Friday, May 28, 2010

Free Saturdays of Summer

One thing that we at the Mark Twain House love about Hartford is how often our nonprofits collaborate. We have two big free Saturdays coming up, and we'd love for you to know about them!

This very Saturday, our Education Director Craig Hotchkiss will participate in the Wadsworth Atheneum's Last Saturdays program. Craig will deliver a historical and playful storytelling activity, and some of our fun Twain swag will be in attendance, too. The program will be held at the Wadsworth on Main Street in downtown Hartford. Visit Craig and see if you can tell a story as great as one of Sam's!

Even more exciting, on June 12th, we will be hosting a smorgasboard of artists, actors, craftsmen, and musicians to celebrate Tom Sawyer Day for FREE. June 12th is also Connecticut Open House Day, one of the many Big Read events, and Hartford's Magical History Tour (in conjunction with the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and the Amistad Center for Arts & Culture). Phew! That's a lot of collaboration!

Tom Sawyer Day will run from 10 - 5 on June 12th and will feature some incredible locals, including:

- The Cupcake Brake (like an ice cream truck for cupcakes)
- Sea Tea Improv
- Puppetteer Anne Cubberly
- The Bawdy Buckaneers
- The Hartford City Ballet
- The Children's Museum
- On-site Leapfrog and Marbles
- A stretchers-telling contest (you can do better than "the dog ate my homework!" Prove it!)

And about twenty more attractions-- all for free! It will be a full, fantastic day here at Nook Farm (with free shuttle service down to the Wadsworth & Amistad Center).

Can't wait to see you here on June 12th!

- The Mark Twain House

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mark Twain Talks to Us

In 2003, as I was researching a biography of Mark Twain’s best friend – a minister, if it can be believed – I got a chance to spend several winter weeks alone in the great hilltop farmhouse in Elmira, N.Y., where Twain wrote many of his significant works. (The house, Quarry Farm, is maintained by The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, one of the key Twain loci.) I took along a box of microfilm shipped there for the purpose by the Mark Twain Papers & Project at the University of California, Berkeley. When I switched on the light in the microfilm reader and scrolled through the pages, I saw Mark Twain documents like none I’d ever seen – reams and reams of typed stories, reminiscences, ramblings and observations, marked up for publication, numbered and covered with scratched-out portions and marginal notes, sometimes studded with news clippings. Entire sections were repeated with slight changes; some were handwritten. It was really hard to follow.

These were the pages of Twain’s Autobiographical Dictations, the fruits of a massive project the writer undertook in 1904 to record his life. He spoke to a succession of transcribers and set himself specific guidelines: “Start it at no particular time of your life; talk only about the thing that interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.” So here were, in a chaotic pile, stories of his home life in Hartford, Connecticut, where he spent two happy and productive decades; loving portraits of his daughters and his wife, Livy; some funny (and brave) things that my biography subject, the Reverend Joe Twichell, did; long tales categorizing in excruciating detail the failings of those around him; and, suddenly, bitter diatribes like this one headed “The Character of Man”: “His history, in all climes, all ages and all circumstances, furnishes oceans and continents of proof that of all the creatures that were made he is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one – the solitary one – that possesses malice….That one thing puts him below the rats, the grubs, the trichinae.”

It’s passages like this, I’m guessing, that caused him to put the lid on parts of this autobiography for 100 years, along with other entries that simply put others in a bad light. He wanted to be untrammeled in his expression, and couldn’t be if he had to restrain himself with thoughts of libel, political orthodoxy, and blasphemy. No big biographical revelations, the California editors tell me; simply the man plain, or as a newspaper put it in his own time: “without respect of persons or social conventions, institutions, or pruderies of any kind.”

