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Ernest Hemingway's House & Museum in Oak Park: A Chicago Family Day Trip

Updated on November 19, 2014

Learning About the Great Writer's Childhood Outside Chicago

Ernest Hemingway was one of the most influential American writers of the 20th century, as well as one of the most famous. A winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, the writer was born and raised in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park is right on the edge of the city, and it is easy to reach by public transportation.

Oak Park has two major Hemingway attractions: The house where he spent the first six years of his life and a museum dedicated to his life. The photo here is of the museum's front.

We visited Oak Park to find out more about this famous writer. Here are some highlights of our visit.

All photos are by us unless otherwise stated.

Hemingway's Birthplace: His Maternal Grandparents Queen Anne Home

Hemingway's birthplace and the museum are only two blocks apart just off the downtown area of Oak Park, and there's one admission price for both places. When planning a visit, be aware that the places have limited opening hours. When we visited they were open 1-5 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 10-5 on Saturday, but you should probably check the website listed below for the current hours.

Although the foundation that runs the places recommend that you visit the museum before the house, we found it easier to do the house tour first because there are only so many of the tours per day. If you aren't very familiar with Hemingway or his life you may find it more helpful to check out the museum first.

The tour guide, whose name was Larry, gave a very in-depth talk as we walked through the rooms, explaining how many of the events in the household and the people who lived here in Hemingway's childhood would influence his writing.

Our Pick for the Most Helpful Guidebook

We usually travel with three or four guidebooks, as we find that each one contains slightly different but useful information.

This book was the one we found most helpful when visiting Chicago. An added plus is that it is slender so it wasn't a bother when we carried it around.

Sharing Tales at the Dining Room Table

Hemingway Learns Early How to Be a Storyteller

Here is the dining room where the family gathered for their meals. Hemingway's maternal grandfather, affectionately known as Abba (the biblical name for grandfather), presided over the dining table with biblical readings and storytelling.

But he wasn't alone in telling tales. Hemingway's great-uncle, Tyler Hancock, traveled as a salesman, and would return with stories about the places he'd been and things he'd done.

Abba would encourage everyone -- including the children -- to entertain the gatherings with tales, and it was here that Hemingway began to realize the power of storytelling. Larry, the guide, said it wouldn't be hard to imagine young Ernest regaling the guests of tales starring a hero that was a lot like Ernest himself.

Out of view of the photo is the piano where Hemingway's mother would give lessons to locals. His mother loved music, and would take him to the opera houses in Chicago. This early introduction to the grace and power of music also informed Hemingway's writings, Larry said.

Ernest Hemingway's Bedroom

Hemingway's Odd Relationship With His Sister

Hemingway's mother Grace wanted twins when she was pregnant with Ernest's older sister but that didn't happen. So when Ernest came along 18 months later Grace decided he would just have to do. She held the sister back one year in school so Ernest and his sister would be treated as being of the same age, then put dresses on him and sometimes even referred to him as Ernestine.

As you can see from the photo here, the children were placed in similar beds right next to each other. According to our tour guide, the sister (Marcelline) insisted on the larger bed to the right.

Is it any wonder that Hemingway would spend his adult life in activities that reinforced his image as macho? Or that his writings would celebrate virtues described as masculine?

Down the hall is the bedroom where Hemingway's beloved grandfather Abba slowly died from disease when Ernest was 6 years old. It's not hard to imagine that event had an impact on Ernest, since so much of his writing related to facing death and dying.

We found that by the end of our visit we had a clearer picture of Ernest Hemingway, and I'm sure you will too. This is a great place to learn about the writer.

Ernest Hmingway Museum
Ernest Hmingway Museum

A Good Account of Hemingway's Life

Visiting the Museum

Less than two blocks from the Hemingway Birthplace is the museum dedicated to the writer. Though it is pitched as an examination of his time in Oak park, in truth the place does much more than that.

The exhibits highlight his interest in the outdoors and the development of his writing style. They also include a rundown on the many movies that have been created based on his works, as well as his time as a World War II correspondent.

This is not to say that the place skimps on his childhood! There are displays of his school days and his youth, but I found the exhibits of his adult life more interesting. I especially enjoyed the area that traced his beginnings as a writer, including a rejection letter he received! (See below.)

Remember, one price gets you into both places, and we were able to do everything in about 3 hours.

For More About Hemingway

A search of "Ernest Hemingway biography" returns more than 300 items, from general tales of his entire life to books that focus on his childhood and other periods of time.

There are also a number of documentaries available.

Even the Best Writers Get Turned Down

Here's More Images of the Birthplace

Have You Visited the Hemingway Birthplace and Museum?

Have You Visited the Hemingway Birthplace and Museum?

See results

Frank Lloyd Wright, Oak Park's Other Major Local Hero

Frank Lloyd Wright, the influential architect, also made his home in Oak Park for many years. In fact, Hemingway's birthplace, Lloyd Wright's home, and the Unity Temple the architect designed are all within walking distance.

Here are our reviews of Lloyd Wright's home and Unity temple to help you plan your day in Oak Park:

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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn! Please share your opinion of the Hemingway birthplace and museum, this review or anything else that is relevant.

Thanks for visiting!


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