The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum in Illinois Might Shut Down Forever—Here’s How to Help Save It

A baby Hemingway tottered through the halls of this idyllic edifice.
A baby Hemingway tottered through the halls of this idyllic edifice. / Eden, Janine and Jim, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

On July 21, 1899, Ernest Hemingway was born in a stately, two-story home in Oak Park, Illinois, that his grandparents had built at the start of the decade. These days, it’s known as the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum, and is a must-see cultural institution for literature lovers and anyone who appreciates fine Victorian decor. Not only does the museum draw thousands of tourists each year, it also sponsors scholarships and residencies, holds performances and book talks, and organizes other events that foster a sense of community among the area’s up-and-coming writers. In other words, just the sort of a modern-day salon that Papa himself may even have frequented had he been born a century later.

The museum is run by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, a nonprofit organization established in 1983. Since the foundation relies largely on admissions revenue, rather than an endowment, to fund the whole operation, the coronavirus shutdown has seriously threatened its future. "The doors will close this winter, and we will not be able to reopen them in the spring," the website reads.

In order to prevent a permanent closure, the board has set up a GoFundMe account and is asking the public to help them raise $75,000. So far, donations total about $14,000. If you’d like to contribute, you can do so here.

There are other ways to support the cause, too. On Saturdays, the museum is now offering 50-minute tours for $15 per person ($13 for senior citizens, children, and college students). Each tour caps out at eight people, and everyone is required to wear a mask. There are also virtual tours available for those who don’t live close enough for an in-person visit.

If you’re interested in becoming a part of the museum’s community beyond a one-time tour or donation, you can check out membership options here. For $50, you can become a patron, which earns you free tour admission, discounts on gift shop items, and an annual subscription to the museum’s publication, Hemingway Despatch. A society-level membership is quite a bit more expensive—with dues ranging from $250 to $1500—but it will give you the opportunity to take advantage of the museum’s new “Work from Hemingway’s” initiative. Basically, you get the whole museum to yourself for up to an entire day. There’s Wi-Fi, plenty of luxurious old furniture, and a home library that’s well worth canceling a few Zoom meetings for.

As for what the author of The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms would think of our current global predicament: he’d definitely be able to relate. Not only did Hemingway live through the 1918 flu pandemic, he also spent the summer of 1926 quarantined in France with his wife, son, and mistress.