Now that century-long wait is over, and the extraordinary editors at the Mark Twain Papers & Project are publishing the first volume of these autobiographical writings in November. They have at long last, through many years of close manuscript detective work, sorted that 5,000-page pile of dictations and scraps and pieces into the order Twain himself wanted. In the past week this glorious coming event in Mark Twain scholarship has finally gotten the attention it deserves, thanks to a piece in The Independent, the London newspaper. But it’s more than an event in scholarship: It’s a new chance to hear the voice of Mark Twain as he talks to us directly, wandering his New York rooms in his dressing gown, or in evening garb after an event at Delmonico’s, speaking in loving tones of his dead, bright daughter Susy, or in bitter tones of how human beings stand below even the most repulsive of God’s creatures.

Steve is Publicist and Publications Editor here at The Mark Twain House & Museum and the author of the award-winning Joseph Hopkins Twichell: The Life and Times of Mark Twain’s Closest Friend (University of Georgia Press, 2008).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Tweets Will Be a Part of History!

Back in April the Library of Congress announced that they acquired every tweet ever made, thanks to a gift from Twitter, Inc. And they will continue to acquire tweets as they are made! I apologize if I'm behind the times, I've just seen this headline now. But how cool is that?! I tell the kids on my tours a lot that historians 150 years from now will have a hard time researching our generation because everything is texting, IMing, Facebook message, wall posts, tweets and emails, and those things seemingly are lost when they are deleted. Over the years the art of the letter and the love letter, the diary and journal, writing in longhand - they've disappeared. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? Not a birthday card or a thank you card, but an actual letter. Got out a piece of lined paper and a pencil and wrote a letter to someone telling them how you're doing and asking them the same? I haven't done this in... years. So 150 years from now, what will historians have to say about me? All of my texts and emails... they'll be gone.

So it's nice to know that my tweets will last. Although, what will our tweets say about our generation? Justin Bieber was a trending topic for how many weeks... 15? Let it be known for the record that I had no part in that!

What do you think about having your tweets housed forever in the Library of Congress? There is a group out there who disagrees with it, so they've created hashtag #noLOC, so if you use that in your tweet, the tweet will be automatically deleted after 23 weeks and your tweet will not end up in the LoC.

We can't all be Mark Twain's and go down in history for our humor. We may as well go down in history for our excessive and twasome tweeting!


"The minor events of history are valuable, although not always showy and picturesque." -Mark Twain

Friday, May 7, 2010

At What Age Does Museum Advocacy Begin?

As we are now in May and my staff has got a full month of school field trips under their belt, it seemed appropriate timing for the Reach Advisors to send out an email about the importance of field trips and how important they are to the growth of advocates for museums. They surveyed over 40,000 households that were active museum visitors and asked them about their museum experiences as children. The results, they found, were that 1/3 of those surveyed remembered visiting museums with school (rather than with a mother or father). They then went even further and found that as children, those whose parents were less educated meant the memories of school field trips were even more common. "In short, for children who grow up in households with lower educational attainment, school field trips are an incredibly powerful and important pathway to future engagement with museums as adults, figuring in nearly half of memories for those whose parents have the lowest educational attainment."

Previous studies found that the time in a child's life that is the most influential to creating a sense of advocacy for museums is between the ages of 5 and 9. So what does this all mean? What's the point? The point is that every day schools are cutting the budgets for field trips or getting rid of them entirely. Schools are taking less trips, and for the lower-income school districts this means no trips at all. And if you remember, for those lower-income familes/schools, where it is more likely that parents have less formal education, these trips are so important for those students.

We've been fortunate here at the Mark Twain House, that for the past few years we've been able to receive grant funding to provide a Free School Visit program to the priority districts in the state of Connecticut. This allows those schools to visit for free, and we are able to provide a subsidy for their bus costs. So far this year we're finding that bookings for the Free School Visits has increased approximately 130%! More and more schools are taking us up on it because there aren't many other museums that offer a similar program.

