Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meet Mallory Howard

Name. Mallory Howard

Where are you from? New Britain, CT

What school did you go to? Central Connecticut State University

What is your job at The Mark Twain House & Museum? Museum Assistant

Were you initially drawn to the Mark Twain house because of an interest in Twain as a writer? I’ve always been a huge fan of Twain’s work and had visited the house many times over the years. I actually came to the Twain house initially trying to volunteer and perhaps get an internship since I was a history major in school. I ended up falling in love with the place and never left!

How long have you been working at the Mark Twain House? It will be 4 years in January!

What is your favorite part about working at the Mark Twain House? That’s a really tough question to answer. There are so many marvelous things about working at this place since there are always fascinating people to meet, stimulating educational programs or lecture to attend, and amazing events to enjoy. However, my favorite thing about working here are the truly incredible people I get to work with. Some of us are history geeks; some are talented writers, comedians, and playwrights. No matter what our individual strong points are we all respect each other for what we bring to the table. Everyone works together to make this museum a success and I’ve never met such wonderful hard working people.

Do you like Mark Twain more having worked here? I have always been a Twainiac and a fan of the amazing pieces of literature he has produced, but my love for him has drastically increased since working here. I know him more now as Sam. I love his family, his heart, and even his temper. I feel sadness and sympathy for him during tragedy and hard times. I am elated during his triumphs. I get defensive when he is attacked and proud when he is admired. He has become a huge part of my life and I’m lucky to have him.

Do you find yourself talking to friends and family about Mark Twain? I talk about Mark Twain constantly to my friends and family. I’m sure I drive most of them absolutely nuts! I find myself running into friends and the first thing they say is. “How are you? How’s Mark Twain?” He has suddenly become an additional best friend, parent, brother that everyone asks about. I never hesitate to fill them in on the latest and greatest in the Twain world. One of the best things that happened is my Dad’s deeper interest in Twain, his literature, and American history in general. I’ve turned him into a little history geek and that makes me proud!

What is your favorite room in the house? My favorite room in the house is the library. It is absolutely beautiful and there’s something so sweet, innocent and sentimental about it. I love to imagine the family sitting together listening to Twain tell a story, or enjoying a book while looking over the Park river, maybe even watching their butler George have a jungle adventure in the conservatory with the Clemens’ girls.

If you could make one improvement to the house or museum what would it be? I would love to have the mahogany room and 3rd floor guest room restored. Though I love our beloved museum center, I wish we had more noise control!

Based on your knowledge of his personality, do you think you and Mr. Twain would be friends? I truly believe that Mark Twain and I would be the very best of friends. I adore his wit, humor, little eccentricities, brilliant mind, and sarcasm. What else could you ask for in a friend? I often wish I could have one night to hang out with him. The drinks we would have, the conversations, the stories, I would beg him to tell me! I can’t think of anyone better!

What is the museum’s biggest challenge? I think the museum’s biggest challenge is trying to get people to come explore our site during an economic recession. I also think, though we’ve done an excellent job so far, we will have to constantly come up with new and exciting programs to bring in a different audience and to keep those who have been before always coming back.

What would you think Mark Twain’s comments would be on the management of his home and the museum? I would like to think that Mark Twain would be proud of us. Everyone here works extremely hard to make sure we are keeping his legacy alive in the most inventive, educational, and often humorous ways. He would appreciate our passion, dedication, and drive to making this museum a success.

What is your favorite Mark Twain piece? My favorite Mark Twain piece is tricky. I would have to say his personal book collection. We have over 200 books owned by the Clemens family in our archives, several of which have marginalia. Twain would often times scrawl opinions, thoughts, and even grammatical changes on the pages of the books he was reading. This gives us an insightful and personal look into his mind.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Statement from The Mark Twain House & Museum


August  5 ,2011

On June 22, 2010, The Mark Twain House & Museum discovered that a long term employee of the institution, the former controller, Ms. Donna Gregor, had been misappropriating funds for a number of years and shielding these misdeeds from detection by the auditors. 

Ms. Gregor was terminated by the MTH&M that same day.  Jeffrey Nichols, our Executive Director, notified me and I, in turn, notified the other Trustees. We immediately contacted law enforcement and notified the press. Following a review of the matter, we implemented additional controls to better safeguard our assets and put in place new financial reporting mechanisms. We contacted many of our donors and other supporters and are deeply thankful for their understanding and continuing support.

We hired a forensic auditing firm and shared its completed review with law enforcement.

We also filed an insurance claim in relation to the losses which resulted in a payment to the MTH&M of $500,000 which we received in October of 2010. This recovery was reported in the MTH&M’s IRS Form 990 and serves to restore all affected funds since 2008.  MTH&M continues to explore other potential claims and sources of recovery for the $580,000 of unrecovered funds from earlier years.  The total amount Ms. Gregor defrauded the MTH&M is approximately $1,080,000.

