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Author's house nixed as tour site

BOISE, Idaho — Plans to open for public tours the Ketchum house where author Ernest Hemingway killed himself in 1961 have been scrubbed, a victory for neighbors who said gawking tourists would have disrupted their upscale neighborhood.

Now the Nature Conservancy, the environmental group that inherited the house in 1986 from the writer's fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, plans to hire a caretaker and use the home for charitable events and fund raising.

The conservancy had originally hoped to change the zoning on the property and then give it to a foundation, which would have offered tours.

But prolonged opposition from neighbors — who threatened to sue — became a liability, said Lou Lunte, the acting director of the environmental group's Idaho chapter.

"We didn't see an impact on fund raising, but certainly it was taking a lot of time," Lunte said. "We were getting a lot of questions about the house. Our focus is wildlife preservation. Spending time answering the questions wasn't allowing us to focus on the incredible features in Idaho we are trying to protect."

Traces of Hemingway remain in the home: There's a typewriter on the top floor, beneath a window facing the mountains. Animal heads, including an impala from Africa, adorn the walls, and a painting by Waldo Pierce, one of the author's buddies from 1920s Spain, is mounted in a stairwell.

But neighbors hated the proposal that would have brought as many as two tours to the house daily.

They argued that a road leading to the property was on private land, and wasn't open to even limited tours. They also said that Ketchum city officials would be violating zoning laws if they agreed to allow a public tourist venue in a residential neighborhood.

They also argued that while Hemingway killed himself at the house, he did little or no writing at the property.

Meanwhile, the neighbors have installed "No Trespassing" signs to keep the curious away from the place, located above a 13-acre preserve also overseen by the Nature Conservancy on the Big Wood River.

The conservancy said it will need to raise money to restore the home. Lunte said his group plans to get a professional restoration expert to assess the property and estimate how much money is needed, and the conservancy will schedule functions at the home to raise money.