Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ

TRICK OR TREATIN’ JESUS CHRIST

By Harry Sneed

For as many years as I’d been trick or treating, my grandma had been dragging me to Sunday school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Sunday school. Because I did. I enjoyed the creative crafts we made and sat spell-bound listening to the amazing biblical stories my teachers told. I just didn’t like getting up early when it wasn’t a school day and I absolutely despised getting dressed up. However, grandma’s persistence paid off. When I was ten years old, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Shortly thereafter, to the amazement of my grandmother and the relief of my Sunday school teachers, I was baptized in front of the entire congregation of Bellefontaine Baptist Church. Halleluiah. 

Being immersed in water like John did to Jesus was an outward demonstration of an inner personal change. Or so the scriptures say. Baptism made you an official, certified, eternally-saved-from-hell, born-again Christian. Praise. Jesus. Now being “born-again” meant it was my duty to put off the old sinful ways of the heathen boy I used to be and start being a good boy. I had to stop doing the bad things my old self already had a hankering to do. Like riding my bike off the roof of Mr. Sexton’s old garden shed, shooting my brother with the BB gun and egging houses on Halloween who turned off all their lights, so they didn’t have to hand out candy.

I was a new creature in Christ. One who went to bed on time and took out the trash, not the third time, but the first time my dad told me. I picked up our dog’s poop with the discipline of a disciple and dried the dishes with the sweetness of a saint. I even said my nightly prayers. And God knows (because He never heard them before) I never did that. So, when Halloween came around in 1972, the year of my Christian conversion, I decided I wasn’t ever going to dress up like anything evil ever again. Nope. No bloody vampires. No fanged werewolves. Not even a crazed zombie, the easiest of all evil costumes to create. I was on the straight and narrow path of righteousness and my Halloween costume had to reflect my piety. 

And so it came to be one Sabbath morning as I was walking from Sunday school into what mom like to call “Big Church”, I strolled past a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall. He was standing at a door and had a peaceful and loving countenance about him. His right hand was stretched out as if he were knocking on the door. I stopped and reverently observed the picture. Hmmm. Jesus. Door. Knocking. I got an idea. No, it was more than an idea. It was a divine inspiration from God! 

I hustled home and rummaged through my closet and found an old pair of leather sandals. I borrowed my old man’s polyester robe and found a straggly pirate’s beard from a past costume. When I put them all together, I was the world’s first, and to the best of my knowledge, the only—Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ. 

Can I hear an Amen?

I had the costume, but something was missing. Now everyone knows that Jesus loved to hand out those little colorful pamphlets to people at the grocery stores and airports. That’s why so many Christians did it. So several weeks before the big day, I asked Mr. Cain, my Sunday school teacher, if I could have a handful of those little pamphlets. He explained they were called “witnessing tracts’ and they told how a person could go to heaven and live with God for eternity.

“Why do you want them?” Mr. Cain asked. 

“Because I’m going to be a Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ for Halloween.” I smiled, stuck out my chest and proudly proclaimed. “And I want to hand out them “witnessing tracts” while I’m going door to door getting candy.”

Mr. Cain had known me my entire life. He also knew my pre-born-again personality. When several goldfish showed up in the baptismal tank one Sunday morning. He knew the culprit behind the devilish deed. And when a couple of the choir members sat down one sabbath after singing, “Just As I Am” and the farting echo of a whoopie cushion resonated pass the pews and into the front foyer, Mr. Cain, along with the rest of the laughing congregation, turned a raised eyebrow in my direction. The thought of me acting saintly in any manner made Mr. Cain chuckle out loud. But he gave me a handful of witnessing tracts anyway. Mr. Cain was a kind and giving Christian man like that.

The final days of October dragged on like Reverend Elsworth’s closing prayers. Slow. Painful. Torturing my soul and sweet tooth with anticipation. They say an idle mind is the devil’s playground. So to kill time I drew up a map of my neighborhood and circled the houses of all the unsaved people. The Heathens. The Lost Souls. The ones who needed a witnessing tract from the Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ. I circled the Cohens house with a big red marker. The Dodridges, with their perpetual pot smoking and rock and roll music always blasting away, also got circled. 

