Adelaide Edmonds Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's paternal grandmother, remembered shaking Abraham Lincoln's hand, and Ernest Hall, his mother's father, noted that at a parade in London, two couples passed him by: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie. Their grandson would become the master of literary modernism, at once the harbinger and product of a new age. In many ways this disjuncture represented the battleground on which Hemingway forged his identity in his early years. It is
commonly believed that he carried scars from his physical wounding in World War I and from his emotional wounding when the Red Cross nurse who tended him rejected him for another man. But other, more lasting scars reached further back than that.
Ernest Hemingway would lead a peripatetic and bohemian life, but his family were religious, hardworking, and solidly middle-class people, eminently respectable, just the kind of Midwestern folk who helped build that part of the country from prairies into an economic powerhouse in the decades before and after the Civil War. They were successful, morally straitlaced when that was the rule in their level of society, confident that their material success was the just reward for their virtuous private lives.
And yet several of his antecedents were strange. His mother's father assembled the family and the servants every morning to pray on their knees. Not so unusual, maybe, for the time (though it is odd to think of the ne plus ultra literary modernist beginning his days this way). But Ernest Hall prayed looking up with his arms stretched upward, as if locked in a face-to-face with God. The man cut a strange figure in suburban Oak Park, for he wore his clothes " much too large" because, according to his granddaughter, he could not abide clothing touching his skin, "lest he feel bound in any way." Born in Sheffield, England, in 1840, Hall was educated in London; when he was fifteen, his father brought his extended family to America, eventually settling in Dyersville, Iowa, probably because he had family or friends from England in the area.
Another English family, the Hancocks, had settled nearby in Iowa, and Ernest Hall always remembered that he met his future wife, Caroline Hancock, on an occasion that evoked their dual allegiances: a cricket match held in Dyersville on the Fourth of July. Originally from Somerset County in the U.K., Alexander Hancock was a sea captain who lost a young wife. Immigrating with his three children—Caroline, Annie, and Benjamin Tyley—to Australia after taking them around the world on his ship, the "Elizabeth", he found he didn't like Australia and brought his children to Iowa in 1854. Caroline, born in 1843, had to wait for Ernest Hall when the Civil War intervened. Hall fought with the 1st Iowa Cavalry for under a year, discharged "for wounds" in 1862 in Butler, Missouri; he had taken an enemy minié ball in his thigh, one of the most damaging weapons in the Confederate arsenal. (His grandson would carry fragments from enemy weapons in "his" leg.) Before the war Ernest Hall had journeyed down the Mississippi as far as Louisiana; after marrying Caroline in 1865, they moved to Chicago, where they had two children, Leicester, born in 1874 and Grace, Ernest Hemingway's mother, born in 1872. After establishing, with his brother-in-law, William Randall, a wholesale cutlery firm in Chicago, Ernest Hall moved his family to the new Chicago suburb of Oak Park, eventually settling at 439 North Oak Park Avenue.
Across the street from the Halls' Victorian house stood a similar large home, where lived Anson and Adelaide Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's paternal grandparents. Ernest Hall, a pillar of Grace Episcopal Church, boasted about his English stock. Anson Hemingway was descended from Ralph Hemingway, who came to America with the Great Migration, and through him from a line of Puritan and Congregationalist ministers. Ernest Hemingway's sister Marcelline, the family historian, wrote that it was rumored that a Hemingway was the first student at Yale, and indeed, a Jacob Hemingway was the first to enter the new college in 1672.
Anson Hemingway's father, Allen Hemingway, had come to Chicago from East Plymouth, Connecticut, in 1854, saying he wanted to find a farm for his boys. In Connecticut he had worked for a clock manufacturer,
which in 1853 became the Seth Thomas Clock Company; possibly he resolved to go west when it became clear he would not have an advantageous place in the newly incorporated company. He had fathered five children with his first wife, Marietta; after her death he and Harriet Louisa Tyler had one son, Anson. The only Hemingway son who survived the Civil War, Anson fought in the bloody Battle of Vicksburg in 1863 with the 72nd Illinois Regiment; he later received a commission and served as first lieutenant—at the age of twenty—in Company H of the Colored 70th Regiment. On his discharge he signed on with the Freedmen's Bureau in Natchez, finding work for freed slaves on Southern plantations. He came north in 1866 and attended Wheaton Academy (later Wheaton College), founded by Wesleyan abolitionists. A devout Christian who had undergone a conversion experience in 1859, Anson met Adelaide Edmonds, three years older than he, his first night at Wheaton at a prayer meeting; they married two years later. Adelaide, a
schoolteacher when she married, would become the only grandmother Ernest Hemingway knew, fondly remembered for telling him that the only regrets she had in life were the things she hadn't done.