Monday, July 23, 2012

This Summer in Twain History

Driving to The Mark Twain House & Museum, one can hardly fail to notice the ongoing construction on Farmington Avenue. Fixing our roads, the construction workers are bearing the unbelievable heat to help create a future of smoother commutes. While in this day and age constant construction during the summer months is common, if not expected, for Sam Clemens, even the most minor alteration to his local pathways was a cause for complaint, even when he was hundreds of miles away.

On Thursday, July 19th 1888, from Elmira, New York Clemens wrote a comically scathing note to Franklin G. Whitmore critiquing the City of Hartford’s audacity to move an electric lamp and post that resided on Forest Street. In this letter, Clemens writes:

"For fifteen years, in spite of my prayers & tears, you persistently kept a gas lamp exactly half way between my gates, so that I couldn’t find either of them after dark; & then furnished such execrable gas that I had to hang a danger-signal on the lamp-post to keep teams from running into it, nights. Now I suppose your present idea is, to leave us a little more in the dark out our way, so that you can have another light to stick in front of the granite shell of the Catholic Cathedral. Or maybe you want to add it to the Park lights, so that strangers can see the open sewer you maintain there . . . Please take our lonesome electric light & put it where you please. Put it down town by old Daniel’s dam, where you can count the catch of dead cats & forecast the rise of real estate in the cemeteries. Yours, in indestructible affection, S.L.C., Farmington Ave."

Clemens was insistent that his complaint be printed for he ordered Whitmore to post this note in the Courant without any apologies or alterations for his biting editorial, and if the Courant refused, then to go to the Hartford Times. If both of these routes failed, Clemens insisted Whitmore take it to William Mackay Laffan, who he hoped would print it in the New York Sun. Unfortunately for Sam, neither of the three papers would print his piece and his complaint was never printed for the world, and especially the City of Hartford, to see.

While this failure to print was unfortunate for Clemens, for us residents of Hartford today, perhaps it was for the best. Who knows what the results of this note would have meant for future public works on Farmington Avenue. Perhaps Farmington would not be getting repaired at this very moment, but would have been left to crumble in retaliation for Sam’s disrespect. Lucky for us, we’ll never have to know. 

-- Samantha Nystrom, Twain House Summer Intern

*All information is from David h. Fears’ Mark Twain Day by Day: An Annotated Chronology Of the Life of Samuel L. Clemens, Volume Two (1886-1896)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spiritualism & Sam

Sam Clemens lived in an era where Spiritualism was prevalent in all areas of life.  Many dinner parties of the time had mediums for entertainment.  It was seen both as a party activity and as a way to deal with the losses from the Civil War, particularly the Gettysburg Battle in which hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed.  Spiritualism was a way for people to not have to entirely give up their lost family members, a way for them to stay in touch.  The great losses that came about as a result of the Civil War also brought about a newfound popularity of Spirit photography.  These photographs claimed to capture a spirit in the background of a photo of their loved one.  One such photo is of Mary Todd Lincoln with the spirit of her husband, Abraham Lincoln behind her.

            Clemens first started to be actively involved in the Spiritualism movement when he moved to San Francisco in 1864, where there were a huge number of people who believed in spiritualism.  He started writing about spiritualism in many articles, which were later republished in a newspaper called, The Golden Era, in 1866.  He then started to go to Pellet Readings with Ada Foye, who was a famed spiritualist.  These Pellet Readings would include putting many names on balled pieces of paper into a hat and then writing a name on a piece of paper and then pulling out the pellets until they reach the person that they are called to, supposed to be the same name that the spiritualist wrote down.  Sam believed that these Pellet Readings were legitimate and did not find any untruthfulness to the first one he attended or any of the others that followed.

            Spiritualism was not only popular in San Francisco; the Nook Farm area was populated with many people who deeply believed in ghosts.  Harriet Beecher Stowe had many conversations with Charlotte Bronte through a medium, and later wanted to write articles about these conversations.  The Cheney’s would host many parties all the time, hosting mediums for the entertainment for the party guests. 

            Then in the 1880’s furthering his interest in Spiritualism, Sam joined the Society for Psychic Research. In addition to Sam’s many other connections to Spiritualism, no one can deny the strangeness of his being born and dying both times when Haley’s Comet came.  This renewed interested in spiritualism for Sam could have been tied to Suzy’s death, because she was the first of his children to die.  Sam continued to feel a connection to all of his daughters even after they died.  Sam was said to have felt a cool breeze in the bathroom, which was where Jean died.

            All these connections that Sam had to spiritualism has had its impact on the house, because today many people are said to have felt various spirits in the house.  Come to the Ghost Tours this month to find out!

-- Cassandra Saimond, Communications Intern

Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours
Friday, July 27, 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m., 9 p.m.
Friday, July 27 and Saturday, July 28! Reserve early to get a spot on these limited and popular tours -- they're routinely sold out in advance.
Reports of ghostly apparitions, mysterious bangs, cigar smoke and other unexplained phenomena, featured on Syfy's Ghost Hunters, have led us to reprise these popular tours. Hear these creepy tales -- and learn about Mark Twain's own interest in the supernatural. Spiritualism and ghostly tales were a big part of the Gilded Age, an age of uncertainty, rampant materialism and credulity much like ours.
The tours are tsponsored by Tsunami Tsolutions.
Tickets - $20 / $16 for MTH&M Members / unlucky $13 for children 16 and under (not recommended for kids under 10). Reservations required. Call (860) 280-3130.