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A tale of Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and a set of antlers

BOISE, Idaho -- A young Hunter S. Thompson went to Idaho to write about Ernest Hemingway and decided to take a piece of his hero home with him - a set of trophy elk antlers.

More than half a century later, the gonzo journalist’s wife returned the antlers to Hemingway’s house in the mountain town of Ketchum.

“One of the stories that has often been told over the years is the story of Hunter S. Thompson taking the antlers,” said Jenny Emery Davidson of Ketchum Community Library. “These are two great literary figures who came together over the item of the antlers.”

Davidson was there on Aug. 5 when Thompson’s widow, Anita Thompson, gave back the antlers she says her husband regretted taking. Hemingway’s house is owned by The Nature Conservancy, which has an agreement with the library to help catalog and preserve items in the residence where the author took his own life.

In this July 30, 2007, file photo, the house formerly owned by Ernest Hemingway sits in the wooded landscape outside Ketchum, Idaho. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson so admired a set of trophy elk antlers when he visited the central Idaho home of literary icon Hemingway, he stole them.  AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

In 1964, Hunter Thompson, then 27, came to Ketchum when he was still a conventional journalist. He had not yet developed his signature style, dubbed gonzo journalism, that involved inserting himself, often outrageously, into his reporting and that propelled him into a larger-than-life figure.

Thompson was writing a story for the National Observer about why the globe-trotting Hemingway shot and killed himself at his home three years earlier at age 61. Thompson attributed the suicide in part to rapid changes in the world that led to upheavals in places Hemingway loved most - Africa and Cuba.

American writer Ernest Hemingway pictured at his typewriter while sitting outdoors in Idaho in 1939. Hemingway disapproved of the photograph, saying, "I don't work like this." Lloyd Arnold/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Even Ketchum, which in the 1930s and 1940s attracted luminaries such as Gary Cooper, had fallen off the map of cafe society by the late 1950s, Thompson wrote.

In the story, later collected in his book “The Great Shark Hunt,” he noted the problem of tourists taking chunks of earth from around Hemingway’s grave as souvenirs. 

Early the piece, he wrote about the large elk antlers over Hemingway’s front door but never mentioned taking them.

For decades, the antlers hung in a garage at Thompson’s home near Aspen, Colorado.

Davidson said they made their way back to Idaho after historian Douglas Brinkley, who spoke at the library in May and was familiar with the antler story after interviewing the writer, contacted Anita Thompson. She called the library on Aug. 1.

“She gave a little background about the antlers and said she’d love to return them,” Davidson said.

They have since been shipped to a Hemingway grandson in New York who wanted them, she said. It’s not clear if the antlers came from an elk killed by the author, who was a noted big game hunter, or if they were a gift.

Anita Thompson and Sean Hemingway didn’t respond to emails or phone messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Not long after the visit to Hemingway’s house, Thompson developed the journalism style that took him into the dangerous world of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang and would make him famous.

Like Hemingway, Thompson ended his own life by shooting himself, dying in 2005 at age 67 at his Colorado home.

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