So this of course got me thinking about the kids who come through here daily. In the past few weeks we've had students from Stamford, Waterbury, Darien, Hartford, West Hartford, Haddam, Reading, Massachusetts among others. When I give a tour, I spend an hour with these 3rd, 4th, 5th grade kids who are completely enthralled by every word coming out of my mouth. They demand to know what every object was used for and where Mark Twain sat and what he touched. They tell me continuously that they want to live here and can they move in? Their excitement is contagious and by the end of the tour I really think that I've made an impact. Then I open the door and they exit the house and their talk turns to the candy they bought in the store and they just got a new pair of shoes and don't you like my hair today? And I think, well hopefully they'll remember this visit next week. It's encouraging to know that their visits stick with them and turn them into advocates later in life. We need more of those.

To read past blogs by the Reach Advisors about school trips go here and here, and for more information on the study go here.


"Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog." -Mark Twain

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

100 Years, 100 Ways of Thinking about Sam

Hello there, Mark Twain fans!

Julia Pistell here, Caitlin's office neighbor and comrade in Twain scholarship. I will be helping out with the blog from time to time to keep you up to speed on our thoughts and programs. I pledge to live up to her high standards.

Last weekend, the New Jersey paper the Star Ledger published a short essay I wrote about three Twain biographers. These three writers will be visiting us on Monday, May 10th to discuss their work. It's all part of the NEA's Big Read. The biographers don't always agree, so the panel has the makings of an enthralling literary debate. We hope you'll be there.

Below is an excerpt of my Star Ledger piece. Read it over, think up some questions for our panel, and come by on Monday!


In 1909, Thomas Edison, a resident of Menlo Park and West Orange, filmed Samuel Clemens at his home in Redding, Conn., thus creating the only moving picture of America's most popular writer. Edison's brief footage shows Twain as he still lives in our cultural imagination: dressed in white, smoking a cigar.

Now, at the centennial commemoration of the death of Samuel L. Clemens, the author’s life has transformed into the legacy of Mark Twain. How we recall Twain today is reflective of how he wanted to be remembered: as, in his purported words, not “an American, but the American.” Three new biographical works revise this image.

Michael Shelden’s ”Mark Twain, Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years” (Random House, 528 pp., $30) is “the story of how this consummate showman staged his parting scenes, what he did to perpetuate his fame and how he made it pay long after he was gone.” Shelden’s work addresses an essential fact about Twain: As a writer, he understood the power of symbolism. Twain is the one who pointed out the association of his birth and death with the passing of Halley’s comet; who permanently stuck Huck, Jim and a raft into the American imagination; and who appeared in a white suit one day, as Shelden says, “impossible to ignore.”
And yet there are conflicting ideas about who Twain was and who he is to us now.

Laura Skandera Trombley’s ”Mark Twain’s Other Woman: The Hidden History of His Final Years” (Knopf, 352 pp., $27.95) relies on the personal writings of Twain’s secretary, Isabel Lyon, to argue he had a darker side, kept out of both his autobiography and the biography he authorized Alfred Bigelow Paine to write while Twain was alive. Trombley seeks to unearth “the story that Mark Twain was determined no one would ever tell.”

Jerome Loving’s more traditional biography, “Mark Twain: The Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens” (University of California Press, 520 pp., $34.95), says Mark Twain “began as a humorist and ended as a pessimist.” Loving tells yet a third story, a “segmented or episodic life, much like his greatest fictions.” Loving argues that Twain’s final years are merely an epilogue to his life, and that “Mark Twain also died that early June day” in 1904 when his wife, Olivia, died, rendering both the white suit and his relations with Lyon insignificant. The final years that preoccupy Shelden’s and Trombley’s books are, Loving implies, less important than the years Twain spent altering American literature.

The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Conn., whose mission is to cast a wide net on the author’s interests, is untroubled by the complex and conflicting interpretations of Samuel Clemens. On May 10, these three authors will convene there to discuss their respective books and Twain’s legacy.

See you there!

-- Julia