A Clean Well-Lighted Place

This is part of a speech made at a dinner on July 18, 1980, to commemorate the opening of the Hemingway Room in the Kennedy Library on Columbia Point, Boston. In attendance at the dinner—which was held in the great glass-fronted foyer of the I.M. Pei building and at which were served dishes and drinks described in his books (Hemingway’s own Papa Doble rum concoction among them)—were members of the Hemingway family (though not Hemingway’s widow, Miss Mary, who was indisposed), Mrs. Aristotle Onassis, representing the Library, and more than one hundred Hemingway scholars.

Ladies and gentlemen, Hemingway scholars, Mrs. Onassis…since we have just concluded a meal here, and a number of Papa Dobles (somewhat pinker and weaker than the drink Papa invented, thank goodness), I thought I’d start by telling you of two occasions, both meals, at which I had personal encounters with these two extraordinary men whose names are associated tonight as we celebrate the opening of the Hemingway Room at the Kennedy Library.

First, President Kennedy. Some years ago I went to a large dinner at the White House, a social evening, and after dinner a few of us were taken on an informal tour by the president. At one point, I believe in the Oval Office, President Kennedy motioned to me and said, “George, I’d like to talk to you about your grandmother.”

I was, as you can imagine, somewhat startled by this request. It turned out the problem had to do with my grandmother’s father—a Civil War “boy” general named Adelbert Ames…winner of two Medals of Honor, the Commander of the 20th Maine, wounded at the Battle of Bull Run, veteran of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor—just the sort of man whom President Kennedy and Ernest Hemingway would have thought the highest of. The trouble came when, at the age of thirty-three, Adelbert Ames was appointed governor-general of Mississippi by President Lincoln. There he ran afoul of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, the Mississippian who went to Congress and gave the famous eulogy of Charles Sumner, the Radical Republican, earning him a place in the history of reconciliation and a chapter in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. In that chapter Mississippi is described as follows: “No state suffered more from carpet-bag rule than Mississippi. Adelbert Ames, first senator and then governor, was a native of Maine, a son-in-law of the notorious ‘Butcher of New Orleans,’ Benjamin F. Butler. His administration was sustained and nourished by Federal bayonets.” On and on.

When my grandmother ran across this affront, not only to her father but to her grandfather, she began writing letters to the then-Senator Kennedy explaining that during the Reconstruction there were obviously men of integrity and distinction and honor who had served the government in the South and that Adelbert Ames was one of such men. She wished that Senator Kennedy would change the offending chapter about her father (she was willing to forgo Benjamin F. Butler) and put his portrait in a…

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