After Hemingway’s 1961 suicide, President John F. Kennedy made arrangements for the author’s fourth wife, Mary, to go to Cuba during a U.S. ban on travel there. Cuban leader Fidel Castro let her reclaim some of her husband’s documents and possessions in exchange for donating Hemingway’s villa outside Havana and other belongings to the Cuban people.
Mary Hemingway shipped crates of documents on a shrimp boat to Florida, also retrieving papers from other places her husband lived, before offering the collection to Jacqueline Kennedy for her husband’s presidential library.
The papers started arriving in Boston 40 years ago, when library officials stored them in a dark vault where they could control temperature and humidity levels. But that didn’t keep iron gall ink, a corrosive and once-common writing agent, from eating through the paper some of the letters came on.
It also couldn’t reverse mold growth or repair rodent nibbles on letters that spent years in storage in humid spots like Key West or Cuba. Letters penned on acidic paper also began falling apart as their fibers aged.
“His documents were kept in so many places over time. There are so many things that have happened to them,” Wrynn said. “The deterioration just continues, so if you don’t become proactive at some point, you have the potential to lose information.”
Among letters needing repair are some from the writer’s family, childhood cronies, and war and fishing buddies. Besides two of Bergman’s letters, correspondence from Hollywood stars Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper will undergo work, as well.
Also slated for restoration are letters from Max Perkins, Hemingway’s editor at Scribner’s, and correspondence from writers Gertrude Stein, Walter Winchell and Martha Gellhorn, the journalist who became the author’s third wife.