Cuba allows access to Hemingway papers

More than 3,000 documents from the late author’s home are available

HAVANA – Cuba on Monday began accepting requests for electronic access to more than 3,000 documents from Ernest Hemingway’s home on the island, including the unpublished epilogue of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and coded messages the author sent when using his yacht to hunt for German submarines during World War II.

Unedited manuscripts, a screenplay for the “The Old Man and the Sea,” letters to the Nobel Laureate and insurance policies are among other papers at Finca Vigia, the hillside hideaway on the eastern outskirts of Havana where Hemingway lived from 1939 until 1960.

The 3,197 documents were scanned and organized electronically as part of a 2002 agreement between Cuban national heritage authorities and the New York-based Social Science Research Council, which also provided acid-free boxes and other storage materials to better protect the originals, said Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of the museum at Finca Vigia.

Alfonso said academics, researchers and others can petition the island’s heritage council to obtain electronic copies of specific documents. By lunchtime Monday, the museum was working on the first such petition, from a journalism professor in Spain seeking correspondence between Hemingway and Spanish author Jose Luis Castillo-Puche.

In an interview at the museum, whose name means “Lookout Farm,” Alfonso said about 1,000 more documents from Finca Vigia would be scanned and made available electronically upon request in two future phases, though she did not say when.

Alfonso said the collection does not include any newly discovered, previously unreleased literary works because the author’s widow, Mary Welsh, took most of those back to the United States following his suicide in 1961.

“If there are any new works that have not been published they are not in Cuba,” she said.

Sarah Doty, Cuba program coordinator for the Social Science Research Council, said authorities gave CDs and microfilm images of the Finca Vigia documents to the John F. Kennedy library in Boston, which will announce their arrival later this month. She said the council is “still working with Cuba as to who will be able to access the information.”

Maps, newspaper articles, letters
Finca Vigia plans to build a computer room where its roughly 50,000 annual visitors can view the documents, but Alfonso said work on that won’t begin for several years.

She said the collection includes coded messages Hemingway compiled when he used his fishing boat, El Pilar, to ply the waters north of Cuba during World War II, believing German U-boats were using the area to refuel.

There are keys to decode some of those messages, but museum officials have yet to decipher them.

“A lot of people ask, ‘What was Hemingway’s life in Cuba like?,'” Alfonso said. “This answers some of those questions.”

The collection also has maps, newspaper articles Hemingway clipped, receipts and carefully worded, diffident letters to Hemingway from his editors. The correspondence is one-sided since Hemingway’s replies were either mailed or taken out of Cuba by Welsh.

Alfonso said her museum used receipts from paint and building materials found at the home to determine what color they should make El Pilar as they worked to restore it.

Now displayed near the drained swimming pool outside Finca Vigia, the boat was painted dark brown.


About Particular Cuba
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