Boston’s JFK Library and Museum has embarked on a mission to preserve thousands of letters sent to Ernest Hemingway from friends including Marlene Dietrich, Gertrude Stein, and legendary Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins. The AP reported this week on how the nonprofit Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover will painstakingly clean and repair the letters, which are worth about $5,000 each, sentimental value not included.
The preservationists’ enemies include mold, rodents, insects, water damage, corrosive inks and decaying fibers. The letters have a peripatetic history fitting the writer’s remarkable life: Many spent years in the humidity of Florida and Cuba, and Hemingway’s fourth (and final) wife, Mary, hastily shipped a batch of them from Havana on a shrimp boat after his 1961 suicide. Even storage in a temperature-controlled vault couldn’t halt their decline. The trove includes a melancholy letter from Ingrid Bergman in Rome, and a telegram from F. Scott Fitzgerald asking his old friend about a visit in Key West: “Could make three day stay .... not up to anything strenuous probably result of teatotaling since January.” Sorting through the historic ephemera, the library’s curator told the AP, “Your heart does kind of stop.”
[Photo credit: Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.]
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