She caught a glimpse of the antlers in her rearview mirror as she took the Ketchum exit off of Interstate 84. There was no turning back now. Playing taxi driver to the jagged loot, Anita Thompson had nearly 11 hours on the road from Woody Creek, Colorado, to Ketchum, Idaho, to process the fact that Ernest Hemingway’s stolen elk antlers were currently situated in the back seat of her turquoise Toyota Prius.
As the story goes, Anita’s husband, the late Hunter S. Thompson, had been on assignment in 1964 when he snatched the mounted pair of elk antlers off the wall inside Ernest’s home. Hunter stashed the antlers in his Woody Creek garage, where they would remain for decades to follow. “Every time Hunter pulled into the garage, he was reminded of his actions as a young journalist,” Anita says. “He had a great deal of respect for Hemingway, and he was always very embarrassed about the whole ordeal.”
“Our plan,” she says, “was to get in the car and take a road trip to quietly return them.” During their time together, they never got around to it. This year, the 11th since Hunter’s passing, Anita was finally spurred to action when she decided to convert Owl Farm, the Colorado home she shared with Hunter, into a private museum. “When I decided to open up the house to the public, I couldn’t, in good conscience, keep those antlers there. It’s more of a karma issue than anything.”
Thus, Anita found herself on a karma-fueled road trip to return the antlers to their rightful home in Ketchum. Along the way, the trip morphed into an epic quest to reunite the spirits of two literary giants. Though Hunter and Ernest never met, the two shared an affinity for guns, hard liquor and unique writing styles that attracted millions of readers and almost as many imitators.
“What I get from both Hemingway and Hunter’s work is a sense of confidence, that no matter who you are, you belong here and you have every damn right to be,” Anita says. “I believe that it’s writers like Hemingway and my husband who make the world a better place. They give us the confidence we need to move forward. Their writing styles stay in our memory because their messages are so powerful.”
Hunter’s theft of the antlers was a wonderfully cocky, adrenaline-infused act of impulse, just like his writing. Perhaps it was a subtle means of bridging the divide between two generations of writing styles with a metaphor so unassuming as a pair of rugged elk antlers.
In Anita’s quest to restore her own karma with the antlers, she was introduced to a humble revelation upon her arrival at the Hemingway home. Standing in this historic landmark, now a museum, Anita realized it might be a model for what she was trying to accomplish with Owl Farm. Similar to the Mark Twain and Georgia O’Keeffe houses, Hemingway’s home provides fans an intimate look at the man, his work and his life. Anita became determined to let the public experience just that: an authentic representation of the way Hunter lived.
Stepping onto Owl Farm is nearly tantamount to meeting the man himself. Peacocks roam fearlessly under the watchful eyes of two rusty vulture statues, which are perched upon a pair of massive gnarled posts flanking the gate entrance to the farm. The bucolic swinging chair creaks steadily among the trees that ring the property. A big, dragon-like tractor guards the log cabin house.
The wooden front door swings open and guests are immediately greeted by bordello red walls, red carpet and the infamous kitchen counter where Hunter whiled away the hours. A self-proclaimed news junkie, Hunter normally had his TV set turned to CNN while reading the daily newspaper. The eccentric decor includes gobs of Scotch-taped notes, pictures and paraphernalia on the walls, loaded boxes of vinyl records and an admirably large hat collection. Golden boxing gloves, a caricatured Nixon mask and a 5-foot cactus surround the grand brick fireplace in the living room. Above the wood-filled hearth, on the mantel, sits a framed picture of Mark Twain adjacent to one of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, crammed next to two golden candlesticks, a cow skull and two ceramic pieces of artwork.
“What I get from both Hemingway and Hunter’s work is a sense of confidence, that no matter who you are, you belong here and you have every damn right to be. I believe that it’s writers like Hemingway and my husband who make the world a better place.”
“It took me years to move his toothbrush and his robe from the bathroom,” Anita says. “I didn’t want anyone to touch anything after he died. It gave me comfort not to move anything.” The Hunter S. Thompson mystique retains a powerful hold for many, and an ever-growing number of tourists scout out Woody Creek to search for his iconic house, buried in the wilderness.
As for those antlers: Anita’s delivery was successful. On a sunny afternoon in August, she pulled into the private residence of Ernest and Mary Hemingway. The surviving Hemingways were amused and grateful that Anita took it upon herself to deliver the artifact back to its origins. They decided that Sean Hemingway, a grandson of Ernest who edited six volumes of his grandfather’s work, should inherit the antlers. Sean is currently the curator of Roman and Greek art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
The ill-gotten gains of a brash, young journalist are finally at rest. Anita can now, in good conscience, open up Hunter’s hidden fortress for his fans to enjoy. Devoted Gonzo fans can now request a house tour at thegonzofoundation.org to walk the grounds and explore the famous farm for themselves. His legacy lives on at Owl Farm, and fans will get to see it all—minus, of course, one pair of antlers.
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