FARGO — When the world learned of the death of famed American novelist Ernest Hemingway 60 years ago, it’s likely that information came by way of Fargo.

A coincidental connection between a newspaper editor’s family and Hemingway allowed the shocking and tragic news to filter through North Dakota, even before it reached other news outlets across the globe.

This anecdote and others about Hemingway were rekindled this week with the airing of a documentary on PBS, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

Simply titled "Hemingway," the three-part, six-hour documentary examines the writer’s visionary work and turbulent life, according to PBS.

On July 2, 1961, Hemingway took his own life at his home near Sun Valley ski resort in Ketchum, Idaho. He was 61 years old.

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John D. Paulson was the editor of what was known as The Fargo Forum at the time.

Paulson's sister Helen was married to Dr. Fred Kolouch, and the couple had a cabin just down the hill from Hemingway’s home in Ketchum.

As soon as Kolouch learned that Hemingway had shot himself with a shotgun, he immediately called Paulson, his brother-in-law and journalist, in Fargo.

Paulson’s nephew, Jim Bond, recalls how his uncle scooped the rest of the world with the details of Hemingway’s untimely death.

“It was part of family lore for a while,” Bond said.

The story behind the story

Bob Rogers, a good friend of Bond and a fellow 1963 graduate of Fargo Central High School, also had a loose connection to the story.

His father, also a general surgeon, was a good friend of Kolouch.

“There probably wasn't a newspaper in Ketchum where they could have gotten out a news dispatch, so Fargo wasn't really too far distant from the closest node with which to get the news out,” Rogers said.

Bond assumed some of the Hemingway stories in national publications had a Fargo dateline to them, because of where the information originated.

Instead, his uncle likely walked into the office of the Associated Press, then located in the Forum building, and turned over everything he knew about Hemingway’s death.

John D. Paulson, former editor of The Fargo Forum, was instrumental in breaking the news of the death of famed American writer Ernest Hemingway on July 2, 1961.
John D. Paulson, former editor of The Fargo Forum, was instrumental in breaking the news of the death of famed American writer Ernest Hemingway on July 2, 1961.

From the AP, the news filtered to other news organizations.

If it happened today, this kind of "story behind the story" would probably come to light, with someone writing about this tie between the editor’s family and Hemingway, and between Fargo and Ketchum.

But in the late 1960s, the focus was the story itself, not on how someone was able to get it.

The story that ran in The Fargo Forum that day, with AP credit, reported that Hemingway’s wife Mary had heard the shot and found her husband dead around 7:30 that morning.

“He was lying in his pajamas near the living room of the secluded home,” the story read.

A local coroner said it was a self-inflicted wound that “could have been accidental or otherwise.”

Prominent people weighed in, including President John F. Kennedy.

“Few Americans had a greater impact on the emotions and attitudes of the American people than Ernest Hemingway,” the president said.

The July 3, 1961 issue of The Fargo Forum reported on the death of American novelist Ernest Hemingway.
The July 3, 1961 issue of The Fargo Forum reported on the death of American novelist Ernest Hemingway.

A talented, 'troubled' writer

Both Bond and Rogers have spent time at the Kolouch home in Ketchum, which is still owned by the family, but have not seen the Hemingway home, up the hill and obscured by foliage.

The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

In 1986, the Nature Conservancy acquired ownership; in 2017, the conservancy gifted the home to The Community Library in Ketchum, which said it would remain private and be turned into the site of a new residency program for writers, scholars, and artists.

Bond said Hemingway’s home is fashioned after Sun Valley Lodge a few miles away.

Built in 1953 from poured concrete using log forms, it’s painted to look like a big log home.

Bond said Hemingway was known for his frequent walks, often strolling past the Kolouch home to talk with Fred.

Rogers said Kolouch had plenty of stories about Hemingway.

“I kind of distinctly remember him being impressed with the fact that Ernest always had quite a substantial goblet full of booze as he came down the hill — probably scotch or bourbon,” Rogers said.

From their conversations, Kolouch, who later became a psychiatrist, knew Hemingway was a troubled man but kept that to himself at the time, Bond said.

“When he did learn that Ernest had killed himself, I don't think Fred was surprised,” Rogers said.

Both men said as teenagers growing up in Fargo, they weren’t necessarily familiar with Hemingway’s work, but certainly knew of his prominence.

Rogers recalls reading in high school English class a short story published in 1927, “Hills Like White Elephants,” which he described as “memorable” and “mysterious.”

With the airing of the documentary, both said they’re more likely now to pick up one of Hemingway’s books.

While the documentary episodes have run on television, they can be streamed on pbs.org or on streaming devices including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android, iOS device, or Samsung Smart TV using the PBS Video app.