Concurrently with MTH&M’s efforts, law enforcement has been investigating this matter and we were advised of a guilty plea by Ms. Gregor today August 5th in the Federal Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut. We understand her plea includes admissions of wire fraud and tax evasion. We also understand her plea agreement includes restitution to MTH&M.

The Trustees and the staff were devastated by this event, particularly in light of its occurrence during a period when hundreds of supporters and other committed people worked so hard and selflessly to bring the Mark Twain House & Museum from a large structural deficit just a few years ago to a current modest operating surplus.

Despite the significant unrecovered losses from 2002 to 2007, we want to assure everyone that our current financial condition is sound and we recently received an unqualified opinion from our auditors.
Because of the heroic efforts of our staff, a record number of visitors, 71,500, came to the House in 2010 vs. 59,000 the year before. And, we hosted more than 50 successful events to make the institution a key tourism destination in Connecticut.

Our mission is to preserve the home where Twain wrote his most important works and, more importantly, to preserve his place as America’s greatest writer. We are more committed than ever to this mission.
The trustees have noted and are deeply appreciative of the fact that throughout this past painful year, Executive Director Jeff Nichols and his entire staff of full and part time employees and volunteers have kept their single focus on what is good for the institution. They succeeded despite enormous distraction and pain.
Also, I must also commend the Trustees who have stepped up and been a resolute and determined force throughout this ordeal. To a person, they all stayed and supported the institution with funds, guidance and support.

On behalf of the entire Mark Twain House & Museum family, we want to thank our supporters and donors for their understanding and support and we pledge to continue to make the institution stronger for many generations to come.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


On Friday, August 5th and Saturday, August 6th at 8 p.m. at the Hole in the Wall Theater in New Britain, Sea Tea Improv will be performing R-RATED TWAIN – an evening of Twain’s naughtiest writings. The texts include speeches, poems and prose that cover such unsavory topics as masturbation, farting, sexual relations, among other unmentionables. We take a moment to consider how “The Lincoln of our Literature” occasionally took the low road…

It should come as no surprise that Samuel Clemens would have in his possession an impressive array of words. As an extremely prolific author with dozens of novels and hundreds of other written works (poems, plays, letters, speeches, articles and short stories), Twain had a prodigious vocabulary. His verbiage could be high-minded and eloquent, endearing him to the cognoscenti and literary elite. His writing also could effectively paint a portrait of the lowest echelons of society. His characters in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Pap and Huck being examples, exhibit his masterly grasp of colloquial terms and rough dialects. So, really, it should shock no one that Mark Twain had one hell of a potty mouth.

Twain stated in his Notebook, “If I can’t swear in heaven, I shall not stay there.” Since he was unsure how his salty tongue would be received in the afterlife, the author seemed bent on peppering his phraseology here on Earth. In his letters to William Dean Howells, Twain did not help his case in making it to Heaven when he wrote:

“Sir to you, I would like to know what kind of goddam government this is that discriminates between two common carriers and makes a goddam railroad charge everybody equal and lets a goddam man charge any goddam price he wants for his goddam opera box.”

Phew! Alfred Bigelow Paine’s biography of Twain quotes the vitriolic master as saying, “In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer.” Apparently he was overcome by many desperate circumstances in his home as his daughter Clara quotes him in her book My Father – Mark Twain with the following invective: “By the humping, jumping Jesus!” His lovely wife Livy put his lips on lockdown when it came to swearing, but even she was not able to keep the consummate master of cussing from unleashing his tongue in the house. Paine recounts how Twain, who generally curbed his tongue around his wife, let fly with some scorcher of a curse that occurred within earshot of Livy. She confronted him by repeating his remark to which Twain responded:

“Livy,” he said, “did it sound like that?”

“Of course it did,” she said, “only worse. I wanted you to hear just how it sounded.”

“Livy,” he said, “it would pain me to think that when I swear it sounds like that. You got the words right, Livy, but you don’t know the tune.”

Twain’s potty mouth also translated to a potty pen when he created some filthy fun in some of his private writings. The bawdy burlesque 1601, an imaginary gathering of Tudor England’s elite getting blown away by a fetid odor, was written by Twain for his best buddy Rev. Joseph Hopkins Twichell. A letter to a group of wealthy men who enjoyed fishing turns into a downright naughty tribute to male endowments. A speech written for a Parisian group, The Stomach Club, goes South of the border with a salute to self-gratification.

