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Hemingway house tour plan abandoned


The back of the Hemingway house in Ketchum, Idaho, is shown in 2004. 
 (File/Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
The back of the Hemingway house in Ketchum, Idaho, is shown in 2004. (File/Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
John Miller Associated Press

BOISE – Plans to open for public tours the Ketchum house where author Ernest Hemingway killed himself in 1961 have been scrubbed, a victory for neighbors who said gawking tourists would have disrupted their upscale neighborhood.

Now the Nature Conservancy, the environmental group that inherited the house in 1986 from the writer’s fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, plans to hire a caretaker and use the home for charitable events and fund-raising.

The conservancy had originally hoped to change the zoning on the property and then give it to a foundation, which would have offered tours.

But prolonged opposition from neighbors – who threatened to sue – became a liability, said Lou Lunte, the acting director of the environmental group’s Idaho chapter.

“We didn’t see an impact on fund-raising, but certainly it was taking a lot of time,” Lunte said Thursday. “We were getting a lot of questions about the house. Our focus is wildlife preservation. Spending time answering the questions wasn’t allowing us to focus on the incredible features in Idaho we are trying to protect.”

Traces of Hemingway remain in the home: There’s a typewriter on the top floor, beneath a window facing the mountains. Animal heads, including an impala from Africa, adorn the walls, and a painting by Waldo Pierce, one of the author’s buddies from 1920s Spain, is mounted in a stairwell.

But neighbors hated the proposal that would have brought as many as two tours to the house daily.

They argued that a road leading to the property was on private land and wasn’t open to even limited tours. They also said that Ketchum city officials would be violating zoning laws if they agreed to allow a public tourist venue in a residential neighborhood.

They also argued that while Hemingway killed himself at the house, he did little or no writing at the property.

Judy Whitmyre, who lives just down the road, said Thursday she was “very pleased” by the decision to abandon the tour concept.

Meanwhile, the neighbors have installed “No Trespassing” signs to keep the curious away from the place, located above a 13-acre preserve also overseen by the Nature Conservancy on the Big Wood River.

The conservancy said it will need to raise money to restore the home, built in 1954 and showing its age. The group still has $300,000 in a fund to maintain the home – money inherited from Mary Hemingway. But that only earns about $15,000 annually in interest, just enough to keep up with maintenance, Lunte said.

Lunte said his group plans to get a professional restoration expert to assess the property and estimate how much money is needed to spruce it up and preserve its historical character. And the conservancy will schedule functions at the home to raise money.

“We plan to use the home,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for residences to be open for charitable functions.”

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