Up State Street from the Petoskey post office and the Petoskey News-Review building is Mrs. Potter's boarding house, where Ernest Hemingway stayed a good part of the winter of 1919-20 while he was still a bachelor. He moved there in December of 1919 from what he described in a letter as a boarding house in Horton Bay, where he slept in a bunk room with several other people. Biographer Peter Griffin pointed out in his book "Along with Youth" that Hemingway traveled farther than the seven miles the crow would fly from the bay to Petoskey, because whereas Horton Bay was Northern Michigan in the summer (coincidentally, the only season that Hemingway's character Nick Adams lives in), Petoskey was a functioning entity year-round, even in the bitter cold of winter.
In 1920, Mrs. Potter owned the house at 602 State Street. The house still sits on the corner and the wide front window upstairs, directly above the front door, is where you might have caught Ernest Hemingway typing in 1920. Many heard the tap, tap of the Corona as he polished off stories that he mailed to magazines for publication. They all were rejected, he later confessed in an interview. Yet interestingly, in a box of his early writings, biographer Peter Griffin found eight stories which were written in the winter of 1920 when Ernest moved from Horton Bay to Petoskey.
"Pauline Snow was the only beautiful girl we ever had out at the Bay. She was like an Easter Lily coming up straight and lithe and beautiful out of a dung heap. When her father and mother died she came to live with the Blodgetts.
Then Art Simons started coming around to the Blodgetts in the evening. Art couldn't come to most places in the Bay, but old Blodgett liked to have him around. Blodgett said he brightened up the place. Art would go out to the stable with Blodgett when he was doing the chores and tell him stories, looking around first to see that no one would overhear."
Hemingway's use of understatement -- dialogue to reveal character and irony -- that would later be hallmarks of his writing, showed up in these early stories. Elements of his style that critics would later attribute to his exposure to Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson were already present in these stories and he had not yet come under the wing of Stein or read Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio." Some critics pointed to "Winesburg" as having a major influence on Hemingway's early writing style. Anderson did advise Hemingway to live in Paris, instead of Italy, and write about Horton Bay and his rural experiences in Northern Michigan and Hemingway did just that at first, albeit he had already written eight sketches about Horton Bayites in Petoskey in the winter of 1920.
"Up in Michigan," the first story Hemingway completed in Paris and showed to Gertrude Stein, was a rewrite of a Horton Bay story he had worked on before crossing the Atlantic. Some time later in Paris, Hemingway would write the parody "Torrents of Spring" in two weeks, proffering, for one thing, that he could mimic the idiosyncrasies of the writing style and world view of Sherwood Anderson, but that he was by no means an understudy in a school of Sherwood Anderson. The setting of "Torrents of Spring" was Petoskey, and the season was winter.
James Vol Hartwell is owner of the Red Fox Inn Bookstore in Horton Bay, which has been part of the family for more than 100 years. He is a Northern Michigan history aficionado. Excerpts from his "Lost and Forgotten Northern Michigan" writings will appear here regularly.