by mortar fire (more favorable accounts say he was assisting an injured soldier). He spent five days in a field hospital and was then transferred to Milan where he spent six more months in the hospital recovering from his injuries. At one point, it was thought his leg would have to be amputated. For the first of many times, fortune smiled on Hemingway and the badly damaged leg healed allowing Hemingway’s early return to America.
Hemingway pulls a skylight onto his head leaving a visible scar he carried the rest of his life
Less than ten years after returning home from World War I, Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer and the newly wed couple moved to Paris. Hemingway, a country-boy at heart, was unfamiliar with big-city life. During the couple’s early days in Paris, Hemingway mistakenly thought a chain hanging from a skylight was a toilet chain and gave it a yank pulling the heavy fixture from the ceiling and onto his head. Hemingway suffered severe head injuries that left him with a deep, visible scar on his forehead that he carried for the rest of his life. After the accident, Ernest and Pauline moved from Paris to Key West, Florida. Hemingway never lived in a big city again.
Hemingway’s first serious car accident
During the next ten years, Hemingway spent winters in Key West and summers in Wyoming where he hunted elk and bear when he wasn’t writing books. At the conclusion of a hunting trip with a friend, Hemingway drove the man to the airport and returned home alone. On the way back, he was involved in a serious car accident. His right arm was nearly severed. Doctors bound the spiral fracture with bone and tendon and Hemingway spent nearly two months in the hospital struggling to recover. The nerves in his writing hand took nearly a year to heal.
A near-fatal case of dysentery
After recovering from the first serious car accident and shortly after the release of The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway went on a safari in Africa. While in Africa, Hemingway contracted amoebic dysentery that caused a prolapsed intestine (his intestine dropped into his lower pelvic cavity). Hemingway had to wash and reinsert the intestine himself until emergency assistance arrived. Hemingway was evacuated by plane to Nairobi where he received emergency treatment.
Mid-life proves no safer for Hemingway’s health
Hemingway’s second serious car accident
By the 1940’s, in the midst of World War II and after marrying his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway began travelling throughout Europe to cover the war efforts. During his travels, his marriage to Martha grew strained. The final straw occurred after Martha sought to travel from America to Europe to be with her husband. Hemingway refused to get her a press pass allowing her to fly on a plane across the Atlantic (probably because he was having an affair with Time Magazine reporters Mary Welsh at the time). Martha was forced to cross the ocean on a military ship filled with explosives.
Upon her arrival in London, she found Hemingway had been in yet another car accident. He had been thrown through the windshield. Hemingway was hospitalized for several weeks suffering from severe head wounds (which required 57 stitches) and a concussion. Friends recall that after his release from the hospital, Hemingway arriving on the scene of the Normandy Landings ready to journal the event while wearing a large, clownish bandage wrapped around his head.
Hemingway’s first motorcycle crash
Details surrounding Hemingway’s motorcycle crash are scarce. According to reports, he was travelling at a high rate of speed when he was “thrown” from the motorcycle. The nature of the injuries is unknown but reports show that shortly after, he suffered headaches, tinnitus, slowed speech, and memory problems hinting he suffered serious head injuries from the accident.
Hemingway’s life-threatening bout of pneumonia
Shortly after witnessing the landings at Normandy, Hemingway drove to Luxembourg to cover what became known as The Battle of the Bulge. He arrived on December 17, 1944 but was immediately handed over to doctors and hospitalized. Suffering an unusually high fever, he was found to be suffering from pneumonia. He spent more than a week in the hospital. By the time he was released, the fighting had ended (although Hemingway was later awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery during World War II for having been “under dire in combat areas in order to obtain an accurate picture of conditions.”)
Another car accident – Hemingway’s propensity for disaster spreads to the family
After the war’s end, Hemingway moved to Cuba with Time Magazine reporter Mary Welsh (whom he had been having an affair with). In 1945, he was involved in another car accident. His knee was completely crushed and he sustained another “deep wound on his forehead” leaving even more head scars. That same year, Hemingway’s knack for accidents carried over to Mary who broke her right ankle – and then her left ankle in successive skiing accidents. One year later, their son Patrick was involved in a car accident and suffered severe head injuries which led to lifelong serious illnesses.
