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Ernest Hemingway survived 2 plane crashes. His letter from it just sold for $237,055

Ernest Hemingway, novelist, is seen at his country home in San Francisco de Paula near Havana, Cuba on Aug. 21, 1950.
Associated Press
Ernest Hemingway, novelist, is seen at his country home in San Francisco de Paula near Havana, Cuba on Aug. 21, 1950.

A few months after Ernest Hemingway and his wife survived two plane crashes in two days while on safari in Africa, he wrote a letter to his lawyer full of grisly details about his injuries — with the bravado that marked both his novels and his life. Now, that letter has drawn 12 bids at auction and ultimately sold for $237,055.

Hemingway wrote the letter in April 1954. At the time, he explained to his attorney, Alfred Rice, why he'd asked others to "give you the word" on his injuries from the crashes a few months earlier, in January.

"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)," he wrote. He says his right kidney ruptured and his liver and spleen were injured.

"I am weak from so much internal bleeding. Have been a good boy and tried to rest," the letter read.

Hemingway's wife, Mary, also suffered. "Mary had a big shock and her memory not too hot yet and it will take quite a time to sort things out," he explained.

The couple had been sightseeing in Uganda when their Cessna "cracked up," as the Associated Press reported at the time. Hemingway said the pilot had dived to avoid hitting a flying flock of ibises and, as a result, had been forced to land. The group camped overnight in the remote jungle.

Then the next day their rescue plane caught fire, forcing the passengers and pilot to scramble out.

When the couple finally emerged after a 170 mile automobile ride, the AP reported that Mary was limping and Hemingway's head and arm were bandaged. But Hemingway was "carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin" and "appeared to be in high spirits as he shrugged off the crashes."

Likewise, in the letter to his lawyer Hemingway insisted "everything is fine here."

He sprinkles the details of his injuries amid more urgent seeming matters, asking his lawyer to pay a bill he never received, and said he hoped "the dept or Bureau will understand" that his receipts for the trip had burned in the second crash. He was on assignment for Look Magazine.

"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," he quipped.

Hemingway delivered his biting wit in other excerpts, such as when he expressed annoyance with the retailer Abercrombie & Fitch for sending his hunting guns to the wrong address in Nairobi, Kenya.

"I ... 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 and Scotch tape," he complained wryly. "Their carelessness in shipping imperiled both my life and livelihood. "

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.

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