Hemingway’s loves were many.
The first Agnes Hannah von Kurowsky.
Hemingway was 18. He wanted to participate in World War I. The U.S. was not yet in the War. He volunteered to be an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross in Italy.
It was on this day in 1918 that Hemingway was wounded. He was struck by an Austrian mortar shell. The two men sanding next to him were killed. Another nearby seriously wounded.
Hemingway had serious wounds to his right foot and knee. He had been rendered unconscious and was under a pile of dirt.
Unknowingly, his consciousness returned. He picked up the wounded soldier next to him, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him back to a first aid dugout.
Totally unaware what he was doing. Never recalled the soldier, never recalled that he carried him back to the first aid area.
The Italian government became aware, however. They considered him a hero. He was awarded the Croce de Guerra, the Italian medal of valor.
He was shipped to a hospital in Milan for surgery and care. His leg wounds serious. His recovery time in the hospital six months. His nurse an American. Her name Agnes Hannah von Kurowsky.
They fell in love. A flaming love. Hemingway a bit younger at 18. Agnes, 26.
Hemingway was permitted a few days away from the hospital. He and Agnes visited Lake Maggiore. They stayed at the Grand Hotel in Stresa.
Following Hemingway’s recovery, he was sent back to the U.S. He thought Agnes would follow soon thereafter and they would be married.
Agnes changed her mind. Wrote a Dear John letter to Hemingway.
He was destroyed.
A Farewell to Arms is based on his experience in the Italian war and his relationship with Agnes. Only the ending different. Instead of the Dear John letter, Agnes’s counterpart died after a terrible trip in a raging storm in a rowboat over Lake Maggiore in an attempt to reach Switzerland. She died in child birth.
Hemingway’s character Catherine Barkley is based on Agnes.
I have been fortunate to have visited Lake Maggiore and the Grand Hotel several times.The Lake magnificent. Strewn with tiny islands. Bright flowers on shore and covering the islands.
I visited the Grand. Thrilling! A step back in time. Hemingway had stayed there, drank there.
The Grand and other hotels in Stresa all from another era. I assume built before 1900. All majestic.
I inquired of the bartender about Hemingway. He never met him. However there was a very old waiter who knew him and had waited on him when he was a bartender back in the time Hemingway and Agnes had been there.
The bartender introduced me to the gentleman I respectfully describe as the old bartender.
He was delighted to share with me those few days he had spent with Hemingway and Agnes. The bar was in the rear of the hotel at the time. Not up front as it was when I was there. He took me to see it. It was a small room. Now used for storage. One window. He showed me where Hemingway sat so he could get a view out the window.
I dined in area restaurants. One was on a small island off shore. A boat ride away. Somewhat like dining these days at Latitudes on Sunset Key. Except the island held only one small building. I had the feeling it once was a chapel. Sat outside on a balcony overlooking the water. Brilliant red flowers all around me.
The preceding merely an interruption. There is more to the Hemingway/Agnes story.
Hemingway had long left Key West. He was living in Cuba when Agnes opted to move to Key West. It was 1951. She remained till 1966. Her purpose in coming to Key West was not to see Hemingway.
Hemingway revisited Key West on occasion. Historians doubt he even knew Agnes was living on the island. Agnes never attempted to meet him. The former lovers never saw each other after Hemingway left Italy.
Agnes lived in Key West 15 years. A librarian at the Monroe County Library.
Agnes never shared her Hemingway relationship with anyone in Key West. However after a number of years, the “trolley car” people discovered her. She finally left in 1966 after becoming upset with the trolley cars going by her home every day and announcing on a loudspeaker that hers was the house where Hemingway’s first girl friend lived, the heroine in A Farewell to Arms, etc.
While still living in Key West, Agnes became friends with Hemingway’s fourth wife Mary.
After Hemingway died, Mary visited Key West to go through some boxes Hemingway had left in a back room at Sloppy Joe’s. It was in one of the boxes that Mary discovered Agnes’ Dear John letter to Hemingway. She also discovered some love notes Hemingway received from Agnes.
Agnes discovered Mary was now living in Key West. She visited with her. Returned the Dear John letter and love notes to her.
Ironically, Mary and Agnes became the best of friends and remained so the rest of their lives.
Enjoy your day!