A fall and another concussion
Five years after the car accident, Hemingway slipped on the deck of his boat, the Pilar. His head bounced off the deck and once again, he suffered a concussion that required hospitalization.
Hemingway’s first plane crash
It was during his time living in Cuba when Hemingway began to suffer from severe headaches and other medical problems, most of which derived from his previous bout of accidents and illnesses. Despite the pain, in 1954, Hemingway and Mary travelled to Africa for a safari trip. On a chartered flight to the Belgian Congo, the plane dipped low to allow the couple to photograph the beautiful Murchison Falls from the air. Flying just above the ground, their plan struck an abandoned utility pole and crashed. Hemingway suffered severe head injuries, including a cracked skull, and Mary suffered from several broken ribs.
Hemingway’s plane crashes again on the way to the hospital
The day after the plane crash, the Hemingway’s boarded another plane which was to transport them to medical facilities in Entebbe for further treatment. The plane exploded on take-off and burst into flames. Trapped inside and panicking, Hemingway drove his body into a jammed door twice before jarring the door open. Hemingway suffered burns and additional head injuries, severe enough to cause leakage of cerebral fluid from his skull. Upon reaching Entebbe, Hemingway was hospitalized for several weeks, confined to bed where he spent his time recovering from his injuries and reading erroneous newspaper reports of his death in the newspapers. It was later revealed that he had been diagnosed with “grave overall concussion” and has suffered vision loss, deafness in his left ear, paralysis of the sphincter muscle, burns on his face, arms, head, arms, and legs, a crushed vertebra, ruptured liver, ruptured spleen, and ruptured kidney.
Hemingway is nearly burned alive in a bushfire
Upon release from the hospital, despite severe bouts of pain and still recovering from burns and broken bones, the Hemingway family took an extended ocean fishing trip. On land, they found themselves caught in the midst of a raging bushfire. Hemingway sustained second-degree burns on his legs, face, left hand, right forearm, and torso.
Hemingway’s condition declines
In 1954, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The lingering pain from his many accidents prohibited him from attending the ceremony. The pain from his injuries also led to increased drinking which damaged his liver. By 1955, Hemingway was completely bedridden, suffering from severe liver damage. Later that year, he attempted a return to Europe but became seriously ill during the trip. Upon arrival, he was hospitalized and treated for high blood pressure, liver disease, and arteriosclerosis.
Hemingway travels down the dark path of depression
In 1959, Hemingway purchased a home in Ketchum, Idaho. By this time, the many injuries he suffered throughout his lifetime, combined with alcohol consumption to mask the pain, led Hemingway down the dark path of depression. Friends reported Hemingway was often “hesitant, disorganized, and confused”. He grew paranoid, telling family members that the FBI was actively monitoring his movements about Ketchum (ironically, years after his death it was found that the FBI *were* monitoring his movements and in fact, had monitored him extensively during World War II and during his time in Cuba).
In 1960, Hemingway was hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic (he insisted on being registered under a false name, Saiers, in order to hide from the FBI). He was put through a series of bizarre procedures including a plethora of exotic medicines and more than a dozen electroconvulsive therapy sessions.
Three months after his release from the Mayo Clinic, Mary found her husband sitting in the kitchen holding a shotgun. He was sent back to Mayo Clinic where he went through more rounds of electro-shock. He was eventually released and two days later, Hemingway retrieved his double-barrel hunting shotgun from a storage room, placed the butt of the gun on the floor of his foyer, and using his thumb to press the trigger, shot himself in the head, ending his life. Upon direction from the first doctor to arrive on the scene and reported as such for the next five years, the press were told that Hemingway’s untimely death had been “an accident”.
Newspaper report – November 3, 1930
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BILLINGS, Mont., Nov. 2 — Ernest Hemingway, the novelist, suffered a fractured right arm in an automobile accident eighteen miles west of Billings last night. Hemingway was accompanied by John Dos Passos, the novelist and poet, who escaped uninjured.
