Jonathan Salem Baskin

Two Shells

Today, two shells evidenced a disease.

It was early in the morning on this day in 1961, probably still a bit cool in Ketchum, Idaho. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Mary had lived for a little over a year, though they’d spent a fair amount of time traveling been back and forth to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where Hemingway had received something close to two dozen electroshock treatments (ECT induces convulsions and unconsciousness in a “colonic” process to help alleviate the symptoms of severe depression). Only this morning, Hemingway was crumpled on the floor of the front foyer of his home, the back of his head blown off and two spent shells at his side. He’d killed himself, over fear of losing control of a life filled with numerous near-death scrapes (as some would hypothesize), or the pressures of living up to the expectations of a Nobel Prize winner who’d all but perfected his ability to pare words and phrases to their most simple and direct truths. We’ll never know.

However poetic the theories of his death seemed, the authorities at the time thought an admission of suicide was socially unacceptable, so his death was instead labeled an accident (his wife kept to that version for five years). It turns out there was a third explanation for it, though, only one that wasn’t revealed until Hemingway’s medical records were released in 1991: He suffered from hemochromatosis, which is a blood disease that leads to mental and physical deterioration. Before his death, the only treatment was bloodletting to alleviate the blood’s iron imbalances, and there’s no evidence Hemingway was ever treated. Both his sister and a brother killed themselves also, further supporting the presence and effects of this genetic disease.

So who (or what) killed him?

Here’s the link to Today in the Histories of Social Media, and this is the latest edition of Histories of Social Media