As It Happens

Hunter S. Thompson's widow returns antlers he stole from Hemingway in 1964

Thompson stole them from Hemingway's home in Ketchum, Idaho 52 years ago. And his widow says he always intended to return them, and even felt guilty about it. Anita Thompson recently decided enough was enough — so she packed the antlers in her Toyota Prius and returned them to the Hemingways.
In 1964, Hunter S. Thompson stole elk antlers from Ernest Hemingway's home in Ketchum, Idaho. He always meant to return them. But in 2005, Thompson committed suicide. Last week his widow Anita Thompson returned the antlers for him. (Anita Thompson/Magnolia Pictures/The Associated Press)

For years, Hunter S. Thompson had been sitting on a shameful secret. He had in his possession a pair of massive elk antlers that belonged to Ernest Hemingway — antlers that Thompson brazenly stole from Hemingway's Ketchum, Idaho home in 1964.  

Ernest Hemingway at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, having tea by a fire. It's the same home where, in 1964, Hunter S. Thompson went to steal Hemingway's elk antlers, hanging above the home entrance. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library )

Thompson had long felt a deep connection to Hemingway, and he would end up becoming a large influence in his written work. It was in 1964 that Thompson decided to drive out to Ketchum, Idaho, to visit the house where Hemingway had lived and died. Hemingway committed suicide there in 1961.

A portrait of Ernest Hemingway hangs above the fireplace next to game trophies in the house once owned by the novelist in Ketchum, Idaho. The home is now owned by the Nature Conservancy as part of a private preserve. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

Thompson was also there to write a story for the National Observer about Hemingway's legacy in Idaho. And when Thompson got to the home, it was empty. As he was leaving, he noticed a massive pair of elk antlers hanging above the doorway — and stole them.

Anita Thompson, wife of the late Hunter S. Thompson, posing for a portrait during the signing of her book The Gonzo Way in 2007. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images )

"[Hunter] made such a long journey to go and visit, and he just couldn't help himself. And he was much younger then, and not as wise." Thompson's widow, Anita Thompson, tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"When he would talk about it, he was embarrassed. Because Hunter is not a thief — he's just so caught up in the moment. We planned to take a road trip several times in 2003 and just quietly return them, but we never did," she says.

Hunter S. Thompson with his wife, Anita Thompson, at their famed Owl Farm compound in Colorado where the Gonzo journalist spent most of his adult life. They were married in 2003. (Anita Thompson)

Unfortunately, the Gonzo journalist would never get around to making that trip to Idaho. On Feb. 20, 2005, Thompson — like Hemingway before him — shot himself.

Years later, Anita Thompson came across the dusty antlers in the garage. And she decided that enough was enough: She knew she needed to return them.

Anita Thompson pictured second from left, standing with staff at the Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho, who helped facilitate the return of the antlers to the Hemingway family. (Anita Thompson)

"The antlers were hanging above the 1972 red Chevy Caprice, so they're a beautiful compliment to the car — except they weren't Hunter's, so we had to return them."

She got in touch with the local library that managed the Hemingway House in Ketchum, as well as Sean Hemingway, the author's grandson, who was "so gracious, and pleased to have them back."

The plan was to drive the antlers up to the Hemingway House in Ketchum. But getting them there was a feat in itself.

Anita Thompson, shown holding the elk antlers with her Toyota Prius (Jenny Emery-Davidson )

"I had to return them to the home in my Prius. They fit in the back with the seats down. Putting them into the car, they were almost the same weight as I am," she says.

The antlers are now in the process of being delivered to the Hemingway family in New Jersey. 

For more on the strange story of Hemingway's antlers, listen to our full interview with Anita Thompson. 

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