Hemingway said he was blinded by the headlights of an approaching automobile.
Newspaper report from May 26, 1944
Hemingway Is Injured
LONDON, May 25- Ernest Hemingway, the American author, suffered head injuries in an automobile accident here last night but was reported progressing well today at the London St. George’s Hospital after a minor operation.
Special examination disclosed that the author of numerous best sellers, including “A Farewell to Arms” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” had no skull fracture, although the wound was sufficiently deep to require stitching, surgeons at the hospital said.
Mr. Hemingway was injured when the car in which he was riding with a British physician struck a water tank. He arrived in London about a week ago as a correspondent for Collier’s magazine. His wife, Martha, also a war correspondent, is expected here soon from the Mediterranean theatre.
Newspaper report – January 26, 1954
By THE UNITED PRESS
Entebbe, Uganda, Jan. 25–Ernest Hemingway arrived in Entebbe today after having survived two plane crashes in the elephant country of Uganda.
His head was swathed in bandages and his arm was injured, but the novelist, who is 55 years old, quipped: “My luck, she is running very good.”
He was carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin. With him was his wife, the former Mary Welsh. She had two cracked ribs and was limping as Mr. Hemingway helped her from an automobile that brought them here from Butiaba, 170 miles away.
Although he declined an offer to fly out of the jungle after his second crash yesterday, Mr. Hemingway said with a grin that he would fly again as soon as he had found another plane.
He waved a swollen arm, wrapped in a torn shirt, and appeared to be in high spirits as he shrugged off the crashes.
He joshed his wife, saying her snoring had attracted elephants as they camped overnight near the wreckage of the first plane that crash-landed Saturday near Murchison Falls on the upper Nile near Lake Albert.
“We held our breath about two hours while an elephant twelve paces away was silhouetted in the moonlight, listening to my wife’s snores,” Mr. Hemingway roared.
Mrs. Hemingway, a former war correspondent, smiled.
Mr. Hemingway was examined by a doctor at Butiaba, scene of the second plane crash. An X-ray was advised, but he apparently was not badly hurt.
The first accident occurred when a Cessna, piloted by Roy Marsh, cracked up near the 400-foot falls while making an emergency landing. Search pilots who flew over reported herds of elephants near.
The second accident occurred Sunday after the Hemingways had been taken by a tourist steamer to Butiaba. There a plane, piloted by T. R. Cartwright, ground-looped into a sisal plantation and caught fire.
Newspaper report – July 3, 1961
Hemingway Dead of Shotgun Wound; Wife Says He Was Cleaning Weapon
Special to The New York Times
Ketchum, Idaho, July 2–Ernest Hemingway was found dead of a shotgun wound in the head at his home here today.
His wife, Mary, said that he had killed himself accidentally while cleaning the weapon.
The New York Times
Hemingway’s obituary ran on the front page of The New York Times on July 3, 1961.
Mr. Hemingway, whose writings won him a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize, would have been 62 years old July 21.
Frank Hewitt, the Blaine County Sheriff, said after a preliminary investigation that the death “looks like an accident.” He said, “There is no evidence of foul play.”
The body of the bearded, barrel-chested writer, clad in a robe and pajamas, was found by his wife in the foyer of their modern concrete house.
A double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun lay beside him with one chamber discharged.
Mrs. Hemingway, the author’s fourth wife, whom he married in 1946, issued this statement:
“Mr. Hemingway accidentally killed himself while cleaning a gun this morning at 7:30 A.M. No time has been set for the funeral services, which will be private.”
Mrs. Hemingway was placed under sedation.
Coroner Ray McGoldrick said tonight that he would decide tomorrow, after speaking to Mrs. Hemingway, whether to hold an inquest.
The writer was discharged from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., last Monday after two months of treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure) and what a Mayo spokesman called a “very old” case of hepatitis.
He had been treated there last year for the same conditions and had been released Jan. 23 after fifty-six days.
