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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published November 24 2012

Brother of ND murder victim went on to study with Hemingway

The 1931 murder of 24-year-old Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson from White Earth, N.D., deeply affected her kid brother.

Arnold Samuelson, who was five years younger than his sister, was an aspiring writer. In 1934, he was taken in by a famous author and became “the only acknowledged protégé of Ernest Hemingway.”

Hemingway wrote that Samuelson was very serious and dedicated to the profession of writing but that “he’s too inclined to get discouraged.”

Although Samuelson’s work was published in some of the nation’s top periodicals and newspapers, he never sent any of his manuscripts to book publishers. The only book published under his name was submitted three years after his death when it was completed by his daughter.

Arnold Samuelson was born Feb. 6, 1912, and grew up on his father’s wheat farm near White Earth. He was exceptionally intelligent and had difficulty relating with other children who were not as gifted.

Samuelson spent much of his time with the family’s horses and his dog, and he also played the violin. He rode his horse to school and had one schoolmate who was a friend – Glenn Dolan. Dolan, who later served in the state Senate, wrote “Teachers were unaware of his capabilities and were unable to challenge his mental capacity.”

Bored, Samuelson began playing pranks. As a result, he was expelled from high school at White Earth during his senior year and transferred to Tioga. He graduated in 1928 as valedictorian and enrolled at the University of Minnesota, majoring in journalism.

Shortly after the start of his senior year, Samuelson learned his sister had been murdered.

The loss of someone he loved had a tremendous impact on him. Samuelson wrote, “The survivors of the victim are themselves helpless victims. The only thing we could do was try to survive and get our minds on to other things.”

Consequently, he rarely spoke much about Sammy.

In the spring of 1932, Samuelson completed all the necessary courses to graduate but rejected paying the $5 for his diploma and never received his degree.

After completing his college work, Samuelson “hitched 560 miles from the Twin Cities back to the family farm” to spend time with his grieving parents. When he got there, he discovered that the farm had been abandoned. He later learned that his parents had gone to Minneapolis.

With the Great Depression at its height, Samuelson knew finding meaningful employment in journalism was unlikely. In 1933, he told his friend Dolan “he was planning a trip around the world” even though he had only 25 cents to his name.

Samuelson boarded a ship bound for the Orient, but the trip never materialized. He then bummed around the U.S. chronicling a series of articles titled “The Forgotten Boys” for the Minneapolis Tribune.

To pass his time, Samuelson read a wide variety of books, including stories and novels by Ernest Hemingway. After reading Hemingway’s story “One Trip Across,” he wrote, “I’m struck on how seriously he took his writing. He constantly worked at it. His career goal was to be a great writer.” Samuelson considered Hemingway to be “the greatest writer alive” and believed he needed to ask him what it takes to be a great writer.

In early spring of 1934, Samuelson hitched a ride from northern Minnesota to Key West, Fla., having learned where Hemingway lived. The novelist had recently released “A Farewell to Arms” and used part of the proceeds to purchase a sleek 38-foot fishing cruiser, which he named “Pilar.”

Samuelson wrote, “At best I hoped he might spare me a few minutes to talk about writing.” Hemingway soon recognized he and the young man shared a lot in common and that Samuelson was determined and serious about becoming a writer.

Hemingway needed a “boat boy” to assist him on running the Pilar and offered to teach Samuelson what he knew about writing. To sweeten the deal, Hemingway offered to pay Samuelson $1 a day to be his apprentice. Samuelson accepted and remained with Hemingway for 10 months.

On May 12, 1934, the Pilar made its first voyage with Hemingway and Samuelson aboard. The two quickly became friends, and whenever he had free time, Samuelson would play his violin. Because of those frequent music interludes, Hemingway gave him the nickname “Maestro,” which he later shortened to “Mice.”

Hemingway told Samuelson to never write too much at a time, pay attention to detail, get inside the character’s head, and not to use pencil and paper if you can avoid it – rather do your composition on a typewriter.

While aboard the Pilar, Samuelson worked on a manuscript with Hemingway serving as editor and giving guidance. In early 1935, Samuelson submitted a story to Motor Boating magazine, and it was printed in February.

A proud Hemingway told him, “Well Maestro, now you are a writer.”

Believing he should concentrate on putting into practice what his mentor had taught him, Samuelson decided he should go off on his own. Hemingway, wanting him to stay, said, “Why don’t you stick around?” But Samuelson had made up his mind and left.

In October 1935, Hemingway published an article in Esquire magazine about his experience with Samuelson titled “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter.” The two men frequently corresponded until Hemingway’s death in 1961.

During the late 1930s, Samuelson had a number of articles published in Esquire, Outdoor Life and other popular magazines. But he did not submit any of his novel manuscripts because he didn’t believe they lived up to his mentor’s standards.

After marrying Vivian Stettler, Samuelson realized the money he received for his articles would not support a growing family and looked for other work opportunities.

First, Samuelson worked in Texas breaking horses, and then he moved back to Minnesota to help his older brother, who was a doctor, build a hospital. After that project was finished, he remained in Minnesota working on other building projects.

During World War II, Samuelson worked on government construction projects in Alaska. When the war was over, he moved his family to the small town of Robert Lee in west-central Texas.

Samuelson’s first employment was to retrain polo ponies to do ranch work. After purchasing six acres of land on the outskirts of Robert Lee, Samuelson built a ranch house and started a company called the Mesquite Lumber Co., which made ready-built houses.

Frustrated that his writing career had stalled, Samuelson became anti-social and embarrassed his family with his dress and behavior. He dressed shabbily, wore his belt over the top of the loops on his pants, made his sandals from carved rubber tires and often wore three or four hats – one on top of the other.

He would walk through town playing his violin, paying attention to no one. At church, he would sit in the back, singing loudly, off-key and out of sync with the rest of the congregation. After the service was over, Samuelson would often quarrel with the pastor about the message he just delivered.

In 1978, Vivian left Samuelson to live with their married daughter Dian Darby. Samuelson died on Sept. 1, 1981.

Although his daughter Dian was never close to her father, she felt compelled to finish the manuscript Samuelson had started about his 10 months aboard the Pilar.

It was published in 1984 and titled “With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba,” winning the Ambassador of Honor Award.

After reading the book, Paul Hendrickson wrote the biography “Hemingway’s Boat” later that year, devoting much of the book to Samuelson.

In January 1985, author James Kaplan wrote the story “Where’s Papa?” for Esquire, centering much of it on the relationship between Hemingway and Samuelson.


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.