Considering his rough-and-tumble Tom Sawyer-esque adolescence, his career on riverboat docks and his time out in the Wild West, it should not be a shock that Twain could be so shocking. To be honest, we love this stuff and we are delighted to take a time to salute the type of things Twain wrote and said that you wouldn’t learn in school. We hope you join us for an evening of R-Rated Twain that would make your mama wash your mouth out with soap.

Tickets for R-RATED TWAIN are on sale now and can be ordered by calling (860) 229-3049. Tickets will also be available at the door at the Hole in the Wall Theater, 116 Main Street in downtown New Britain.  The performance includes West Hartford playwright David Ryan Polgar’s short comedy Mark Twain: Ladies Man. Tickets are $15.  Info and directions:

Meet Beth Miller

Name. Beth Miller

What is your job at the Mark Twain House & Museum? Director of Development

How long have you worked at the Mark Twain House & Museum? A year and five months

Where are you from? Rocky Hill, CT

Where did you go to school? Trinity College, BA ’00 & MA’03

Why did you decide to work at the Mark Twain House? I was attracted to the Mark Twain House & Museum for a few reasons. It's an important local and national cultural institution, and the staff is talented. The leadership at the organization has combined frugality with creativity and invested in marketing and events to increase stability and success. The momentum here is palpable and it is a very exciting place to work.

What is your favorite Mark Twain Book? Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I have lots more to read still.

How did you become interested in Mark Twain? The wit and satire of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn made me very interested in Mark Twain – that he wrote this book, in the way he wrote it, at the time he wrote it. It is stunning and very, very important.

What is the strangest fact you know about Mr. Twain? That his voluminous moustache and that he seldom smiled were to hide his bad teeth (according to his daughter, Clara.)

Hopes for the future of the House. There are many specific projects I would like to see happen with the historic properties – and all of those projects could be realized if we had a more substantial endowment.  What I hope to see in the future is a $20 million endowment so we have the operating expenses to focus on raising funds for projects in the house.

Favorite room in the house. A beautiful little room: the butler’s pantry.

Favorite Tour Story. I love the story of the Scottish fireplace mantel: it was found because a tour-goer heard the tale of the missing mantel and realized his family had it in their barn.

Have you ever received a question you have yet to find the answer to? What did George Griffin look like?

How did you learn everything you know about Mark Twain, his life, and his house? I am reading, asking questions, and listening all the time.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about Mr. Twain? I think because Twain was such a great humorist there is a perception that he had a very jolly and happy life. Parts of it certainly were, but he suffered a stunning amount of tragedy at all stages of his life and from all quarters. For all his fame and notoriety, Twain was very human – he suffered and was as flawed as any of us.

Do you like Mark Twain more having worked here? Yes – getting to know him as a husband, father, and friend has made me admire him even more.

Do you find yourself talking to friends and family about Mark Twain? I think they are all really getting annoyed with all the Twain quotes I lob into any conversation at the slightest provocation.

Based on your knowledge of Twain’s personality, do you think you and Mr. Twain would be friends? Yes, but he might have turned on me at any point.

What do you think Mark Twain’s comments would be on the management of The Mark Twain House & Museum? He would say that we have kept pace with his struggles and success, but he would have said it way funnier than that. 

Meet Jes Silva

Name. Jes Silva

What is your job at the Mark Twain House & Museum? Sales Associate (Tickets & Store!)

Where are you from? Born and raised in Berlin, CT. I currently live in the village of East Berlin, CT. And we all know that Mark Twain said: “Human nature cannot be studied in cities except at a disadvantage--a village is the place. There you can know your man inside and out--in a city you but know his crust; and his crust is usually a lie.”

Where did you go to school? I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Eastern CT State University. Although it’s not a Masters Degree, just like Sam Clemens, “It pleased me beyond measure when [Eastern] made me a [Bachelor] of Arts, because I didn't know anything about art.”

Were you drawn to the Mark Twain house because of an interest in Twain as a writer?
Actually no. I am more of a fan now than I was before working here.

Do you like Mark Twain more having worked here? Yes, since working here, I have developed a great love for Mark Twain. And since I drink a lot of water and his books are like water… I don’t know, I’ve got nothing…

How long have you worked here? 4 years

What makes you come back the following year? Oh-my-god, I love it all; the people, atmosphere, and the history. This is the best place to work. 

Do you find yourself talking to friends and family about Mark Twain? I do! I quote him often! I talk about his family and the house to anyone who is willing to listen!

Hopes for the future of the House. I would love for the house to continue to be successful as well as see the Mahogany bedroom completed.

Favorite room in the house. I love the library. I love the look and the feel of the room. It’s so warm and welcoming that it makes me want to (don’t worry Patti, I won’t) cozy up in a chair by the fire and read, or listen to Sam tell stories.

