In a little-known nook of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, with a fine view five floors above Boston Harbor, lies a book-lined room with a lion skin throw rug, a scrapbook with photographs of old fishermen, and a host of other odd relics from Cuba.
Entry is permitted only by appointment.
The 30-year-old collection is a peculiar exhibit in a museum built to honor the late president, given his efforts to overthrow the island country’s leader, Fidel Castro.
The collection, instead, serves as a repository of information about another American icon from the same era: Ernest Hemingway.
Despite the strained relations between the countries, the curators of the Kennedy library and the Castro regime have over the years found common ground, enough that the library announced this week that Cuba has shared copies of 3,000 letters and documents from the Hemingway archives at the country’s Ministry of Culture. The material fills a hole in the library’s collection, which purports to have the most comprehensive body of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s writings.
“The addition of these copies of the papers that were left behind helps to make the Hemingway collection even more complete, providing unparalleled insight into Hemingway’s crucial years in Cuba from 1939 to 1960,’’ said Tom Putnam, the library’s director.
Hemingway and Kennedy never met, but the president enjoyed his work and invited Hemingway to attend his inauguration in 1961. Hemingway apparently did not attend for health reasons, but he wrote fondly of the new president after watching the inauguration on television.
“Watching on the screen I was sure our president could stand any of the heat to come as he had taken the cold of that day,’’ Hemingway wrote, according to one document in the library’s collection. “Each day since I have renewed my faith and tried to understand the practical difficulties of governing he must face as they arrive and admire the true courage he brings.’’
The initial collection of the author’s work made its way to the library after Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary, received permission from the Kennedy administration to travel to Cuba after Hemingway committed suicide in 1961 in Idaho, three months after the disastrous assault at the Bay of Pigs helped usher in the decades-long pall over US-Cuban relations. The Cuban regime had told Mary that they intended to make the house Hemingway left just outside Havana, known as the Finca Vigía, into a museum. They allowed her to visit and ship his many papers and artwork on a shrimp boat to Tampa.
Library officials said Mary Hemingway decided to donate the collection because of the president’s help in making it possible for her to retrieve the trove and because she saw it as a way to shape the new library. She had exchanged letters with Jacqueline Kennedy, and in 1980, Hemingway’s son Patrick and the president’s widow dedicated the Hemingway Room in the Kennedy Library.
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