But the one house who needed salvation more than any other. The one surely on a one-way train to Hell was our next-door neighbors, the Kennisons. It wasn’t really “the Kennisons” who needed to be saved. It was Mr. Kennison specifically. Mrs. Kennison was as sweet as a playful kitten. She’d sometimes make us Kool-aid ice cubes and there wasn’t a summer when she wasn’t handing bags full of delicious, juicy tomatoes over the fence to mom. 

However, Mr. Kennison was a totally different character. He always had a mean and strained look on his face like he was eternally constipated. He couldn’t talk in a normal voice either. He was constantly screaming as if he were trying to out talk a running lawnmower. Brash. Belligerent. At night when his dog wouldn’t come in right away, he’d curse so loud and long that stray dogs often showed up on his porch just to shut him up. But that wasn’t what made Mr. Kennison the meanest man on the block. It was the fact that he shot squirrels with his pellet gun. At least that’s what mom said made him the meanest man on the street. While Mrs. Kennison spent most of her life planting flowers and vegetables in her garden, Mr. Kennison made a career of swooshing away birds and rabbits and shooting squirrels on the prowl for a ripe tomato or tulip bulb.

“And that’s just mean!” My mom would say and I’d shake my head in solemn agreement. But secretly, deep inside, the thought of shooting a squirrel with a pellet gun was deliciously exciting. It conjured up way more fun than that derived from the aforementioned shooting my brother with a BB gun. Squirrel hunting with a pellet gun was the adolescent ecstasy and the envy of every boy on the block. But I was no longer like every boy on the block. I was a born-again Christian boy.

The last night of October finally crept upon the calendar. I quickly transformed from a normal wild-mannered schoolboy into the Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ. A second after the mercury streetlight in front of our house began to glow, I hurried out the door. Like potions in a witch’s cauldron, ghouls, ghosts, and goblins poured onto the streets and mixed and mingled with their righteous counterparts: angels, fairies and princesses. And on that particular year, they were joined by the greatest of all evil eradicators. The Prince of Peace. The night was murky and chilled with an autumn breeze, but a fire of righteousness warmed my soul. I walked directly to the Kennison’s house.

Knock. Knock. I pounded on their door with the confidence of a tele-evangelist. Mr. Kennison’s grimacing face opened the door.

“Tricketh or treateth, ye participant of this pagan holiday,” I commanded in my best Jesus voice.

Mr. Kennison starred down with curiosity and asked. “What the hell are you, a hippy?”

“No.” I rolled my eyes at his ignorance. “I’m Jesus Christ.” I proclaimed.

That threw him for little dizzy and cause him to chuckle. “Well, that’s nice. But even Jesus doesn’t get any candy without a joke. Do you know one?”

I eagerly shook my head yes and said, “Pretend that I’m standing in heaven. OK?”

Mr. Kennison agreed.

“Knock, knock.” I chanted.

“Who’s there?” he replied.

“Not you!” And with those words, I handed him a witnessing tract that explained in full-colored cartoons how he too could be born-again and live forever in heaven. I gave him a loving Jesus smile, took a handful of Sixlets out of his candy bowl and turned to convert the rest of the neighborhood into Christians.

The evening was going heavenly. I was witnessing to werewolves and passing out tracts to gypsies, tramps, and thieves. I even tried laying healing hands upon a pretty little witch with an ugly, crooked nose. But she got scared, dropped her cauldron full of candy and ran. I picked it up and tossed it into my pillowcase.

“The riches of the wicked are stored up for the righteous. Proverbs 13:22!” I preached as she scurried away. 

My mission had got me so wrapped up that I wasn’t paying attention. I suddenly found myself on a street beyond the boundaries of my trick or treating zone established by mom and dad. Not. Good. There was a group of kids standing in front of an old dark and dilapidated house. Scattered about its weedy and overgrown lawn, one could see the top of fake tombstone and giant spiderwebs. Everything about this place screamed playfully spooky. But in a psychotic killer and extremely scary kind of way. I could plainly hear the whispers of the kids on the sidewalk in front of the haunted house. 

“That’s were Michael Calester got killed!” An astronaut said to a nun. 

“I heard Satan worshippers live there and they kidnap children on Halloween to sacrifice to the devil.” Minnie Mouse whispered to a group of mummies. 

