Thursday, December 23, 2010


2010 was a remarkable year for Mark Twain in general and The Mark Twain House & Museum in particular. Time recently catalogued the “Comebacks of the Year” and included in the list was Twain. Of course, this is funny to folks here at the museum because Twain never truly went away (a necessary ingredient for a comeback). Our Centennial Celebration – the observance of Twain’s death plus his 175th birthday and the 125th anniversary of the U.S. publication of his masterwork Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – only served as a reminder of this giant among men who still walks, speaks and breathes (if a little raspishly after all those cigars) among us.

Two years ago, The Mark Twain House & Museum appeared to be down for the count. Financial difficulties put the future of this National Historic Landmark in doubt. Thanks to generous supporters, a rallying cry from Twain-lovers across the globe, and the dedicated stewardship of a hard-working staff and board, the rough waters were leveled and the ship was righted. But smooth sailing, as any scholar of Twain will tell you, is not what Samuel Clemens was about. His chosen pen name indicates the point at which dangerous passages become safe waters and vice versa. We had to dive into our Centennial Celebration and make a splash.

In order to change the course of The Mark Twain House & Museum, we turned to Sam himself and created a multi-faceted celebration of his life, his times, his interests, his foibles, his family and, of course, his legendary work. Thanks to our generous friends at The Hartford Financial Services Group, our Centennial Sponsor, we were able to hit the ground running in January and haven’t looked back, until now, in the waning weeks of 2010. Some highlights…

  • A performance of Mark Twain Tonight! by the indefatigable Hal Holbrook
  • A far-ranging collaboration with Hartford Stage, Hartford Public Library and Connecticut Public Broadcasting to celebrate Twain and his classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The blockbuster success of Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 plus a symposium on Twain at St. Joseph College
  • A brand new website that adds more resources for folks looking to know more about Twain and his home in Hartford
  • Authors in conversation including Twain biographers Laura Skandera Trombley, Jerome Loving, Michael Shelden and food historian Andrew Beahrs discussing Twain’s Feast
  • A Centennial Séance that exposed the bunk and chills of Spiritualism (plus a breathtaking Mark Twain House cake created by the Ace of Cakes)
  • Four fascinating exhibitions that explored Twain’s legacy, his house’s architecture, and his seminal works
  • Thousands of children visiting the house and museum for the first time to learn about Twain
  • The launch of the Nook Farm Book Club with the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
  • A delightful Spring and Fall series of free lectures examining Sam and his obsessions, The Trouble Begins at 5:30
  • Expanding education programs with Capital Prep and Bulkeley High School
  • The debut of Writing at The Mark Twain House classes with Lary Bloom, Suzanne Levine and Susan Campbell
  • Fun and eclectic programs like our Tapping into Twain Oktoberfest, Sam’s Summer Social & Moustache Party, Steampunk Tea Party and Party on the Mississippi.
  • Lectures and programs with national figures such as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, Tiffany & Co. Design Director Emeritus John Loring, Irish punk rock author Larry Kirwan and Montblanc North America CEO Jan-Patrick Schmitz.
  • Family-friendly events like Tom Sawyer Day, Saturdays with Sam and Stowe & Twain’s Old Fashioned Christmas
  • Popular outreach lecture programs held at libraries and organizations throughout the state by Education Program Manager Craig Hotchkiss
  • Sold-out Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours that probed the darker elements of Twain’s home and history
  • Lively performances by the Ebony Hillbillies, Hartford Opera Theatre, Sea Tea Improv, Varla Jean Merman, HartBeat Ensemble, and dozens of others.
  • A celebration of fellow Connecticut icon P.T. Barnum for the circus impresario’s Bicentennial with a special exhibition plus lecture and family programs
  • …and so much more!

In all, we had over 50 unique events plus mini-exhibitions, collaborations and speaking engagements. And the world sat up and took notice. We’ve had press coverage ranging from local features, regional write-ups and national attention from USA Today, The New York Times, CBS Sunday Morning, Wall Street Journal, Ghost Hunters Academy, among others. We also were profiled by international journalists including the BBC, German Public Radio, Portuguese and Russian magazines, a Japanese newspaper, Australian radio, and an Israeli internet reporter, to name but a few. Special thanks goes to Vault Communications, our amazing PR firm, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for their support of our expanded marketing efforts.

