NAT SAUNDERS SPEAKS
about the fight between
Ernest "Pappa" Hemingway
Joseph Fairchild Knapp aka "Dodi Knapp"
" I was right there .....right on the scene "
Several years back when I first got wind of this story, I was on the phone with author / historian Ashley B. Saunders (History Of Bimini, New World Press) asking him everything I could about his uncle Nathaniel Saunders. Nat Saunders was an eyewitness to the 1935 fight between Hemingway and Knapp. That fight is now a part of Hemingway and Bimini Folklore thanks to Nat writing the song "Big Fat Slob" that will keep the legend alive long past all our times. I probably have published more about this story and studied it from more angles than anyone all , because of my interest in the party to it that no one else has ever paid much attention to ...that being one Joseph F. Knapp. Even Ashley was taken by surprise that the reason I was making inquirys was because of Knapp and not Hemingway. In our first conversation, I discovered though that Ashley's take on Hemingway was closely aligned with my own ...that all though he was a a great writer, he was a bit full of himself, which is amusing because Ernest reportedly according to his friends had a built in S _____ Pot detector. But I guess it only worked one way or perhaps he never turned it around until in a stupor he ended it all in July of 1961. From my studies the only one I have found to tell him he was pissing in the wind was Ben Finney, author of Feet First and another eyewitness to the fight that I have discussed in pages on this web sight.
Getting back to Ashley though, he told me he thought the fight didn't just start the night that it happened, but rather started brewing earlier that day when both Knapp and Hemingway were in the fishing tournament. That made sense to me even though back then I knew that Dodi Knapp was probably everybit as big a hellraiser as Hemingway was. I hinted back then about speaking with his uncle but perhaps I didn't hint strongly enough. I did study and publish Ashley's interview with his Uncle conducted in 1980 and like I said everything else I could find, including Hemingway's June of 1935 personal letter to his editor at Esquire and Ben Finney's eyewitness account published in 1970.
Ashley also told me about that the song Big Fat Slob was recently recorded (this was in 2001 and would be released in the future) which I definitly looked forward to and even went as far as playing it at Dodi's gravesite on the 51st anniversary of his passing October 24, 2003.
One thing I noticed when the CD came out was that the lyric really differed from the one printed in Ashley's interview in 1980. I'm sure Nat's original lyric written in May of 1935 the night of the fight is different too...but that's the way it seems to be with this story. Just last month I published a piece about the most fictionalised version of the story I have seen yet, that being written by Hemingway's niece. I asked Ashley about his uncles age and he said he didn't really know his exact age but it could be anywhere from mid to late 80's. My main concern with his age was trying to figure out just how old he might of been in 1935. And by doing that I might be able to ascertain his take on the reasons for the fight.
Well thanks to the vision of Tony Brummel of Victory Records, I now know some more about the fella they refer to as "Picolo Pete". Tony not only recorded 16 of Nat Saunders songs in 2001, he also sat down for a fairly lengthy interview with Mr. Saunders when he took his crew from Chicago down to Nat's club in Alice Town, Bimini. Several inquiries from Tony about Nat's age yielded several different responses from him, but it seems that he was born either in 1910 or 1912. Either date would of made him a fully grown adult in 1935. The interview which is part of a DVD from Victoryworld also contains the original CD plus it has a documentary of the recording sessions. Nat's band The Buccaneers.
Nat Saunders personal story is mighty fascinating. Starting all the way back at age 4 and half. He comes off as very sharp and extremely personablem as he tells stories of making his own instruments, meeting many millionaires and even royals like King Edward, being the mayor and of his own personal family life.(he is the father of nine children and was married twice) Bimini drew millionaires like moths to a flame from the 1920's onward. It still is a game fishing mecca and of course a destination for those who want to feel and see first hand the place Hemingway called the "end of the world" . Bimini was his inspiration for Old Man and The Sea and Islands in the Stream.
Although what Nat has to say about Big Fat Slob and Joseph Knapp is brief, it supports what I thought and what his nephew Ashley thought might of happened. That it really started in the afternoon. It also caused me to rexamine some of what I already had and learn some new things. Hemingway , who was president of the International Game Fish Association, held the record for the biggest fish ever landed. Knapp had landed one to challenge it. I assumed from my earlier read of Ben Finney's account that Julio Sanchez was Hemmingway's fishing guide. It was Julio who fired off the Very pistol (a flare gun) that prompted Knapp to come out of his yacht Storm King and say. "Why the hell don't you bastards knock shooting that Very pistol" Julio 1900 -1985 a lifelong sport fisherman, was the son of Berbabe Sanchez and he and his father were known as The Sugar Kings for the sugar plantations they owned in Cuba* . Julio was also the founder of the Miami Rod & Reel Club in 1929 as well as inventor of many items to aid the big game fisherman including the fighting chair. At 130 pounds Julio said to Ernest "Do you think he means me?" Hemingway said "I know damn well who he meant" and started climbing toward the dock. That gives more creedence to the fact Hemingway and Knapp already had words earlier.
* Justo Lamar Sanchez Sept 2006
Julio Sanchez in his invention in 1935 photo from private collection of Ashley B. Saunders
I also thought that the "Storm King" was tied stern to stern with "The Pilar" (Hemingway's boat) ....... it wasn't. Hemingway was aboard Woolie Donahue's boat "The Popeye" drinking "swizzles" (a lot of Rum a little lime a speck of sugar) with Ben Finney and Julio Sanchez when the fight started. "Woolie" was Woolworth Donahue grandson of F W Woolworth the old 5 & 10 cent multi miliionaire.
"A Big Knob Was On His Forhead"
"Mister Knapp didn't come to for A LONG TIME"
In the video Nat talks about hoping to live to be a 130. I hope he does too. It might take me a while to be able to get to see him, but I know that if I ever get to personally visit the Isle Of Palms in Florida (Dodi's Ft Lauderdale home) that Bimini is only 45 miles away across the water. I'd love to spend some time with this guy.....I think we would have more than a few things to talk about.
You can find the DVD at AMAZON.COM or from VICTORYWORLD,NET