Each began daring one another to race up the path and knock on the front door. But no one was accepting the challenge. It was then when one of the boys noticed me standing curiously by myself on the other side of the street. Maybe it was the Captain Kangaroo or the Lone Ranger, I don’t remember. But whoever made the comment thought he was being exceptionally funny when he loudly shouted.

“Hey look! It’s Jesus. Let’s see if he’ll do it!”

Everyone turned and looked at me. I knew in an instant what they were thinking. They were thinking exactly what I had always thought about Jesus. He wasn’t afraid of ANYTHING. And since I was a Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ, it had suddenly fallen upon me to be just as fearless. “I’ll show them,” I said to myself and proceeded to walk bravely past the smoking tombstones, through the gigantic spiderwebs and over the realistic bloody body parts sprawled across the lawn. Dear. Lord. Protect. Me. 

As I neared the porch, I imagined my mind was playing tricks on me because I thought I heard the theme song of the Twilight Zone playing. But it wasn’t a trick. It was real. Blaring from the television just in front of the window, I heard the famous twinkling hi-pinched cords. Du-du. Du-du. Du-du. Du-du. 

I stepped on the porch. On the door hung a sign that read, “TRICK OR TREATERS WILL BE EATEN!” And below the words was a picture of a cauldron with what looked to be children’s arms and legs floating in a brew stirred by an evil witch. For a brief moment, I thought, “This door looks nothing like the door Jesus was knocking on in the picture at Big Church.” The thought weighed heavily on my mind as I knocked loud enough for my heathen spectators on the sidewalk to hear. 

A moment later everything in the house went silent. And then black.

“It’s time.” A low, raspy, voice called from behind the door. 

I have to admit. I was scared and began to shake. I didn’t want to shake. I was on a mission from God to prove that the Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ was as fearless as the real Jesus. We were both brave and bold, even as we stood at the gates of hell of a haunted house. That’s why I didn’t want to shake. But the voice that grumbled on the other side of the door sounded so eerie, so bone-chilling cold that my heart began beating twice its normal speed. Which sent electromagnetic shocks down my spine that caused every limb from my nose to my toes to pulsate and quiver.

I stood there shaking. I didn’t risk knocking again. I rationalized in my small, possibly soon-to-be-eaten brain that maybe they didn’t hear the knock. Or they’d ignore it and continued watching The Twilight Zone. I would live and could walk proudly back to my audience and say in a smug and religiously demeaning voice, “No one was home.” 

But the darkness from inside the house broke as light as red as blood permeated from beneath the bottom of the door. The cowardly trick or treaters standing on the sidewalk took a deep gasp in unison. In a sad sense, I was mildly relieved to know they were there to act as witnesses should I become a ten-year-old Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ martyr. 

Clonk. Silence. Clonk. Silence. Clonk.

The footsteps came closer and closer. The knob turned slowly and the door squeaked open. With each parting inch, more of the blood red light poured forth until I was momentarily blinded. When I gathered my eyesight, there, standing in the horror of a little kid’s way, was Satan.

Now, in all my years of treat or treating, I had seen many Satans. Hell, they were as common as witches and hobos. But this wasn’t your normal everyday Halloween Satan. This was the biggest, most horrific, evilest-looking Prince of Darkness I had ever set eyes on. His horns weren’t attached to his head by a black plastic headband like the kind they sold at Ben Franklin. His horns actually protruded from his forehead with drops of blood streaming from them. His eyes were bloodshot and possessed. But what validated to my soul that this was the REAL Satan, was the glowing cigarette bobbing between his lips. 

Only the real Satan would be puffing on a Winston.

He gave an evil laugh and I watched in horror as the cherry on the end of the cigarette bounce up and down. It hypnotized me just long enough not to notice the chainsaw he was holding in his right hand. He held it up over his head and pulled the handle. A burst of grey smoke billowed in my face. An ear piercing Ggggrrrrrrggggggrrrrr rang out around my ears. It was at that exact moment when my brain instantly shouted to my kidneys, 

“Pee! Go ahead Harry, pee in your pants. It’s OK, just do it. NOW!!!”

And I would have pissed all over myself right there and then, had I not been wearing my ol’ man’s robe and I didn’t have an audience of my peers standing behind me. Yep, I would have diddled in my drawers like a toddler in training pants. But I didn’t.

