The Raab Collection
has unveiled two powerful and revealing Ernest Hemingway letters that touch upon writing, life, filming The Old Man and the Sea, fishing, travel, and, perhaps most importantly, death and the afterlife, including his near-death experience in two airplane crashes. They also shed light on a touching and interesting episode in the life of Hemingway. They were held by the recipient and her family since they were written in 1955 and are apparently unpublished. Raab intends to sell the two this spring; they have never before been offered for sale.
Hemingway wrote both letters while living at Finca Vigia, his estate outside Havana, Cuba, to an American college student named Mary Lou Firle, whom he had met earlier that year. Mary Lou cherished the letters, tucking them away in an upper-floor closet, which saved them from ruin when Hurricane Sandy slammed into her familys Long Island house in 2012, flooding the home.
These letters, and the people behind them, let us behind the curtain of the daily life of Hemingway and the people he inspired and touched, said Nathan Raab, leading expert, principal at The Raab Collection, and author of the recent book, The Hunt for History (Scribner, 2020). It was a pleasure to find them and to learn about Mary Lous life.
A dare with her boyfriend and a cold call to Hemingways house
In January of 1955, Mary Lou, a second year student at CCNY, traveled to meet up with her boyfriend Morris, a naval officer on a liberty stop in Havana. While there, she told her friends, she intended to find a way to meet Ernest Hemingway. After Morris shipped out, she cold-called Hemingway, who, due to his misunderstanding, which she encouraged, thought she had been referred by a mutual acquaintance. He sent his driver to pick her up, and they spent an afternoon together. She helped him entertain, toured his home, and the two decided to stay in touch. He even promised to send her animal skins from a recent hunt. Hemingway playfully gave her the nickname the Black Kraut, because of her resemblance to Marlene Dietrich, whom he called Kraut, along with her suntan and German ancestry.
Later that year, Mary Lou wrote to the author to ask about a trip to Cuba that summer. Hemingway, who was filming The Old Man and the Sea, sent back a lengthy reply.
After two recent plane crashes, the Nobel Prize winner ponders life and death
In October of 1955, Mary Lou again reached out to Hemingway. He responded with another typed letter, this one referring to his fear of flying, manifested in his recent, nearly deadly crashes while on safari, as well as big game hunting, hurricanes, and a commentary on death and, remarkably, his belief in the afterlife. He urged her to be careful. No second thoughts will help you and when you are dead you are dead for a long time.
The Raab Collection has handled many of the most important historical documents to reach the market and worked with the families of famous Americans in the sale and preservation of their family treasures, among them Neil Armstrong, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ronald Reagan. Nathan Raab, a longtime member of the Board of Directors of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, is the author of The Hunt for History.