About a month ago, Mr. Hemingway’s physician at the clinic described his health as “excellent.”
The author had been worried about his weight, 200 pounds. He was six feet tall.
Mr. Hemingway and his wife, who drove from Rochester, arrived Friday night at this village on the outskirts of Sun Valley.
Chuck Atkinson, a Ketchum motel owner who has been a friend of Mr. Hemingway for twenty years, was with him yesterday. He said, “He seemed to be in good spirits. We didn’t talk about anything in particular. I think he spent last night at home.”
However, Marshal Les Jankow, another friend and the first law officer to reach the scene, said residents had told him that Mr. Hemingway had “looked thinner and acted depressed.”
At the time of the shooting, Mrs. Hemingway, the only other person in the house, lay asleep in a bedroom upstairs. The shot woke her and she went down the stairs to find her husband’s body near a gun rack in the foyer.
Mrs. Hemingway told friends that she had been unable to find any note.
Expert on Firearms
Mr. Hemingway was an ardent hunter and an expert on firearms.
His father, Dr. Clarence E. Hemingway, was also devoted to hunting. He shot himself to death at his home in Oak Park, Ill., in 1928 at the age of 57, despondent over a diabetic condition. The death weapon was a Civil War pistol that had been owned by the physician’s father.
The theme of a father’s suicide cropped up frequently in Mr. Hemingway’s short stories and at least one novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Mr. Hemingway was given his first shotgun at the age of 10.
As an adult, he sought out danger. He was wounded by mortar shells in Italy in World War I and narrowly escaped death in the Spanish Civil War when three shells plunged into his hotel room.
In World War II, he was injured in a taxi accident that took place in a blackout. The author nearly died of blood poisoning on one African safari; he and his wife walked away from an airplane crash in 1954 on another big-game hunt.
Mr. Hemingway, who owned two estates in Cuba and a home in Key West, Fla., started coming to Ketchum twenty years ago. He bought his home here from Robert Topping about three years ago.
It is a large, ultramodern concrete structure that sits on a hillside near the banks of the Wood River. The windows give upon a panoramic view of the Sawtooth Mountains.
To Be Buried in Ketchum
“The funeral and burial will be in Ketchum,” Mr. McGoldrick said. “This was Mr. Hemingway’s home, he loved it here.”
Under a new Idaho law that took effect yesterday, the chief law-enforcement officer must make an investigation into every case of violent death and determine the cause. He may hold an inquest if he wishes, but it is not mandatory.
Late in the day, Mr. McGoldrick said about the shooting:
“I can only say at this stage that the wound was self-inflicted. The wound was in the head. I couldn’t say it was accidental and I couldn’t say it was suicide. There wasn’t anybody there.”
The coroner said that the Sheriff did not have to hand in his report on the death “for several days.”
“If anything comes up indicating foul play, he may hold an inquest,” he said. “I don’t think he’ll hold an inquest but, based on new evidence, it could be called at any time.”
He added: “He doesn’t have to state in his report whether it was accidental or suicide.”
Confers With Friends
“Mary felt it was accidental and I hope that’s the way it will go out,” Mr. Atkinson said. “But maybe we will have to change our plans and hold an inquest. I know that ‘Papa’ [Mr. Hemingway’s nickname] wouldn’t give a damn how it came out in the papers.”
Previously, Mr. Atkinson had been busy trying to reach members of Mr. Hemingway’s immediate family. He telephoned Mrs. Jasper J. Jepson, the novelist’s sister, who said that she would fly to Ketchum immediately.
The author’s 28-year-old son Gregory, a University of Miami medical student, will fly here from Miami tomorrow. Another son, Patrick, according to Mr. Atkinson, is on a safari in Africa and a third, John, is fishing in Oregon.
Mourned by Kennedy
Hyannis Port, Mass., July 2 (UPI)–President Kennedy mourned tonight the death of Ernest Hemingway, whom he called one of America’s greatest authors and “one of the great citizens of the world.”
The President, who is spending the Fourth of July weekend here with his family, issued a statement after hearing of Mr. Hemingway’s death.