They say in extreme tragic situations people often display signs of supernatural power. Old ladies have been known to lift cars off of loved ones and children have jumped out of four-story burning buildings without an injury. In that instant, I experienced something supernatural. It was an indescribable spiritual jolt that infused me with the power of the Holy Spirit and caused me to do what any newly born-again, ten-year-old boy would do; I hauled off and kicked Satan square in the nuts and ran like hell.

I think I heard a faint groan and perhaps he may have cut himself in two with the chainsaw. But I didn’t give an owl’s hoot. I didn’t even look back. I bolted down that path and into the street. The group of kids watching the whole nightmare parted like the Red Sea. I ran through them. And I ran. And ran. I didn’t stop running until I saw Mr. Kennison standing on his front porch. I prayed with all my might he had his pellet gun handy just in case Satan was chasing after me. I hit his steps at full speed. He caught me in his arms with a look of fear in my face that drain the color of my cheeks.

“Good God almighty boy, you look as if you’d seen a ghost!”  Mr. Kennison said and then looked out into the darkness beyond his porch. 

“Worse!” I said. Then I attempted to try and tell him what had just happened. But I couldn’t. I was out of breath and panting like a marathon runner. The normal scowl perpetually implanted on Mr. Kennison’s face got soft and troubled.

“You OK son?” He put his hand on my shoulder and patiently waited for my answer.

It took a minute or two, but I finally calmed down enough tell Mr. Kennison my entire Satan story. When I got to the part of kicking the devil in the balls, he let out a laugh so loud that it still echoes in my ears even to this day. I begged him not to tell my folks. They wouldn’t like the idea of me doing something as un-Christian as that to anyone. Didn’t matter if it was Satan or not. Not to mention the fact I was out of my Trick or Treating zone. Mr. Kennison smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen him smile in the ten years I’d know him. He promised me that it was locked in the vault of his mind and it would stay there forever. 

That was the last time I was ever a Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ. I put the costume away and remained an angelic, born-again boy for about another three weeks. Then I went back to my normal mischievous and sinful ways. Mr. Kennison started back at shooting squirrels for sport. One Saturday morning while mom was off garage-saling, Mr. Kennison was sitting on his back porch with a hunter’s stare in his eyes and his pellet gun on his lap. I could see a parade of squirrels bantering back and forth across his yard. 

“I could sure use some help fighting off these little demons.” Mr. Kennison yelled across the fence and gave me a sinister grin. I hurried inside and grabbed my BB gun and then jumped the fence and climbed up on Mr. Kennison’s back porch. For the next hour, we shot those squirrels right in whatever nuts they happened to be carrying. Mom never found out. 

We became good friends after that. You might even say, Mr. Kennison became like a surrogate grandpa. He took me fishing and helped me build a go-cart out of plywood and old lawnmower wheels. I don’t know if Mr. Kennison ever read that witnessing tract. But sometimes he and Mrs. Kennison did join us for Easter and Christmas church services. I felt sinfully proud when they did. Like I had something to do with them being there and by doing so I had earned an extra gold star on my heavenly chart. Funny how, as the years went by, Mr. Kennison’s perpetual grimace sort of faded away and his voice softened. I grew up and got married and had children of my own. The last time I saw Mr. Kennison before he died, I couldn’t help but notice his face, while old and wrinkled, had the countenance and serenity of another face that I once admired. Jesus. Door. Knocking. 

For many years I kept the whole Trick or Treatin’ Jesus Christ story a secret. Mostly because I was ashamed of my cowardliness and felt that I had let Jesus down. But I got older and as I look back at it all, it’s rather humorous. Now I share my story to whoever wants to lend an eager ear. To this day, I can honestly say, I’ve never met anyone who could say they’ve had the nerve or the pleasure of kicking Satan where it counts.

Websites. Email Lists. And the many hats an indie author wears.

Every IA (Indie Author) should have a website. Be it an inexpensive one you can get from Wix, Weebly or Site123. Or a costly, extravagant one with the frills and frolics of an interactive cyber playground of information about yourself. Like the one I’m creating from WordPress.com 

Theoretically, these companies offer “free” websites. But to look professional by not having their domain attached to yours or their ads all over your site or limited amounts of features, functions and data storage, you’re going to have to upgrade from their free pages to a paid plan. Fortunately, some of these paid plans are extremely affordable. 

