Author Museum Interviews: Hemingway-Pfeiffer House in Piggott, Arkansas

There Was Much Blood Shed in this Barn: A Conversation with Adam Long of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer House in Piggott, AR.

I have traveled near and far, driven across deserts and through forests, from city to city, town to town, point of interest to point of interest, creating an ever more tangled web of ink on my map of places visited and routes driven. One constant in my cross-country roadtrip adventures is my interest in authors’ homes and museums. I’ve been to most of the ones that exist in this country: from the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire, to the Beat Museum on the winding streets of San Francisco, California, and all the way down to the Hemingway House just a stone’s throw away from the southernmost point of the continental United States in Key West, Florida.

Though the Hemingway House in Key West is likely the most famous place associated with the writer of  The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, I recently visited another of Ernest Hemingway’s houses, lesser known, though no less interesting. The Hemingway-Pfeiffer House in Piggott, Arkansas, was the home of the parents of Pauline Pfeiffer (Hemingway’s second wife). He spent many a summer here, writing in the barn, which had been converted into his personal studio.

Hemingway once explained: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” If that is the case, then there was much blood shed in this barn: parts of A Farewell to Arms were written here, as were a number of his short stories. One in particular, “A Day’s Wait,” is based on events which took place in this very house. Though the museum isn’t especially close to any major city or interstate highway (it’s about an hour off I-55, and about two hours from Memphis and I-40), it’s well worth the detour if you have any interest in Papa.

I spoke with Adam Long, the director of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer House, about the writer, the property, the museum, and its collections.

—Tyler Malone

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INTERVIEWER

First tell me about the Pfeiffers and the story of this house.

ADAM LONG

The Pfeiffers were from St. Louis. Paul and two of his brothers founded a pharmaceutical and cosmetics company there, which was very successful. Paul didn’t care for the city, though (in part because he had bad asthma and the smoke bothered him), and wanted to return to his family’s rural roots. He sold his shares of the company and began looking for a place to buy land. He chose Piggott by chance. On a return trip to St. Louis from New Orleans, Paul was stranded in Piggott when the St. Francis River flooded. During his stay in Piggott, he realized that there was quality land available at a good price, so he decided to buy. He bought his first land in Arkansas in 1902. By 1913, he owned enough land to move his family (his wife Mary and three children) to Piggott. At the height of his business, he owned about 63,000 acres in Northeast Arkansas.

INTERVIEWER

How did Ernest Hemingway become involved with the property? And what was his time in Piggott like?

ADAM LONG

Hemingway married Paul and Mary Pfeiffer’s oldest child Pauline. Pauline was Ernest’s second wife, the mother of two of his three children, and a skilled editor. Following their marriage in Paris on May 10, 1927, Ernest and Pauline visited Piggott regularly, often staying months at a time. The family converted the loft of their barn into a studio for Ernest. Besides writing, Ernest would spend his time in Arkansas quail hunting, often with his brother-in-law Karl.

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INTERVIEWER

What are some novels or stories he wrote in part or in full in this barn in Piggott?

ADAM LONG

Ernest wrote portions of A Farewell to Arms and several of his short stories in Piggott. He set one of his Nick Adams stories, “A Day’s Wait,” in Piggott. This story is based on events that happened during one of his Piggott visits. The Pfeiffers, especially Pauline’s Uncle Gus, became great benefactors of Hemingway. Uncle Gus’s financial support also helped fund the writing of Green Hills of Africa, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and Death in the Afternoon.

INTERVIEWER

How did the property transition from private home to house museum?

ADAM LONG

Following the death of Mary Pfeiffer, the home was sold fully furnished to the Janes family. The Janes family preserved the home and its contents for years, ultimately selling the property to Arkansas State University in 1997. Thanks to the Janes’ care, we have roughly 75% of the original furnishings for the home.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think are some of the benefits of having author houses become museums?

ADAM LONG

House museums are special places because they allow visitors to better understand the people behind the writing by giving them something tangible to attach the stories to. Authors don’t work in a vacuum, and the context of their lives provide new ways to understand the texts. For example, our museum tells the story of an influential family who are interesting in their own right, and who altered the course of Hemingway’s career. By understanding them better, we understand Ernest better. And by visiting the site where he wrote one of his greatest works, we have something tangible to connect to that novel.

