When Ernest Hemingway wasn’t in Paris, he preferred to be in Piggott, Arkansas, spending the holidays and summers with his second wife’s family.
Ernest Hemingway married his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, on May 10, 1927. The newlyweds made their way from Europe to Piggott, Arkansas. She was pregnant and wanted to be closer to her family before the birth of their son, Patrick. Hemingway worked on his novel A Farewell to Arms in the barn/studio behind the house, located on West Cherry Street in what is now the center of town.
Pauline’s father Paul moved his family from St. Louis, Missouri, to Arkansas in 1913 for the rich soil and timber. He was considered a model rural landowner and developed several 40- and 80-acre tracts for tenant farmers. He eventually sold it off to them at reasonable rates, something he is still remembered for around town.
The Hemingways spent Christmas in Piggott and then left for Europe again in January. They returned that summer with Patrick in tow and then moved to Key West in 1931. Pauline’s Uncle Gus Pfeiffer purchased what is now the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West for them as a gift. The film version of “A Farewell to Arms” was released in December of 1932, with a big premiere held in Piggott. HemingwayoiK refused to attend because he didn’t like the way the movie had turned out.
Otherwise, Hemingway loved Piggott and Pauline’s family. He told Esquire magazine in 1934 that the only other place he would rather be in than Paris was “Piggott, Arkansas in the fall.”
He visited Piggott for the last time in November of 1936. The following year, he would travel to Spain to cover the civil unrest and meet war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. He wrote to Pauline’s mother Mary in 1938 “Am going to Europe the end of the month … But I wish I were going to stay out here for a couple of months more and then come to visit you in Piggott and then go down to Key West.”
Pauline’s family didn’t know that her marriage to Heminway was over. Their divorce was final in 1940, and he married Martha.
Paul Pfeiffer passed away in 1944, and Mary stayed in the house in Piggott until her death in 1950. (Pauline died in 1951.) They were both instrumental in keeping the town alive, especially through the Great Depression. They bought homemade quilts from the townspeople and then sent them to those in need to help them stay warm in the winter. Paul would pay locals to chop firewood and then give it to them. The house has 46 layers of paint, 42 of them painted during the Great Depression to help those out of work.
After 1950, the house had only one owner through 1996 and everything was sold with it, so much of the house looks today as it did when the Hemingways visited. Mr. Pfeiffer had put in the hardwood floors, a fireplace and Stickley signed furniture.
In 1982, the home and carriage house were listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Arkansas State University purchased the property in 1997 and restored it to the time period when Hemingway visited. The $800,000 restoration included stripping the floors and wooden staircase, replacing doorknobs and hinges and even matching old paint chips.
Tours start on the hour Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and begin at the Museum Store, which sells copies of Hemingway’s books. The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center holds two Writers’ Retreats annually that include the opportunity to work in Hemingway’s Barn Studio.
House tours include the studio, which features an exhibit on Hemingway’s “animal trophies” from he and Pauline’s African safaris, a timeline of the Hemingway-Pfeiffers from 1927-1940 and his writing desk and typewriter. The home is indicative of a farmhouse with a wraparound porch on one side from the outside, but inside, it’s all Craftsman style. Dark wood window frames and an ornate pressed tin ceiling characterize most rooms, with a winding wooden staircase leading to bedrooms on the second floor.
During the holidays, the living room mantle is decorated with pine branches and lights and some poinsettias and wrapped presents on the hearth. A Christmas tree is set up in the music room across the entryway. Mrs. Pfeiffer’s altar is topped with an Advent wreath for the season, as she was a devout Catholic.
It’s also worth touring the Matilda & Karl Pfeiffer Museum & Study Center located behind the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum. This is the home of Pauline’s brother and sits on 11 acres of gardens. Inside, the home is also beautifully decorated for Christmas, with a tall tree in the great room/library. The house has more than 1,400 mineral specimens and geodes that were collected by Matilda Pfeiffer on display.
Hemingway-Pfeiffer is a suggested donation of $10 to tour, but Matilda and Karl’s house is free, so fans might as well do both.
WHERE TO STAY
Piggott is a small town, but its square has lots of shopping and several restaurants so it’s worth spending the night at the Inn at Piggott. With more of a bed and breakfast feel, the inn has a Pauline-themed room, a Safari Room, Writer’s Room, Movie Room and more. The common area on the second floor is a great spot for reading, and you can make a cup of tea in the adjacent dining room and enjoy breakfast there the next morning.
Piggott’s other claim to fame is being the location for scenes from the 1957 movie “A Face in the Crowd,” a film debut for Andy Griffith and also starring Patricia Neal. Remnants of this can be seen downtown, along with two murals for “A Farewell to Arms.”
Courthouse Square has a petrified trees display to mark the Mississippi River’s many changes in course, and the post office has a WPA mural from the New Deal era. Eat at the Hen House Cafe or Front Street Pizza, and shop at the Rusty Lantern for antiques and The Nest for gifts. Find out more about Piggott here.