When I look back at when I was 19 yrs old in 1982 and I started my first company and had to pay $250 a month for a business card size print ad in the local Yellow Pages directory verses being able to create an incredibly, colorful website filled with almost unlimited text, photos and videos that go out to the entire world, it softens the pain of paying that yearly fee to WordPress.com

Facebook pages, Instagram and literary social sites like Goodreads and Bookbub are excellent free alternatives to a personal website, and I encourage every IA to have one. But here’s the downfall of those particular platforms. You’re “dependent” or under the authority of another unseen social media master. Should you post something that doesn’t sit well with the overloads, or perhaps there’s a dramatic change in policy, all it takes is one click of an overload’s mouse and you’re closed. Bye. Bye. You no longer have access to your reader fan base. 

However, your own personal website is independent of overlords. You are the Master of your own marketing fate and the captain of your literary soul. A website allows you to up the game in authenticating your authorship. You can tell all about yourself, so your readers get to know you better. Which is important because engagement with your readers sells books!!! And as oppose to the 300 to 700-word blurb you’re limited to on the back of your book or on book selling venues, a website gives you unlimited space to tell readers in complete detail what your book is about. Bottom line, a personal website is one-stop-shop for everything your potential reader and customer needs to know about both you and your book. 

That’s the great news about having your own website! But here’s the bad news. As an IA, you’ve now just added another hat to hang on the wall of the skills, tasks and the knowledge that’s needed to become a successful writer. ARGH.

Unless you have the money to pay someone to create your site, you’ve now just added web designer to your IA resume. It goes right at the end of the long list of the other skills you’re currently developing which looks something like this: writer, editor, designer, graphic designer, researcher, book reviewer, IT manager, publisher, social media manager and marketing director. And should you decide to create a YouTube channel or podcast, the list grows exponentially. Welcome to the IA world!!! 

Here’s a quick snapshot of my past weekend as a website developer.

I’m at the beginning stages of creating an email list. Which I believe is the number one way for an IA to market their book. It’s also the safest and most reliable. Remember, when you’re under the authority of another social media overlord like Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. You’re also susceptible to them shutting down your communication flow to your readers or potential readers. But with an email list, YOU possess those email addresses in your database. They’re in your computer. Your laptop. Your files. You can do whatever your little IA heart wants to do with that list as long as it’s ethical and legal. 

To launch my first novel, “The Hoosier Girl”, I decided to have a “give-away” as a means of increasing my Reader Fan Club. I’m giving away a $300 Barnes and Noble gift card and an autographed copy of my book, “The Hoosier Girl” to the winner. All one has to to do is fill out the registration form that I created and complete the other requirements on my book’s homepage. (BTW if you’re reading this after March 20, 2021 the contest is over.)


I created the above form through a WordPress plug-in called www.getresponse.com A “plug in” is an additional component that you can add to your website that offers you and your readers more bells and whistles. Think of a plug-in as an option on a new car. You want electric windows, blue-tooth stereo and leather interior?  No problem. You’re just going to have to pay extra. Plug-ins can allow your website to have things like, a calendar of events, manage payments for products you want to sell on your website and increase your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to get your website out to the world better.

While there are thousands of free plugins, the majority of them work on the “Hook and Hand Over Your Credit Card” program (as oppose to the bait and switch style). We’re all familiar with this ploy that goes something like this. I want to get you hooked on my plug-in that most probably will satisfy your basic needs. So you sign up. You start playing with the plug-in and suddenly, Oh, but look at these really beautiful bells and whistles you could also have with our plug-in. You want them? Great! Just upgrade to our next level by handing over your credit card information and you’ve got them. 

Even WordPress works on this program. Sure, you can have a nice website on WordPress for $x dollars a month. However, if you want to use plug-ins on your site, you’re going to have upgrade to business subscription, which is more money. You then start to follow Alice down the financial rabbit hell hole that takes you to adding costs, upon costs, upon costs to your website. 

