HOW REQUESTING SOME LESS REDACTED HEMINGWAY FILES FROM THE FBI LED ME TO GOOGLE “HARLOW SHAPLEY ACE UP HIS SLEEVE”
Months ago, maybe longer now, the FBI responded to my request that they revisit their Hemingway file and, hopefully, conclude that they don’t need to redact quite so much of it. The bureau pointed me to this 122-page file, which is part of the really pretty amazing archive at http://vault.fbi.gov.
Life got busy — and fun, frankly. So I let the updated file launguish, thinking I’d get to it any day. Today (after waking from an exhilarating dream about being a reporter again) I decided to give myself the gift of a journalismish activity. So I read the Hemingway file. Rather, I compared it with the previous version of the file, which formed the basis for the Hemingway chapter in Herbert Mitgang’s 1988 book Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America’s Greatest Authors.
Whole paragraphs and pages are newly visible in the updated Hemingway file. But the FBI continues to redact the page that I wrote about here. That’s disappointing. I’d still like to know who, presumably at the Mayo Clinic, was talking to the FBI about Hemingway’s ostensibly confidential hospitalization for serious mental and physical problems.
My first read suggests that the updated file is not so useful to those interested in new Hemingway information but a potential boon for anyone interested in Gustavo Duran. He’s the focus of the bulk of the newly available material in the Hemingway file. I know almost nothing about Duran, so I’m just throwing his name out here in the hopes that someone with an interest in him has set up a Google Alert triggered by mentions of his name.
I did a bit of research on Duran this morning. Maybe I’ll return to it. But I ended up being at least temporarily more curious about other material on the same page as a 3/15/50 NYT report about Duran denying claims he was a Communist.
There’s a brief about the death sentence imposed on a man who wanted to kill his wife and decided that dynamiting a Canadian Pacific Air flight carrying his wife and 22 strangers would be a good way to make that happen. In 1949!
Then, on the same page, there’s an item labeled “Astronomer Says He Has ‘Ace Up His Sleeve’.” It deals with Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley, who denied “charges by Senator McCarthy that he was a member of numerous Communist front organizations.” It includes:
The astronomer said that he had “an ace up my sleeve” if the Senator did become specific in his accusation. He then added that “if it comes to a fight, I shall speak out strongly and fearlessly.” He did not elaborate on the “ace” he professed to hold.
And so that’s how I came to Google “harlow shapley ace up his sleeve.” The search led to a snippet from an oral history, which “may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission” of People Who Put Interesting Stuff On The Internet And Tell Other People Not To Quote It.
The interviewer says “I’m curious to know what was the ace up your sleeve. Or was this just a bluff?”
Shapley answers: “I don’t know. It sounds like a bluff. I don’t remember what that referred to, there was a good deal of tumbling around.”
The same "harlow shapley ace up his sleeve" Google search also turned up this, which is less germane but more interesting:
According to Dr. Shapley, he and Frost met at an annual faculty get-together during one of Frost’s stints as poet-in-residence at Harvard. Frost sought Shapley out, tugged at his sleeve—figuratively, if not literally—and said something like, “Now, Professor Shapley. You know all about astronomy. Tell me, how is the world going to end?”  Taken aback by this unconventional approach, Shapley assumed Frost was joking. The two of them chatted for a few moments, but not about the end of the world. Then they each became involved in conversations with other people and were soon in different parts of the room. But a while later, Frost sought out Shapley again and asked him the same question. “So,” said Shapley to his audience in 1960, “I told him that either the earth would be incinerated, or a permanent ice age would gradually annihilate all life on earth.” Shapley went on to explain, as he had earlier explained to Frost, why life on earth would eventually be destroyed by fire or ice.
"Imagine my surprise," Shapley said, "when just a year or two later, I ran across this poem." He then read "Fire and Ice" aloud. He saw "Some say" as a reference to himself—specifically to his meeting with Frost at that gathering of Harvard faculty. "This personal anecdote," Shapley concluded, "illustrates one of the many ways in which scientific knowledge can influence the creation of a work of art and also elucidate the meaning of that work of art."
And here’s Frost’s poem.