Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Hemingway's Fishing Rod: A Study of the First African Plane Crash and Rescue

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Hemingway's Fishing Rod: A Study of the First African Plane Crash and Rescue

Article excerpt


This essay examines Ernest Hemingway's recollections of the airplane crashes and rescues during his second African safari in articles for Look magazine. These articles present a man in denial concerning the physical and psychological effects of his injuries. The essay analyzes Hemingway's accounts of the story and compares them a version obtained in an interview with Gino Abreo, son of the man who rescued the Hemingways.

KEY WORDS: Safari, Africa, Plane Crash, Rescue, Masculinity, Persona



It all started one evening last summer, when I was invited to my neighbors' house for a curry. Our hosts, Merlyn and Gino, thought I might be interested in a story about Ernest Hemingway. "About Hemingway? Tell me the story."

The story begins with a recollection, a photograph, and a fishing rod. Ernest and Mary Hemingway were stranded near the Murchison Falls in East Africa after their plane crash-landed in 1954. The next morning, they were rescued by a launch sailing down the river. The captain of the launch was Gino's father. Hemingway gave the skipper his fishing rod as a gesture of thanks, and Mary had her photograph taken with him as a memento.

"Oh really, how interesting!" Eventually the subject was exhausted that evening, but, for me, something had started: I decided to investigate the story of Hemingway's air crash and rescue further.

On 23 January 1954, having just completed his second African safari, Ernest Hemingway, his wife, and their pilot Roy Marsh crashed in Marshs Cessna 180 near the Murchison Falls during a tour of the Congo Basin. After spending the night in the open air, the party was picked up by a launch sailing nearby and traveled to Butiaba, where they agreed to fly back to Entebbe with Reginald Cartwright in his H-89 de Havilland Rapide. Unfortunately, Cartwright's plane caught fire during take-off and crashed; the party was lucky to survive. Sandwiched between the two plane disasters is the 24 January 1954 boat rescue. There is not much more to that story except Gino's sketchy account--for he was only ten years old at the time--and Hemingway's version of the incident in a two-part article for Look magazine, entitled "The Christmas Gift." I therefore decided to conduct my own research. The first air crash and the subsequent rescue is the stuff of high drama. However, critics regard it as relatively insignificant compared to the second crash, since the injuries sustained by Hemingway in that one were very serious and are viewed by many as the beginning of his decline.

Hemingway's recollections of the crashes in "The Christmas Gift," written just days after the second crash but before the period when he began looking back to the past in his prose, reveal a man who is in denial concerning the physical and psychological effects of both plane crashes. In "The Christmas Gift," Hemingway portrays an exaggerated version of his well-known masculine persona, but when the articles version of events are compared to Gino Abreos version, obtained in an interview, and to Mary Hemingway's version in her autobiography, How It Was (1977), a richer, more complicated Hemingway emerges. In these versions, Hemingway appears on the cusp of a significant change as he recognizes the hollowness of the persona and begins to register that the injuries he sustained would change his quality of life and his ability to work.

Articles about the Hemingway rescue headlined many of the morning papers on 25 January 1954, such as in The New York Times: "Hemingway and Wife Reported Safe After Two Plane Crashes in East Africa" (Associated Press 1). The article is accompanied by a large photograph of the writer holding a rifle and posing with a dead leopard with the caption: "Ernest Hemingway with leopard he killed recently in Africa" (Associated Press 1). The photograph depicts strength and virility: Hemingway's steady pose, chin held high, eyes proud, holding his rifle over the dead beast. …

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