December 5, 2010

Author Q&A: The man, the myth, the gun lover

Mainer Silvio Calabi explores the life of Ernest Hemingway through the prism of his passion for hunting and firearms.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Silvio Calabi, co-author of “Hemingway’s Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway,” lives in Camden.

Shooting Sportsman

He wanted to outfit his fishing boat with .50-caliber machine guns, but the recoil would be too severe for his wooden boat. He was quite disappointed. His friend, Winston Guest, had this .577 Nitro Express elephant gun and said to Hemingway, "Maybe that would penetrate a sub." Which is patently ridiculous, but you can imagine these two guys drinking all night long and thinking this sounded pretty good. So they went out with the gun.

They spent months at sea pretending to be fishermen, but never encountered a U-boat. 

Q: Where did you get the information for this book? The stuff about the elephant gun, in particular.

A: We looked at magazines, books, journals; we interviewed people.

For the elephant gun, we started with the gun's maker, in England, and found it was made in 1913 for an English cavalry officer. He intended to use it on a safari, but died in World War I in France. Then the gun shows up again in Africa, in 1933, owned by Winston Guest. Today, the rifle is on display at a bed and breakfast in Key West, Fla.

I interviewed Hemingway's son, Patrick, who told me about how the rifle ended up on the fishing boat. 

Q: How did Hemingway become so involved with guns and hunting?

A: From the 1920s to the 1960s, fine guns and safari hunting were a mark of status and something everyone talked about.

His grandfather had been a soldier and Civil War veteran. His father, a doctor, was an avid hunter. Both were extremely good shots. So there was no question that young Ernest would follow them and become an outdoorsman. (Hemingway and his father both died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Hemingway's wife maintained his shooting was accidental.)

But the other great influence on him was Theodore Roosevelt, who was the hunting president. He had worked on a ranch as a youth, and after leaving office he want on a safari in Africa, which he wrote a book about. Hemingway and lots of other boys were just bowled over by Roosevelt; he picked up much of his sensibilities of hunting and conservation from him. 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


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