For example, I’m currently on a free 30-day trial period of an email list management plugin called  www.getresponse.com. But after 30 days, I’ll be paying $25 a month for them to act as my email gathering, form building and newsletter distribution center. That $25 is only good for up to 1,000 “contacts” on my list. When I go beyond the 1,000 contacts, the price increases. 

For those who may be wondering if www.Getresponse.com is just another type of “overlord” who could cut off communication with my Reader Fan Club. The answer is yes, sort of. While they do host the data and they could close my account. I’m able to export my email list(s) at any time into my own computer. Where I can use them either from my own email program (Outlook) or get another email management company.

In addition to gathering emails from my $300 Barns and Noble give-away. I’ve also created a “Harry’s Reader’s Fan Club” form (above) and put it in the side bar so that it’s visible on every page. This form is for those who come to my website and like what they see/read and want to stay connected. As a member of my “Reader Fan Club”, I use this list to give special discounts on my products and tell them of new releases of books, blogs and posts in a weekly or monthly newsletter depending on how much time I have:)  

Because I’m a web developing dork, as oppose to a geek who would know what to do, I literally spent 6 hours giving birth to these two simple forms. It took me about an hour to create them and another five hours of “chatting” with technical support at godaddy, Getresponse, WordPress and Microsoft to get them all to work together. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye, 6 hours of my extremely valuable time was wasted playing website developer. 

Do you know how many words I could have written for my blogs or my books in 6 hours? Or the emails/newsletters I could have created to send to those people on the list? It’s frustrating and sometimes even disheartening to travel down the path of an IA. But that’s the road I’m chosen to take for my first book. I don’t want to bow down to the big publisher overloards and let them take control of my literary baby. But by doing so, I’m working my ass off living The Writer’s Life. Investing lots of time and money fulfilling my IA obligations. Will it be worth it? I’ll let you know in a year.

Hell, in a year from now, I could be offered a nice chunk of change from a big publisher overlord who says, just give us the story and manuscript and we’ll wear all the other hats. I can spend my time doing what I enjoy and I’m most passionate about. Writing. Wordsmithing. Creating. 

Will I accept that offer? I don’t know. I’m still baby in the book world. I guess it depends on the number of zeros on the check and if I’m not mentally and physically worn out while figuratively prostituting myself to gain a greater readership.

BTW. Here is a screen shot of my current two email lists and the total of contacts in each list as of this writing. 

Eventually, I will migrate the two list together and voila! I will now have a Readers Fan Club of 85!! That’s pretty exciting to me considering the book doesn’t come out for another six weeks. SIX WEEKS! HOLY CRAP! I have to stop being blogger and put on my marketing manager’s hat and start working on getting more social media followers.

Thanks for reading!

-harry

If you’ve found any value by reading this blog, I’d like to ask you to simply please thank me by joining my Readers Fan Club:) 

I promise you won’t get a bunch of spam and stupid emails. Just occasional messages that will hopefully tell you how to be more enlightened, entertained or educated as an Indie Author or reading enthusiast. 

Hemingway and St. Louis: For Whom The Wedding Bell Tolls

By Harry Sneed

As a lifelong native of St. Louis and fan of Ernest Hemingway, I’ve come to know both city and literary citadel rather well. For more than fifty-five years I’ve traveled through the streets and towns of this gateway on the river. Like moveable feasts, I’ve seen iconic restaurants come and go. I’ve witnessed neighborhoods thrive and others get swallowed up in crime and blight. It has become both my friend and foe. My retreat and retreated. My home town. And just as I’ve physically traversed around this city, I’ve mentally and emotionally followed the words and lines of Hemingway’s works. I have come to love and hate his characters. I’ve experienced his adventures. Witnessed his strengths and shortcoming. Studied his style. I’ve even visited his city and house in Key West. FL. He’s become my literary friend. My literary foe whose triumphs and tragedies are enough to fill Busch stadium.

But what I missed somewhere between reading the Sun Also Rises while eating my Moons Over My Hammy at the local Denny’s during my college days, were Hemingway’s ties to St. Louis. He had three of them. Each were female and came from wealthy families. Two were journalists. All three shared his bed and last name. And in one case, his financial writing royalties.

Yes, amazingly three of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives were St. Louisians.

