At the end of my book “Hemingway at Eighteen,” (Chicago Review Press) I recount the discovery of a long-missing piece of Kansas City information, never before reported about the young writer in the making.
Years ago, I’d been put on the trail of this piece of business by the great Hemingway biographer Michael S. Reynolds. Everyone in the world of Hemingway scholarship owed a debt to Reynolds for his important work over the years, including an impressive five-volume biography published in the 1980s and ’90s.
Reynolds’ earlier book, “Hemingway’s First War,” about the making of “A Farewell to Arms,” was also vitally important to my understanding of the dynamics of Hemingway’s young-adult life and work.
Being a newcomer to the game, I’d only encountered Reynolds in 1999, Hemingway’s centennial year, and, sadly, just a year before he died. I’d met Reynolds at conferences and helped arrange an appearance in Kansas City to promote the centennial and the publication of his fifth book in the series. I didn’t realize until we chatted one day over lunch that Reynolds had a family connection in Kansas City, which, of course, deepened my regard for him.
I had just begun researching details of Hemingway’s brief apprenticeship at The Kansas City Star and the state of the city in which he lived — at the age of 18 — for six and a half months.
In one brief email with Reynolds after we’d met, he assigned me a task as I carried on my research: Find out about Hemingway’s appearance before a Kansas City grand jury.
I tried. I cajoled judges and prosecutors over the years, hoping to gain access to Jackson County District Court records of a grand jury involving General Hospital.
Reynolds and I had assumed that Hemingway had been subpoenaed to discuss his reporting on mismanagement at the hospital in the midst of small-pox and meningitis epidemics, ambulance shortages and possible graft and corruption. I got nowhere. Nor could I find newspaper reports of such a grand jury.
But, 16 years after Mike Reynolds put me onto the challenge, I finally found the evidence. As I write in the book, the case involved not the hospital but an odd shooting incident pitting federal agents against Kansas City police. And the grand jury was summoned not by the state court but by a U.S. District Court judge.
I found the case file at the National Archives at Kansas City. I found Hemingway’s name on a witness list. The road went cold after that. The Star, in its reporting about an indictment, did not mention Hemingway’s appearance before the grand jury. In addition, the archived documents did not detail the young journalist’s testimony or include a deposition.
Within a week of Hemingway’s presumed court appearance, he left Kansas City for the Red Cross ambulance service in Italy. Nowhere in my experience reading Hemingway’s correspondence and other materials did he ever mention testifying before a grand jury. So it was a minor achievement and a gratifying bit of biographical research to confirm at least that he had been summonsed.
Yet something still nagged me — even after I’d finished my book and tacked on the afterthought about the grand jury. Reynolds clearly had implied to me that Hemingway had been subpoenaed by a court in Kansas City. When I revisited his email, it dawned on me finally that he knew that to be true. It was not just an assumption. But I didn’t know how he knew that.
Years ago, Ann Reynolds, his widow, had allowed me to rummage through his files in their home in the New Mexico desert, but I never came across that detail. And the court records delivered to me by an archivist at the National Archives a year ago also did not include a copy of the pertinent subpoena.
As if to prove that a writer’s work is never done — you know where this story is headed — I found myself in Boston last spring with a few hours to spare. I made another trip out to the John F. Kennedy Library’s Hemingway Collection, where I’d spent many productive hours, in order to look at some materials I’d never tripped over before among the many thousands of pages of manuscripts, letters and quotidian documents.
In a box of folders marked humbly as “Other Materials” I came across a file labeled “Court.” Well, boy howdy, there it was.
A subpoena issued April 23, 1918, for “E.M. Hemingway, Reporter Star” by a judge of the Western District of the U.S. District Court. Reynolds surely saw that piece of paper. And I can’t stop dwelling on the thought of how much time I might have saved — and how much more I could have learned — had I found it years ago, too.
Steve Paul, a writer and editor at The Kansas City Star for more than 40 years, now retired, is the author of “Hemingway at Eighteen: The Pivotal Year That Launched an American Legend,” published by Chicago Review Press.
Steve Paul will speak at the Plaza Library at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 3. www.kclibrary.org