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)

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