Poor Yorick is excited to share the news of its partnership with the Mark Twain House and Museum, located in Hartford, Connecticut. Designed by New York architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, the house was home to Samuel Clemens–also known as Mark Twain–his wife Olivia (Livy), and their three children, Susy, Clara, and Jean. During the seventeen years that the Clemenses lived in the home, Mark Twain created some of his most famous works, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).
According to Mark Twain, Hartford was one of the most beautiful cities he had ever seen, so it only made sense to build his home and raise his family there. The house, which is a national historic landmark, and its surrounding property are spacious and breathtaking. Adorned with a large, wraparound porch and a verdant conservatory filled with exotic plants, this 25-room brick red house was everything the Clemenses wanted. Many of the Clemenses’ original belongings still reside in the house today. Items such as Mark Twain’s billiard table and the dining room silverware, engraved with Livy’s maiden name Langdon, live on to tell the story of the family.
But the house is more than just the residence of the prodigious writer and his family. The house and the museum building, which contains exhibits, meeting spaces, a café, and a bookstore, are the hub of many community events and happenings. The two sites host published speakers and numerous award ceremonies. The sites also serve as fantastic resources for learning and inspiration for writers, readers, and historians who want to learn more about Mark Twain and his life. Executive director and longtime Mark Twain enthusiast Cindy Lovell discusses with us the legacy and mission of the house and museum:
PY: In what ways do the Mark Twain House and Museum writing programs promote and explore Mark Twain’s literary legacy?
CL: The Royal Nonesuch Humor Writing Contest honors Twain’s humorous side. The Playwright-in-Residence program honors his legacy by mentoring a young writer. The Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award honors a writer whose work presents a distinctly American voice, since Mark Twain was the first writer whose voice was clearly, definitively American. Other writing programs promote camaraderie, something Twain valued and shared as a writer. We never expect anyone to write like Mark Twain. That would be impossible. We simply encourage and nurture writers of genres Twain particularly liked.
PY: The mission of The Mark Twain House and Museum “is to foster an appreciation of the legacy of Mark Twain as one of our nation’s defining cultural figures, and to demonstrate the continuing relevance of his work, life and times.” In your words, what kind of legacy did Mark Twain leave? How do some of the artifacts in his home prove this legacy?
CL: His greatest legacy is his social criticism, which continues to inspire people all around the globe. The artifacts in our collection include books he owned in which he wrote marginalia–commentary about the books; those notes clearly show that he was always thinking, always weighing in, always opining. Artifacts in the house itself are more the furnishings of a family, but some of the items were purchased during the family’s extensive traveling, reminding us of Mark Twain’s great perspective on traveling: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
PY: Can you discuss a recent event your museum has held?
CL: We recently presented the writer and raconteur Roy Blount, Jr. Roy has a long relationship with the House and gave a reading from his new book, Save Room for Pie. Roy performed here, for instance, when Garrison Keillor broadcasted A Prairie Home Companion live from the house in 1990.
PY: Aside from being Samuel Clemens’s place of residence, what makes the house so intriguing?
CL: It is special because he built it and had a say in its design. He wasn’t old, white-haired Mark Twain when he had it built; he was a young man with a wife and two young daughters. It is special because it was a family home, the place he lived the longest. National Geographic named it one of the ten best historic homes in the world. The architecture is truly unusual. A few Twain quotes about the house:
“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.” -Letter to Joseph Twichell, quoted in Mark Twain: A Biography.
[The house is] “…combination Mississippi River steamboat and cuckoo clock.” – quote attributed to Clemens by Friedrich Eckstein in Our Famous Guest: Mark Twain in Vienna.
“It wouldn’t do to call it ‘mongrel’ for that would be offensive to some. I guess we’ll call it ‘eclectic’–the word describes everything that can’t be otherwise described.” – interview “Mark Twain Encountered,” New York Herald, Dec. 8, 1884.
PY: Which artifact, in your opinion, is most essential to the museum?
CL: The house. The house is the main artifact, and the one we worry and fret most about. It was nearly torn down years ago to build a gas station! Preserving it is very expensive, and we rely on donations, ticket sales, and other fundraising activities to keep it pristine. As far as artifacts in the house, the angel bed in the master bedroom is probably everyone’s favorite. It was hand-carved from black walnut in Italy, and they paid a whopping $200 for it. They slept facing the headboard, and the four cherubs on the bedposts were removable. The daughters took them off and played with them daily!
For more information, visit the Mark Twain House and Museum’s website at http://marktwainhouse.org.
By Charlotte Dabrowski