ERNEST GOES TO PIGGOTT

If you are in Piggott (highway 62 next to the Missouri boot heel), you are there on purpose. One doesn't pass through Piggott on the way from someplace to someplace else. It's not on the way. One doesn't turn off the interstate for gas and snacks and find oneself in Piggott. You can't get there that way. It's not that kind of a place. And if somebody there asks, "What brings you to town, stranger?" have your answer ready.

Pfeiffer House (left) and 'The Red Barn' (right)If you've gone to all the trouble to get to Piggott, you're probably visiting this place. This is the Pfeiffer House at Tenth and Cherry Streets. Ernest Hemingway was a frequent visitor here from 1927 to 1940, during which time he was married to Pauline Pfeiffer, daughter of Piggott residents Paul and Mary, owners of this white house. Pauline was the second of Papa's four wives, and the the second of three wives to be a resident of St. Louis.

That rust red building behind the house is known locally as "The Red Barn." The Pfeiffers converted this carriage house into an apartment and studio to provide privacy and quiet for Hemingway as he wrote "A Farewell to Arms" and probably fragments of the seven other books he wrote while married to Pauline. Tour Group Entering Hemingway's StudioHere's what it looks like close up.

The property has recently come under the administration of Arkansas State University at Jonesboro. The Red Barn is now a Hemingway Museum and the Pfeiffer House serves as a literary conference center so that visiting literati can study Hemingway in a place where he lived and wrote.

Hemminway's Tawlitt an SankAnd while he did his writing in the studio, I suspect he did a certain amount of his reading here. Hemingway's toilet! Wowee! Okay, it's not exactly Galileo's fingerbone, but if you're the type that take's your Hemingway seriously then I guess this is the right end of your rainbow. In addition to Hemingway's toilet, the tourguide can point out Hemingway's typewriter, Hemingway's desk, Hemingway's chair, Hemingway's stove, Hemingway's zebra pelt, and so on.

I spoke with Bruce Janes, who moved into the Pfeiffer House when his family bought the place in 1950 and who until recently lived right across the street. He told me about finding Papaesque stuff like a zebra pelt in the Old Barn. He also mentioned that when he moved in, his family found a stack of autographed first editions in a closet (long since donated to various libraries). The Pfeiffers had left them behind, the inference being that there was no love lost between Hemingway and his former in-laws.

From the collection of Hemingway articles in the Piggott Public Library (off Main Street behind the Post Office--see librarian Gay Johnson) nobody around here thought Hemingway was worth the dirt it took to cover him up; and Hemingway had little regard for the locals, whom he considered bumpkins. Down-to-earth country people had little patience for the peculiarities of Hemingway's moody, eccentric artistic temperament and his nonconformist mode of dress. One local described him as being a hippie before there was such a thing, traipsing around openly in shorts, t-shirts and sandals. The nerve of that guy! Well, it was the '30's.

He was also characterized as a freeloader, showing up in Piggott to mooch off in-laws after he had squandered earnings from his books on high living and extravagant travel, and folks who "worked for a living, dammit" weren't really all that impressed by the Pulitzer Prize thing. Given Hemingway's reputation at the time, it seems that Piggott was the only place on earth he could go and be expected to conform to local norms. It was the one place where his literary genius earned him no special regard and absolutely no social indulgence.

Considering the hunting and fishing opportunities of Arkansas, especially early in the century, I can't help but wonder at his disdain for Piggott. I should have thought this place would be a haven for an outdoorsman like Hemingway, the one place on earth he could go and hunt and fish and not have to act the part of a genius.

Here's a link to the Red Barn's Official Web Site.

RTJ--11/27/97

UPDATED RTJ--8/6/99

UPDATED RTJ--4/1/2000


In the neighborhood: Herman Davis Monument (WWI hero)


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