The result of all of this activity and attention? We have experienced a 13% increase in house tour visitation this year and a 16% increase in revenue. In August 2010, we had our highest attendance for a month ever. Program attendance alone has soared over 60% higher than previous years. We’ve grown our membership base and the Mark Twain Museum Store has exceeded its sales goals (thanks due, in no small part, to our new Store Manager Laura Van Dine and the arrival of a certain autobiography).

Another result of all of this activity? We’re exhausted. And planning how to top ourselves. We’ve already announced special programs for early 2011 including a lecture by author Anne Trubek (A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses), a visit from humorist Roy Blount, Jr., an evening of R-Rated Twain, and a celebrity reading of Twain’s Diaries of Adam & Eve with Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker. We hope that you plan to join us again and again as we look ahead to where Mark Twain will take us. Subscribe to our email newsletter, become a member, follow us on Twitter and/or become a fan on Facebook to keep up-to-date on everything we have in the works. Please know that at the close of our Centennial Celebration that we plan on continuing our efforts to celebrate the man who has given us so much joy.

Thank you to our board, staff, donors, members, visitors, fans and friends for making this an unforgettably awesome year. See you in 2011!

- Jacques Lamarre

Director of Communications

Monday, December 13, 2010


This week, The Mark Twain House & Museum welcomes back HartBeat Ensemble’s play EBENEEZA – A HARTFORD HOLIDAY CAROL. HartBeat’s contemporary twist on Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmas story of compassion lost and redemption found will be performed at The Mark Twain Museum Center on December 17, 18 & 19. In this new adaptation, Mark Twain serves as the Ghost of Hartford’s Holidays Past. This interpolation of Twain and Dickens is not the only time the two literary greats have crossed paths…

Charles Dickens and Mark Twain are iconic authors that are instantly associated with the countries from which they hailed. Both have become legends for work that championed the down-trodden and used humor to skewer the hypocrisies of the wealthy and the ruling class. Dickens’ Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Bleak House, and A Christmas Carol have come to define our image of Victorian England. In much the same way, Twain’s major works Tom Sawyer, Roughing It, Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi and A Connecticut Yankee have become identified with the restless American spirit during the late-1800s. Just as Twain’s term “The Gilded Age” has become the de-facto name for the excesses of Victorian America, the term “Dickensian” has become synonymous with the squalor and hardships thrust upon the poorest of the poor in Industrial Age-England.

Dickens, in a move that Twain would emulate throughout his career, supplemented his income as an author by conducting speaking tours. While Twain’s legendary performances were equal parts stand-up comedy, storytelling and speechifying, Dickens’ appearances were more of a lecture or a reading. Twain’s speaking engagements in England (which were staged by Dickens’ own manager, George Dolby) were every bit the success that Dickens’ found on his two tours of America. What you may not know is that these two legends were in the same room at the same time and never met.

In 1867, Charles Dickens arrived in America for a series of 76 public readings. On December 31st, he was to appear at New York’s Steinway Hall. One of the fortunate ticket-holders to see the most popular novelist of the day was a man on the verge of becoming the most popular writer of his time – Samuel Clemens. The occasion was particularly significant for Sam because it was his first date with his future wife, Olivia Langdon; her parents had purchased the tickets and had invited the young suitor to join them for the lecture.

Twain documented his attendance of Dickens’ reading for the Alta California newspaper in February, 1868. Twain writes about Dickens’ arrival onstage:

“Promptly at 8 P.M., unannounced, and without waiting for any stamping or clapping of hands to call him out, a tall, ‘spry,’ (if I may say it,) thin-legged old gentleman…with side hair brushed fiercely and tempestuously forward, as if its owner were sweeping down before a gale of wind, the very Dickens came! He did not emerge upon the stage -- that is rather too deliberate a word -- he strode. He strode -- in the most English way and exhibiting the most English general style and appearance.”

