Piggott, Arkansas, is a town of just under 4000 residents. An attractive place, with lovely homes, and beautiful scenery, it is out-of-the-way, thus one doesn’t just stop at Piggott while on route another destination. However, it does have a major attraction, and people from all parts of the country flock there on purpose. What is it? Ernest Hemingway, of course, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He used to spend a considerable amount of time here between the years of 1927 through 1940, the years he was married to his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, who hailed from the tiny town. Pauline, daughter of wealthy Piggott residents Paul and Mary Pfeiffer, graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism in 1918, and was working with the Paris Bureau of Vogue Magazine when she met Ernest at a party.
As a couple, Ernest and Pauline visited and stayed in the town frequently during their marriage. These were the years Hemingway wrote eight books, and numerous short stories, and did much of his writing right here. A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929, and the movie version actually had its world premiere at the Franklin Theater in Piggott, December 1932.
Their marriage lasted thirteen years and produced two sons, Patrick and Gregory, the years during which time Hemingway rose to fame, in a large part due to the financial support provided by the Pfeiffer family. Pauline’s uncle Gustavus Pfeiffer presented the couple with a car, a home in Key West, and financed their African Safari that provided material and security for Hemingway. But it is said that residents of the town characterized Ernest as a freeloader, showing up in Piggott to mooch off his in-laws after squandering his earnings from his books on high living and extravagant travel. Unfortunately, people who worked for a living back in the 1930s weren’t really impressed by Hemingway, even after he won the Pulitzer Prize, and he in turn, considered the locals, bumpkins.
Nevertheless, Piggott is now an important slice of the life of Ernest Hemingway, and recently, the Pfeiffer house was turned into The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center, and was dedicated and opened July 4, 1999.
The museum preserves the family home of Paul and Mary Pfeiffer and the barn studio where Hemingway wrote portions of A Farewell to Arms, and other works. The house and barn studio along with a majority of the furnishings were sold to Tom and Beatrice James in 1950. The James’ son, Bruce, who lived there until recently, remembers finding things like a zebra pelt in the Old Barn, and he said the family found a stack of autographed first editions in a closet, which they eventually donated to various libraries. It seems the Pfeiffers had left them behind, the inference being that after Pauline and Ernest were divorced, there was no love lost between Hemingway and his former in-laws.
This museum gives visitors a peek at a life that had been chronicled in Hemingway’s own writings. No other place can one find such a clear glimpse of the writer during this period in time. Both the home and the barn studio were named to the National Historic Register in 1982. The properties were renovated, and the grand opening took place July 4th, 1999, on Ernest Hemingway’s 100th birthday. About 80 per cent of the furniture in the house is original dating back to the 1930s when Hemingway stayed there and slept in Pauline’s pink bedroom, upstairs.
In the Barn Studio, the poker table is the same one Ernest and his friends used to play numerous poker games on, and the Welsh dresser, chairs, and gentlemen’s dresser are the same ones used by Hemingway during his stays, (even the toilet is the original one) however, the desk and typewriter, although like the original, are not. There are also numerous pictures and mementos throughout the studio, and house.
Regular visiting hours for the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on holidays and during inclement weather in the winter. Admission is by donation. Suggested donation for adults is $3.00.
The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center is at 1021 W. Cherry St, in Piggott, Arkansas. There are markers in the town, giving directions to it.
Renie Burghardt is a freelance writer who lives in rural Doniphan, Missouri. She also writes a Nature column on Suite 101.
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