Favorite tour story. A member of the band, The Doors, was along on one of my tours; I thought his bodyguard was the celebrity from West Coast Choppers, but little did I know that it was a member from the band and the bodyguard was only a bodyguard.

Based on your knowledge of his personality, do you think you and Sam would be friends? Totally! I could see us in the Billiard Room, playing pool and joking around. I think we have a similar sense of humor, since I subscribe to the notion that “the funniest things are the forbidden.”

What do you think is the Museum's biggest challenge?  I think getting the word out that we are here is probably our biggest challenge. No one “vacations” to Hartford, Connecticut. Trying to make Hartford a destination spot is a hurdle to get over.

What do you think Sam’s comments would be on the management of his home and the museum? I think he’d think we are doing a fine job. We are not only educating the young and old about his life and times, but we are preserving his memory, and keeping him alive through that. He would like us to remember (and share with our visitors) “To us our house was not unsentient matter--it had a heart & a soul & eyes to see us with, & approvals & solicitudes & deep sympathies; it was of us, & we were in its confidence, & lived in its grace & in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did
not light up & speak out its eloquent welcome--& we could not enter it unmoved.”

Favorite Twain piece. I don’t think I can name just one. My first Mark Twain book was A Connecticut Yankee, and I am quite partial to it. The Diaries of Adam and Eve and stories about the McWilliamses are among my favorites, but I also love The War Prayer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Playwright David Ryan Polgar turns Twain into a Ladies Man for R-RATED TWAIN

Late in 2011, actor Michael Eck approached The Mark Twain House & Museum with a script for a short play by his friend, David Ryan Polgar.  We found the comedy, Mark Twain: Ladies Man, funny, but at 10 minutes in duration, a little difficult to build into a full event.  Fortunately, we were already planning an evening of R-RATED TWAIN with Sea Tea Improv in January and Polgar's play was a perfect fit.  When performed in City Steam's Brew Ha Ha Comedy Club, Mark Twain: Ladies Man brought the house down (as did the rest of Twain's smuttiest material).  Because of popular demand, we are re-presenting R-RATED TWAIN on Friday, August 6th and Saturday, August 7th at 8 p.m. at the Hole in the Wall Theatre in New Britain.  As Mark Twain: Ladies Man is back on the bill, we asked the West Hartford native to share the genesis of the play.

The Making of Mark Twain: Ladies Manby David Ryan Polgar

I started writing Mark Twain: Ladies Man for a Connecticut-themed short play contest. When I think of Connecticut, he’s the first thing that comes to mind. If Maine has lobsters and Massachusetts has clam chowder, our residents have a taste for Twain.

After deciding that he would be my “Connecticut theme,” I came up with a title. Truthfully, I love to work backwards. It’s like the new movie Cowboys & Aliens—it’s a novel idea that throws you for a loop. Mark Twain as a lothario just seemed to jump out at me. Maybe it was his wit (which the ladies love), or perhaps it was his mustache. He seemed much cooler than Tom Selleck, and women fawned over him in the 80s. Next I started to imagine scenarios where the author was brought back to life and hanging out in a bar. What would he be like?

That’s the idea I played with and expanded on. What if Twain were brought back to life for the sole purpose of helping men pick up women? Would he be a good wingman or a conniving rascal? To keep the material grounded in some semblance of truth, I decided it would be fun to have every utterance of Twain be words he actually said. It’s remarkable how current Twain sounds. Twisted the right way, he can be both snarky and poetic. Of course, the quotes are taken completely out of context. This is by no means a PBS special; it’s more like a trip down the rabbit hole.

After showing an early version of the script to Jacques Lamarre and Julia Pistell at the Mark Twain House & Museum, I received a great deal constructive feedback that I used to polish up the play. For example, some of the quotes I had used turned out to be misattributed to Twain. In addition, Jacques and Julia helped me clarify how exactly Mark Twain would be wind up in a bar. Instead of spending twenty pages discussing cryogenics (and besides, a lot of times they just freeze your head), I went less sci-fi and more absurdist—he can be rented online. Take that, Craigslist.

I always like to learn something with everything I watch. So do most people, I figure. We have armchair lawyers and detectives watching Law & Order and CSI. People like small bits of knowledge delivered in a non-academic way. While the Twain in Ladies Man is a complete caricature, you do leave with a great taste of his wit. I hope that besides laughing, people also get the urge to dig deeper into Twain’s life and writings (with his recent autobiography, there is plenty to dig). It certainly made me appreciate him more.

R-RATED TWAIN, an "adults only" evening of Twain at his most ribald, is Friday, August 5th and Saturday, August 6th at 8 p.m. at the Hole in the Wall Theater, 116 Main Street, downtown New Britain.  Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling (860) 229-3049 or at the door.