Oak Park, a near west suburb of Chicago, holds the distinction of being the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway, who brought the novel out of the Victorian era and into the modern world.
The house has since been turned into a museum. The town has also established a museum dedicated to Papa’s life, as well as dubbing part of the restaurant district as the “Hemingway District.” Notably absent from all of these celebrations of the man is Hemingway’s actual feelings about Oak Park, which he referred to as “a neighborhood of wide lawns and narrow minds.”
The home itself, a 5,500 square foot two-story Victorian home, sits at 339 North Oak Park Avenue. Hemingway was born there in 1889, living with his grandfather, parents, and three sisters. Ernest’s grandfather died and the house was sold when Ernest was six. Afterward, he moved nearby to 600 North Kenilworth, where he lived during his high school years.
As he did not actually spend that long there, the tour of the birth house focuses more on his roots than on Ernest himself. It also offers conclusive proof that, despite what he may have told the women in his life, Ernest Hemingway did not grow up in poverty.
Neglected for years, the home was purchased by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park (EHFOP) in December 1992 and re-dedicated in 2001 after restoring it to the state it was in when Ernest lived there, largely based on the accounts of Ernest’s sister, Marcelline.
The associated Hemingway Museum, just down the road from his actual birthplace, opened in 1991. Following his life from Oak Park all the way through to Idaho, it is full of photos and memorabilia, as well as a bookstore full of all things Hemingway including shirts, books, and assorted memorabilia. The museum also boasts a four-part BBC documentary on Ernest that the Hemingway family does not allow to be sold or broadcast in the United States. The museum was luckily grandfathered in before the blackout was enforced, and the center has the first part of the series running on repeat, and if no one else is watching they’ll put on the other parts for you.
Know Before You Go
The birthplace is at 339 N. Oak Park Avenue, the museum is a block and a half away at 200 N. Oak Park Avenue. Both are easy to find, with ample street parking in the area as well nearby parking garages.