Hemingway Letter: 'I Am More Valuable to Them Alive Than Dead'

Author's note to his lawyer after 2 plane crashes talks about injuries, beef with Abercrombie & Fitch
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2023 6:29 AM CDT
Hemingway's Letter After 2 Plane Crashes Goes for $237K
In this Aug. 21, 1950, file photo, novelist Ernest Hemingway is seen at his country home in San Francisco de Paula, near Havana, Cuba.   (AP Photo, File)

A letter that author Ernest Hemingway wrote to his attorney soon after he'd endured back-to-back plane crashes just sold for big bucks on the auction block. NPR reports the that four-page note, scrawled on stationery from a hotel in Venice, Italy, went for $237,055 via Nate D. Sanders Auctions, after drawing a dozen bids. The letter was written in April 1954, though Hemingway mistakenly dated it 1953—three months after he and his fourth wife, Mary, had seen their Cessna crash in Uganda while sightseeing as the pilot tried to avoid a flock of birds. The next day, when a rescue plane came their way, that, too, crashed after catching on fire.

"Everything fine here," Hemingway writes in the letter, though he then adds, "I am weak from so much internal bleeding. Have been a good boy and tried to rest." He also noted that he "couldn't write letters much on acc't of right arm which was burned to the bone 3rd degree and it would cramp up on me (still does a little but all burns ok). But fingers burned and left hand 3rd degree too, so couldn't type." Hemingway also noted his wife's condition. "Mary had a big shock and her memory not too hot yet and it will take quite a time to sort things out," he wrote. Hemingway also griped about how the retailer Abercrombie & Fitch had sent his hunting guns to the wrong address in Kenya.

"Had to shoot my first lion with a borrowed .256 Mannlicher which was so old it would come apart in my hands and had to be held together with tape," he complained. "Their carelessness in shipping imperiled both my life and livelihood." As for the receipts that had burned in the crash while he was on assignment for Look magazine, he wrote: "Tell the Dept. that I am more valuable to them alive than dead and at present am trying [to] stay alive and get fit to produce." The Guardian notes that the letter was the centerpiece of a collection of nine letters. Another letter, in which Hemingway revealed his thoughts on his novel To Have and Have Not, went for a more modest $6,875. (More Ernest Hemingway stories.)

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