Twain goes on to assess Dickens:

“His pictures are hardly handsome, and he, like everybody else, is less handsome than his pictures. That fashion he has of brushing his hair and goatee so resolutely forward gives him a comical Scotch-terrier look about the face,which is rather heightened than otherwise by his portentous dignity and gravity. But that queer old head took on a sort of beauty, bye and bye, and a fascinating interest, as I thought of the wonderful mechanism within it, the complex but exquisitely adjusted machinery that could create men and women, and put the breath of life into them and alter all their ways and actions, elevate them, degrade them, murder them, marry them, conduct them through good and evil, through joy and sorrow, on their long march from the cradle to the grave, and never lose its godship over them, never make a mistake! I almost imagined I could see the wheels and pulleys work. This was Dickens--Dickens. There was no question about that, and yet it was not right easy to realize it. Somehow this puissant god seemed to be only a man, after all. How the great do tumble from their high pedestals when we see them in common human flesh, and know that they eat pork and cabbage and act like other men.”

And, finally, Twain assigns a poor review to Dickens’ reading from David Copperfield:

“I was a good deal disappointed in Mr. Dickens' reading -- I will go further and say, a great deal disappointed. The Herald and Tribune critics must have been carried away by their imaginations when they wrote their extravagant praises of it. Mr. Dickens' reading is rather monotonous, as a general thing; his voice is husky; his pathos is only the beautiful pathos of his language -- there is no heart, no feeling in it -- it is glittering frostwork; his rich humor cannot fail to tickle an audience into ecstasies save when he reads to himself. And what a bright, intelligent audience he had! He ought to have made them laugh, or cry, or shout, at his own good will or pleasure -- but he did not. They were very much tamer than they should have been.”

Despite Twain’s tough words, he did possess some admiration for the British legend. While out West in the early 1860s, Sam delighted in reading Dickens’ Dombey and Son. (The Singular Mark Twain, Fred Kaplan, p. 95) According to R. Kent Rasmussen’s Mark Twain A-Z, Twain claimed to read A Tale of Two Cities every two years, visited Dickens’ grave at Westminster Abbey in 1872 and welcomed Charles Dickens, Jr. to his Hartford home in 1887. Close to 143 years after Twain went to see Dickens in New York, the two intersect again in Hartford with HartBeat Ensemble’s performance of Ebeneeza.

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Autobiographical Stroll

Happy Monday morning, dear Twain fans and readers!

This past week was a hootananny here at The Mark Twain House & Museum-- we celebrated Sam's 175th birthday with a Party on the Mississippi, wrapped up our Nook Farm Book Club with a discussion of The Diaries of Adam & Eve, brainstormed about nonfiction in this week's writer's workshop, and took over 500 people through the house during our annual Friends Holiday House Tour. Whew! That was all fantastic but our staff is ready for a long winter's nap.

Luckily, this quiet morning is a fantastic time to get back to the reason we're working so hard: Twain's writing. This is one of my first opportunities to sit down and peruse the best-selling, very recently published, much buzzed about Autobiography of Mark Twain, so we can flip through some sentences together. Ready, dear readers, for a coming attraction of the book?

On the structure of the narrative: "It starts out with good confidence, but suffers the fate of its brethren-- is presently abandoned for some other and newer interest. This is not be wondered at, for its plan is the old, old, old unflexible and difficult one-- the plan that starts you at the cradle and drives you straight for the grave, with no side-excursions permitted on the way. Whereas the side-excursions are the life of our life-voyage, and should be, also, of its history."

On his family: "As I have said, the Clemens family was penniless. Orion came to the rescue."

On first meeting Helen Keller when she was fourteen years old: "Mr. Howells seated himself by Helen on the sofa and she put her fingers against his lips and he told her a story of considerable length, and you could see each detail of it pass into her mind and strike fire there and throw the flash of it into her face."

On politics: "I said that no party held the privilege of dictating to me how I should vote. That if party loyalty as a form of patriotism, I was no patriot, and that I didn't think I was much of a patriot anyway, for oftener than otherwise what the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views; that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn't; whereas the king could dictate the monarchist's patriotism for him..."

If you have the Autobiography, what are some of your favorite lines?

If you don't, and would like one, order it from our store-- it sells out within a few days of each new shipment, so plan ahead for the holidays if you'd like one.

Otherwise, let's hear what you think!

- Julia Pistell
Communications Associate
The Mark Twain House & Museum