EH614N
Wedding of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, Horton’s Bay, Michigan Sept. 3, 1921

His first wife, “Hadley”, was born Elizabeth Hadley Richardson on November 9, 1891, in St. Louis. Like Hemingway himself, Hadley also had her own tragedies. As a child, she fell from a two story window and spent a year recovering in bed. At twelve, her father killed himself despondent over the family’s finances. And if that wasn’t enough to scar a frail and shy adolescent just starting college, her sister died from injuries sustained in a house fire. Hadley attended Mary Institute. Which is the predecessor and the “MI” of the current  “MICDS” or Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School, located on Warson Rd. in Ladue. Hadley and Hemingway met in Chicago in 1920 while Ernest was working as an associate editor. Hadley was visiting, Katie Smith, her college roommate. Smith’s brother was Hemingway’s roommate. Even though Hadley was eight years older than Hemingway, he was smitten by her looks and childish charm and claimed “I knew she was the girl I was going to marry.” Nine months later, they were married. Shortly thereafter, Ernest was hired as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. The Hemingway’s packed up and moved to Paris. It was in Paris where Hemingway would give birth to his famous and prolific writing career. Hadley would also gain her own infamy as the wife that lost a suitcase full of Hemingway’s original works while waiting for a train.

hadleysking
Hadley skiing, Schruns, Austria. Winter 1926

In the spring of 1923 Hadley became pregnant, thus motivating the young Hemingways to move  back to Toronto where she gave birth to their first son, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway. She nicknamed him “Bumby”. Bored with his journalistic life in Toronto, the official new “Papa” moved his family back to the glamourous Lost Generation life of Paris. Over the course of the next several years, their marriage became torn and tumultuous. The end finally came in the fall of 1926 when Hadley discovered Hemingway was having an affair with their mutual friend and fellow journalist. By January 1927 they were divorced. Part of the divorce settlement stated that Hadley would get the royalties of The Sun Also Rises.

The mutual friend and fellow journalist was another St. Louis native named Pauline Pfeiffer. Born in Iowa on July 22, 1895, her family moved to St. Louis in 1901. She was raised in a wealthy Catholic family and sent to one of the best private, all-girls school in town at the time: Visitation Academy of St. Louis. She went on to get her degree at the University of Missouri of Journalism in 1918. After several newspaper gigs, she switched to magazines were she eventual landed a position writing for Vogue in Paris. It was there in 1926 that Pauline met Hemingway and Hadley. They became fast friends. Pauline even went on vacation with them to Pamplona, Spain during the San Fermin Festival. The festival’s dangerous running of the bulls was brought to worldwide recognition in The Sun Also Rises.

One has to wonder if Hadley and Pauline often talked about their home town of St. Louis. Did they share stories of the 1904 World’s Fair during lunches in Parisian cafes? Or share the joy of sipping a malt from Crown Candy (1913) on the train to Pamplona. Perhaps Hadley studied at the relatively new St. Louis Library (1912). While Pauline attended Christmas eve services at the glorious Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (1914).

Whatever their conversations about St. Louis, you can bet their animosity didn’t start when Hadley, upon finding out that Pauline was from St. Louis, immediately asked “What high school did you go to?” And her reply was, “Visitation”. Which put her at odds with a Mary Institute grad. No, the real reason why these two St. Louisian’s friendship spilt was because “Papa” Hemingway had own question he asked to both of them: “Do you want have a threesome?”

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Portrait of Ernest Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer, Paris. 1927

When and how Pauline and Ernest’s affair started is sketchy at best, but as mentioned above, it was the catalyst to Hadley divorcing him. Less than five months later, Pauline and Ernest were married. But not before he converted to Catholicism. Pauline became pregnant before the end of the year and they move back to Kansas City, Mo where both their sons, Patrick (June 24, 1928) and Greg (Nov. 12 1931) were born. It was during Patrick’s birth that Pauline’s C-section labor became life-threatening. The experience became the basis for Catherine Barkley’s death during childbirth in “A Farewell to Arms”. Hemingway became a Spanish Civil War correspondent tossing his support to the Republicans while Pauline’s Catholicism led her to support the Nationalists. Her strict Catholicism also prevented the use of birth control. This, along with her doctor’s recommendation not to have any more children, cause a sexual strain in their marriage. Not that Papa needed an excuse for his habitual extra-marital liaisons. However, during their thirteen years of matrimony, Pauline was a loyal wife, a less than average mother and in Hemingway’s own words, “The best editor I ever had”.  It was during their marriage that his writing and fame flourished with the publishing of  “A Farewell to Arms” (1929), “Death in the Afternoon” (1932), “Green Hills Of Africa” (1935).

