Carl Weeks was a man of action. “If you dream it,” he once declared, “you can build it.” Weeks achieved a considerable amount of success in his life: a magnate of the cosmetics industry, his business made him a millionaire by his mid-forties. Salisbury House itself stands as a testament to the man’s financial success and purposeful vision.
A man similarly defined by action and vigor entered Carl Weeks’ life in the 1920s. First through the written word and then a personal relationship, the lives of Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway intersected. Although the men were born a generation apart – Weeks in 1876 and Hemingway in 1899 – shared tastes in both literature and recreation eventually created a link between the two men. Fragments of this fascinating story remain today in the collections of Salisbury House.
Weeks had made his millions by the 1920s, but Hemingway was just beginning to exert what would become his considerable literary might. Post-World War I Paris proved a salutary writing environment for Hemingway, and in 1926 he added two books to his growing oeuvre with the publication of The Sun Also Rises and The Torrents of Spring.
Something about young Hemingway’s prose appealed to Carl Weeks. A first edition of The Torrents of Spring was added to Weeks’ already-extensive book collection.
When Carl Weeks purchased Torrents in 1926, he was at his financial and professional peak. Hemingway’s star, on the other hand, was still on the rise. Three years later, A Farewell to Arms (1929) catapulted him even further into the whirlwind of literary celebrity. By now, Weeks’ grand home in Des Moines included a richly-appointed library which stored a trove of rare, limited and first-edition books by renowned authors, including, of course, Ernest Hemingway. Weeks also purchased a first edition of Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon for his collection in 1932.
During the first half of the 1930s, the interaction between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway extended beyond that of enthusiastic bibliophile and prolific author. The two men met.
The location and manner of the meeting between Weeks and Hemingway remains difficult to ascertain. Still, a shared interest in two legendary Hemingway pastimes – drinking and fishing – emerged in correspondence between the two men.
An inscription from Hemingway to Weeks, penned inside the front cover of a first edition of The Green Hills of Africa (1935), suggests the pair had shared drinks and perhaps planned to do so again.
To Carl Weeks
Instead of a drink at Penas’
With very best wishes
Where did Hemingway and Weeks meet each other and, apparently, drink together? One possibility seems to be Havana, Cuba. Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana was a well-known watering hole for American tourists and celebrities, including the Weeks and Hemingway, in the 1930s and 1940s.
A photograph of Edith Weeks (on right, with an unidentified woman) at Sloppy Joe’s in Havana could suggest the location where the paths of Carl and Ernest may have crossed.
In 1936, Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway exchanged correspondence regarding Week’s planned fishing trip to Florida. Hemingway’s response to Weeks, sent by postcard from Key West in May 1936 to Weeks’ business address, illustrates the mutual interests of the two men.
Dear Mr. Weeks,
Should be good chance for marlin and big sails off ten fathom bar, then I’ll be at Miami after tuna so will probably miss you. But two years ago we had excellent big sailfishing here in June.
Thanks for the Punch parody.
Whether or not the two stayed in contact remains uncertain. Weeks, at least, continued his interest in Hemingway’s work, and purchased a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940.
For Whom the Bell Tolls represented the last of the Hemingway first editions in Weeks’ collection.
Hemingway went on to win the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, and by the late 1950s both men neared the end of their lives. Hemingway’s suicide in 1961 preceded Weeks’ death of natural causes in 1962.
Ultimately, the full extent of the relationship between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway remains a matter for further research. The fragmentary story that remains, though, suggests a fascinating confluence in the lives of both men.
Note: The Salisbury House Library Collection is now housed at Grinnell College, where it is being digitized and studied. To learn more about the collection check out the Special Collections Website.