How You Can Keep the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum From Closing

Mary Elizabeth Andriotis
·4-min read
Photo credit: The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum
Photo credit: The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum

From House Beautiful

Historic houses provide a uniquely personal way to explore the world of those who came before us, by seeing how and where they lived. Unfortunately, many historic house museums are experiencing financial troubles as a result of the coronavirus pandemic—and the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum in Oak Park, Illinois is one of them. Located within walking distance of numerous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway is a three-story, Queen Anne-style Victorian house that was built in 1890 by the celebrated writer’s maternal grandparents. Not only was Hemingway born here (on July 21, 1899, in a bedroom on the second floor), he also spent the first six years of his life at this abode. As remarkable as this historic house museum may sound, it may cease to operate as soon as this December—unless its GoFundMe fundraiser can reach its $75,000 goal.

This is not the first time a Hemingway-related site in Oak Park has been at risk of shutting down: The Ernest Hemingway Museum closed its doors in 2017, as a way to "consolidate facilities to better serve its visitors.” This museum was located just down the street from Hemingway’s birthplace. Ultimately, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park thought it was best to bring visitors to one site—the birthplace home—given that the museum building had no ties to Hemingway himself. Another local Hemingway gem? His boyhood home, which is now a private residence. Clearly, even though the esteemed author is often associated with Key West, Cuba, and Paris, Oak Park was Hemingway’s original stomping grounds.

Photo credit: The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum
Photo credit: The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum

Because of the pandemic, the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum was closed for many months, resulting in far fewer visitors than in years past. Keith Storm, the executive director of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, tells House Beautiful, “We closed (per state and local mandates) from March through June. We reopened in July on a limited-basis; Saturdays only, but at a limited capacity of 8 persons per tour to remain with the Illinois Phase 4 guidelines.” Understandably, this four-month-long closing took a toll on the museum. Storm adds, “Our admission upon reopening is substantially down with our visitor totals for this year having dropped precipitously (approximately an 80% reduction compared to last year).”

At the time of writing, $15,230 has been raised in an effort to keep the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum open to the public, which is just under $60,000 shy of the fundraising goal. “If we meet this target, it will go a long way toward making us whole—keeping the birthplace museum open through next spring and allowing us to continue our educational and social programming when deemed safe,” says Storm. The money that is raised will be used to pay operational costs for the museum, and, if there is any remaining capital left over after that, it will go towards programming efforts.

Since its reopening this past July, the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum has introduced several new tours, including a narrated virtual tour and a monthly walking tour. There is even a Spanish-speaking guided tour of the museum, and a 90-minute outdoor tour of Hemingway's Oak Park, including his nearby high school, the local library, and of course, his birthplace and his aforementioned boyhood home. If that wasn’t enough to pique your interest, the museum also has plans to create a tour based on Grace Hall Hemingway (Ernest’s mother, who was an opera singer, and a music teacher and painter) as well as “further forays into our educational programming, to further assist students and educators.”

So, what will happen to the house if it does not reach its $75,000 fundraising goal? Storm says, “I cannot speculate on future actions involving the closure of the museum, but any decisions along these lines would be deliberated and approved of by our foundation board.” In the meantime, the best way to support this important piece of literary history is to donate, via savehemingway.com, and to visit the site itself (whether virtually and/or in person).

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