SWINDLE COLUMN: Remembering the Oak Park Man – LaGrange Daily News


A child was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois who would later have a significant impact on the world.

This morning I had the opportunity to interview a most gracious man who is now 81 years old. Gene was 18 when he met the man from Oak Park. The first time Gene met him, the man from Oak Park was arriving at Fort Pierce with a boat full of fish. The man had been at sea for days.

When he arrived, he was sharing his catch with his friends, family and an 18-year-old boy from Columbus, Georgia. The fish fry at sunset in the Caribbean had to be a sight to behold.

At the time, the man was well into his 50s and had survived more near-death experiences than anyone I have heard of.

Gene was in Key West looking for money which often washed up on the beach. This money came from Spanish treasure ships in the 1500s, when a ship sank due to hurricanes, poor shipbuilding, and / or occasional fighting.

Who was this Oak Park man from the sea?

He was an expert fisherman, big game hunter, and had the same interest as Gene, the treasure hunt. In the early 1930s, he spent his winters in Key West and his summers in Wyoming, where he discovered “the most beautiful country he had seen in the American West” and hunted deer, elk and grizzly bears.

However, his greatest adventure came after seeing the green hills of Africa and hunting the Serengeti.

Before these events happened, his life would change in December 1917, after being rejected by the US military for poor eyesight. He responded to this disappointment by signing up for a Red Cross recruiting effort and enlisting as an ambulance driver in Italy. During World War I, the Italians switched sides and declared war on their longtime enemy; Austria-Hungary, a German ally. In May 1918, he left New York and arrived in Paris when the city was bombarded by German artillery.

The Italian military campaign provided material for his book, Green Hills of Africa, as well as for the short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.

On July 8, he was seriously injured by mortar fire. Despite his injuries, he helped the Italian soldiers to safety. He was still only 18 at the time. He later said of the incident, “When you go to war as a boy, you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people are killed; not you.”

This statement would turn out to be a worrying prediction. He will eventually die from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Her father, brother and sister also committed suicide. Despite this, he will be remembered as the greatest writer in the world.

When Gene, 18, saw him, with his long-brimmed fishing hat, approaching the shore, he knew there was something special and unique about him.

But, he wouldn’t have imagined the impact Ernest Hemingway would have on the world.


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