Hemingway and the Plane Crashes

Hemingway Survived Two Plane Crashes. A Letter About Them Just Sold for Over $237,000.

“I am weak from so much internal bleeding,” the novelist wrote to his lawyer. “Have been a good boy and tried to rest.”

A black and white photograph shows an aged Ernest Hemingway wearing a light-colored plaid suit and a plaid cap. To his right is his wife, Mary, also wearing a light-colored suit, with a dark blouse. She is holding a purse.
Ernest Hemingway and his wife Mary Welsh Hemingway on a boat crossing the Atlantic in the 1960s.Credit…Getty Images


A four-page letter that Ernest Hemingway wrote to his lawyer after the writer survived two back-to-back plane crashes in East Africa in 1954 sold at auction for $237,055, according to Nate Sanders Auctions.

Bidding for the letter started at $19,250 and there were 12 total bids before the letter was sold last week, according to the auction house, which is based in Los Angeles and specializes in autographed items. It’s unclear who bought the letter.

Hemingway, 55 at the time, had been visiting Congo, Kenya and Rwanda with his fourth wife, the American journalist Mary Welsh Hemingway, on a hunting safari. Over the course of a few days, the couple were involved in two crashes, the second more violent than the first, that would leave their mark on him for the rest of his life.

In the first crash, their plane “clipped a telegraph wire and plunged onto the crocodile-infested shores of the Nile,” according to PBS. Hemingway wrote about his trip to Africa in Look Magazine in 1954, which included a 16-page spread about his safari to Kenya.

The couple had been reported missing when their plane failed to land as expected for refueling, The A.P. reported. They were later brought to a plane meant to rescue them, which then itself “crashed and burned on the take-off,” the news agency said. Everyone aboard escaped.

Dr. Andrew Farah, who wrote a book about Hemingway’s brain, described the second crash as more fiery and more violent, during a 2017 talk at the John F. Kennedy library. The pilot kicked out his front window to escape and save his passengers.

“He pulls Mary out, but Hemingway’s too big to get out the window,” Dr. Farah said. To escape from the aircraft, Hemingway, his shoulder still injured from the earlier crash, “chooses very unwisely to bust open the door with his head, giving himself a skull fracture and another concussion,” Dr. Farah said.

That decision would affect Hemingway’s brain for the rest of his life. After the crash, Dr. Farah said, “his memory was worse” and he had persistent headaches.

Hemingway memorabilia such as letters with his original signature or first editions of his books are auctioned off regularly and often fetch thousands of dollars, with some going for much higher. In Philadelphia in February, a first edition of Hemingway’s “In Our Time” from 1924 was auctioned for $277,000. Another signed letter was auctioned off last month at Nate Sanders Auctions, but went for much less: $6,875 after only one bid. In February, a more modern copy of “The Old Man and the Sea” went for more than $10,000 for a special reason: It had been the copy taken out of a high school library by a young Kobe Bryant.

In the crash letter — which was written on April 17, 1954, but was misdated as 1953 — Hemingway recounted the crashes and their effect on him, and told his lawyer Alfred Rice that he needed money. He also expressed his dissatisfaction with Abercrombie & Fitch, the brand now known for its all-American apparel, which at the time was more known for selling outdoor gear like guns.

“They sent me two .22 rifles of a type I did not order, several hundred rounds of ammo of another type than I had ordered,” Hemingway wrote, adding that he had to “shoot my first lion with a borrowed .256 Mannlicher which was so old it would come apart in my hands and had to be held together with tape and Scotch tape. Their carelessness in shipping imperiled both my life and livelihood.”

Much of the letter, which was handwritten on stationery from the Gritti Palace-Hotel in Venice, also goes into the gritty details of his injuries.


“I am weak from so much internal bleeding,” he added. “Have been a good boy and tried to rest.”

Hemingway’s wife did not come out of the plane crashes unscathed. According to an article by the United Press, she had two cracked ribs and was limping. Hemingway also focused on her mental state: “Mary had a big shock and her memory not too hot yet and it will take quite a time to sort things out,” he wrote to Mr. Rice.

Still, a sense of normalcy is infused in the letter. As Hemingway wrote on the final page: “Everything is fine here.”

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