Eleven new bronze signs will mark the author’s time around Petoskey
The last time Ernest Hemingway came to Northern Michigan, as far as anyone knows, was in 1947, when he visited a friend in Petoskey and checked on his cottage on Walloon Lake, on his way from Florida to Idaho.
That visit was commemorated in a small news item in the Sept. 27 edition of the Petoskey Evening News, which was reprinted in Michael Federspiel’s book, Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan.
By 1947, at the age of 48, Hemingway was rich and famous and an internationally renowned author.
But it is not Hemingway’s short time as a middle-aged man in Petoskey that makes people today want to retrace his footsteps.
Rather, it’s all those years in his youth when he came Up North from his family’s home in Oak Park, Ill.
It’s those days when Hemingway was a boy and a young man, hunting, fishing, meeting locals and Indians, and having the experiences that would shape so much of his literature.
“There was little to suggest that he would become famous,” Federspiel wrote in the introduction to his book about Hemingway’s youth in Northern Michigan. “He was just another young man who summered Up North with his family.”
Now Federspiel and the organization he is president of, the Michigan Hemingway Society, will make it easier for people to follow Hemingway’s footsteps in the Petoskey area.
Eleven brass markers will soon be erected around Petoskey and Horton Bay to commemorate important places in Hemingway’s life.
The markers will be erected ahead of the 15th Biennial Hemingway Society Conference, an international conference which will for the first time be hosted in Petoskey by the Michigan Hemingway Society. The conference will take place June 17-22.
‘IT’S A HUGE DEAL’
The conference will be a big deal for Hemingway fans and a big deal for Petoskey, which will see an influx of visitors.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Federspiel, who is also a professor of history education at Central Michigan University. “For the Hemingway geeks, it’s a cool thing to have this prestigious event.”
Not that folks don’t already take Hemingway tours. There is already a tour company, which can be found at petoskeyyesterday.com, but the new signs should make Hemingway more visible.
Federspiel believes the conference and the new markers will mark the beginning of a new era for Hemingway tourism in Northern Michigan.
Federspiel said people have long sought a better marked route to find the significant Hemingway spots.
“We here at the Michigan Hemingway Society have for years had people contact us saying, ‘Where do we go?’” Federspiel said.
Now that question can be answered by bronze shields that will either be affixed to buildings or hung on poles. There will be maps available and a website to visit to find your way from one spot to the next.
Each will be titled “Hemingway’s Michigan” and will include the name of the site and around 80 words of explanation. There will also be a URL travelers can use to find more details.
The project was funded by the Michigan Hemingway Society, the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, and the Bay Harbor Foundation.
Downtown Petoskey businesses, Downtown Petoskey, and the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau also pitched in, Federspiel said. Everything should be completed by June 1.
In addition to the signs, four unmarked locations will be part of the tour. In those spots there’s either already a historical marker or, in two spots, they are located on public property where permission for a sign could not be secured.
‘LITTLE BIT OF A TREASURE HUNT’
There are two kinds of Hemingway fans, Federspiel believes, and the locations should appeal to both.
Some are interested in Hemingway as a man and historical figure, and they want to learn about his life and they want to see where he spent time growing up.
Others love Hemingway’s work and they want to visit spots described in his stories.
For those people, trying to find the fictional Northern Michigan of Nick Adams or other short stories is like a game.
“The writing is so clear and so real, they’ve read a story like Up in Michigan and they know what Horton Bay might look like,” Federspiel said. “People will come to Horton Bay with that story in front of them, looking for these landmarks they they’ve read about.
“It’s a little bit of a treasure hunt, I guess, and now we’ll give them a treasure map. It’s very interesting for people to play that game of, ‘What’s in the story?’ when they show up to a location.”
One of Federspiel’s favorite locations is a natural area on Horton Creek just off of Boyne City Road.
It was a spot where Hemingway used to fish and it was a spot he describes in stories about fishing.
The creek is mentioned in the short stories “The End of Something,” “The Indians Moved Away” and “On Writing.”
What strikes Federspiel about the spot is its beauty. He believes a visit still holds the power that caused Hemingway to write about the creek with such passion.
Visitors, however, often expect a much different body of water, he said. “We’ve taken out-of-state people there and they have these visions of these huge rivers that he must have fished on,” he said. “This is a creek. It’s really serene.”
Hemingway spent part of each year in Northern Michigan from when he was an infant in 1899 until he was married in Horton Bay in 1921. He also spent his last large chunk of time in Petoskey during the winter of 1919.
The tour will not include some important locales that remain private property, like Hemingway’s cottage on Walloon Lake.
That’s not to say you couldn’t get a rare peek at the property this June.
There will be an organized visit to the property for Hemingway Society members through the conference and members of the public will have a chance to visit through a fundraiser for the Little Traverse Historical Society, Federspiel said.
HEMINGWAY STAYED HERE
Sara Ward, program officer of the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Community Foundation, said she is excited about more people coming to Petoskey for Hemingway tours.
These signs will solve one persistent problem for tourists wanting to learn about the storied author, she said.
Apparently there is some bad information floating around about Hemingway.
“Sometimes there are old stories, old wives’ tales about, ‘He was here, he stayed there,’” Ward said. “This is real data making a connection between Hemingway and this area.”
Ward believes having signs devoted to Hemingway will bring visitors specifically drawn to Hemingway locales, but it will also be a great addition for others who stumble upon them.
“For some people, like me, maybe I’m just visiting and I say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know Hemingway had a connection here,’ so it enhances my visit as well,” she said.