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INTERVIEWER

What are some of the items that you have here at the museum that you find the most interesting?

ADAM LONG

My favorite item in the museum is Ernest’s alpine skiing manual. The manual was taken from the Hotel Taube in Schruns, Austria. Ernest has signed his name in the front cover. Ernest and his first wife Hadley stayed at this hotel during a skiing trip in 1925. Pauline, Hadley’s friend, joined them for the trip. It was during this trip that Pauline and Ernest began the affair that ultimately resulted in Ernest leaving Hadley and marrying Pauline.

One of my favorite items in our archives is a home film of a 1940 Pfeiffer family reunion at Uncle Gus’s vacation home near Fairfield, CT. Uncle Gus gave one of his Connecticut houses to Helen Keller, and the video shows the family visiting with her during their Independence Day parade.

INTERVIEWER

How did you become the director of the museum?

ADAM LONG

I have a PhD in literature, with a focus on American modernism, from the University of Kansas. I grew up in Arkansas, though, about 50 miles away from the museum. Because of my connections to Arkansas, I heard when the position opened and applied for it. I’m happy to be back in my native state working to preserve our literary heritage.

INTERVIEWER

What is your favorite Hemingway novel or short story? And who are some of your favorite authors besides Hemingway?

ADAM LONG

My favorite work by Hemingway is In Our Time. Taken individually, the stories in this book are among Hemingway’s best, especially “Big, Two-Hearted River.” Taken together, the text is one of the finest by an American modernist. Though I work primarily with Hemingway, most of my scholarship has been over William Faulkner, who also has ties to this region. It’s an interesting pairing. The two writers were contemporaries and public rivals.

INTERVIEWER

Yes, I know Hemingway and Faulkner had an odd relationship to say the least. At one point I think Hemingway called Faulkner “the best of us all,” and Faulkner co-wrote the script for the film version of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not (still maybe the best Hemingway film adaptation?), but after Faulkner later made some slightly disparaging remarks about Hemingway’s vocabulary, they remained at odds. As arguably the two pillars of American modernism in fiction, how do you see them in comparison with one another?

ADAM LONG

This is a very interesting topic. Even though Hemingway and Faulkner never met in person (at least not that we can confirm), they did exchange letters and referred to each other publicly. At times, they seemed to respect each other and at times they seemed to dislike each other. Both clearly recognized the other as one of the leading writers of their generation, though. Otherwise, why would they have spent so much time talking about each other? Joseph Fruscione has a very good book on the topic which tracks the relationship in more detail. In terms of public opinion, I think Hemingway was more popular early in his career, while Faulkner was more popular later. In terms of legacy, Hemingway has been very influential in popularizing the minimalist style that has become standard in American fiction. I would say that Faulkner has remained more popular in universities, though, and more influential in “literary” circles.

INTERVIEWER

Lastly, for visitors thinking of coming to visit, Piggott is somewhat off the beaten path, so what other museums or points of interest are in the surrounding area that someone visiting your museum might want to check out?

ADAM LONG

The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum is part of a system of museums in the Arkansas Delta. Currently, we have two other sites, the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum (which explores an early agricultural union which was one of the first in the South to integrate) and the Lakeport Plantation (the only antebellum plantation on the Mississippi River in Arkansas). In addition, we recently partnered with several other institutions to open the Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center Museum. Rohwer was a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. George Takei (Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu) was interned here as a child. Next year, we are opening Dyess Colony: The Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash, which will celebrate the life of one of the best-known Arkansans.

For those interested in other literary sites, there are several nearby. You can see sites associated with John Grisham (65 miles), Alex Haley (90 miles), Laura Ingalls Wilder (175 miles), William Faulkner (200 miles), and Mark Twain (300 miles), among others.

 

For more on the The Hemingway-Pfeiffer House, please visit: hemingway.astate.edu/

Tyler Malone is a writer and teacher. He has contributed articles, reviews, and interviews to various literary magazines including The Millions, Full Stop, The Tottenville Review, and Literary Traveler. He was once known as “the Reading Markson Reading guy.”

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5 comments

  1. leonard bradberry

    Nicely written, well done.

  2. Excellent interview describing a superb writing venue.

  3. interesting piece about my hometown history

  4. Great info on the background of the area. Good interview!

  5. Pingback: Tottenville Review » Blog » Author Museum Interviews: National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California

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