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Pauline and Hemingway laughing next to their pool in Key West, FL circa 1939-40

Most Hemingway fans will be shocked to learn that it was also during this time that Hemingway and his family moved into their spacious retreat in Key West, FL. But it’s wasn’t Papa’s literary riches that purchased the place that would one day become the historic landmark visited by thousands of fans each year. It was a gift to the couple from Pauline’s rich uncle, Gus Pfeiffer.

It was in Key West during December of 1936 that karma finally caught up with Pauline. It was there Hemingway met another young, pretty journalist who was visiting on Christmas vacation. It was Pauline’s turn to play the role of protagonist to Hemingway’s new adulteress antagonist. And for the next several years, she suffered in the part.

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Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway in Sun Valley, Idaho. 1940

Enter the next St. Louisian to marry Hemingway. Martha Gellhorn. Born in St. Louis on Nov. 8 1908. Martha graduated from the prestigious prep school, John Burroughs School. Located in Ladue exactly 2.6 miles away from Hemingway first wife’s high school, MICDS. Like Hadley Richardson, Martha Gellhorn also attended the women’s liberal arts college in Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania. She dropped out to pursue a career in journalism. Her travels took her to Paris where she became a Pacifist and authored her first book about her experiences in What Mad Pursuit (1934). She returned back to the United States and worked for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) documenting the daily lives of the poor and poverty stricken. She gathered these stories in a book titled: The Trouble I’ve Seen (1934). Unlike Papa’s first two wives who leaned to the side of maternal pampering, Martha was strong-willed, career driven and independent. She would later make reporters swear they would not mention Hemingway’s name during interviews. “I’ve been a writer for over 40 years. I was a writer before I met him and I was a writer after I left him. Why should I be merely a footnote in his life?” she once said. But that was later in life, before Hemingway and her agreed to travel to Spain together to report on the Spanish Civil War in 1937. For the next several years, while still married to Pauline, Martha and Hemingway lived together on and off. After years of trying to keep their shattered marriage together, Pauline finally agreed to a divorce. And, in keeping with his possible insecure loneliness, Papa married Martha two weeks later on Nov. 21. That same year he dedicated his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bells Toll to her.

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Gellhorn and Hemingway hunting in Idaho 1941

Always the reporter, when WWII broke out Martha wanted to be where the action was. So she hid in a civilian hospital ship’s bathroom and pretended to be a stretcher carrier. It earned her the alleged honor of being the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day on June 6, 1944. When the US troops liberated the Dachau concentration camp in April of 1945, Martha was there too. Soon Papa got tired of his wife’s constant trips and assignments away from home. He became resentful and bullying. The last pencil that broke her reporter’s back came when Hemingway tried to block her from going to Europe to report on the war. His fame allowed him to work as a war correspondent for any magazine. He chose Collier’s. The same magazine that Martha had been with since 1937. The US Press Corp had the rule that only one reporter could represent a magazine on the frontlines. Thus, he stole Martha’s job. His plot to keep Martha away from the frontlines failed. She made the passage anyway on a war ship filled with explosives. True to her style. When she arrived in London, she had had enough. It was then, she earned one more distinction; the first of Hemingway’s wives to leave him. They divorced on Dec. 21, 1945. Martha would go on to write five novels, fourteen novellas, and two short story collections. In 1958 she received the O. Henry first prize award. In 2008 she was honored on a US postage stamp. In 2012 Philip Kaufman’s made the film Hemingway and Gellhorn. based on the couples years together.

Hemingway would go on to marry one more time. Another journalist even named Mary Welsh. And in the same Hemingway-ish style, he asked her to marry him the third time they met. They were also both married at the time. But by now he had learned his lesson to stay away from St. Louis girls. Mary was from Minnesota. Years later, while talking to Pauline, Hemingway is quoted as saying, “If one is perpetually doomed to marry people from St. Louis, it’s best to marry them from the best families”

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Ernest Hemingway