MARK TWAIN LANDMARK IN HARTFORD
By BERNARD J. MALAHAN Jr.
HARTFORD, Conn. - Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens 125 years ago in Florida, Mo., built a strange brick mansion here in 1873 that was his home for more than two decades. One of his contemporaries remarked that it was probably the oddest building ever designed for a residence, but added, prophetically, that the novelty of its architecture and the fame of its owner would make it a house of note for a long time to come.
It has proved, indeed, to be a house of more than casual interest both during the period of its occupancy by the Clemens family and in the present day in its role as a memorial t one of the nation's most colorful literary figures.
This year also happens to be the fiftieth anniversary of Twain's death. In commemoration of the dual anniversary, the Mark Twain Memorial Commission, which has maintained the home since 1929, has intensified, successfully its effort to add to the period furnishings, many of which belonged to the Clemens family, and to the already sizable collection of manuscripts, books, patents or other items that figured in the career of the great author, who was also a printer, riverboat pilot, newspaper man, traveler and lecturer.
Clemens the Printer.
One special exhibit, on loan to the commission for the next several months, is the furniture from the Ben Franklin Book and Job Office in Keokuk, Iowa, where, in 1855, Sam Clemens, then 20 years old, worked as an apprentice printer long before he was to win fame under his pen name. There Sam and his brother Henry set type for the Keokuk directory.
Possibly the long hours at the Keokuk type font were the reason the youthful apprentice invested heavily in later years in the elephantine contrivance known as the Paige typesetter. The mammoth machine, on which Twain lost a substantial amount of money in futile experimentation, is a permanent exhibit in the Twain home. It is on view, incidentally, next to the job shop display.
Twain, who came to Hartford with his wife in 1871, built the house at a time when he was enjoying financial prosperity. The outstanding success of his "Innocents Abroad" brought him huge royalties and he was in a position to indulge architectural whims.
He insisted that the kitchen be put on the front of the house, built a window over a fireplace to provide in winter the effect of flames leaping up to meet the falling snow, and directed the construction of several porches to resemble pilot houses as a reminder of his days on the Mississippi.
Some of Twain's most famous works, including "Tom Sawyer," "Huckleberry 'Finn" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," were written here. Although the years he spend in Hartford comprised the period of his great productivity, he led an active social life. His home was a lively center of intellectual activity where the humorist entertained noted neighbors such as Charles Dudley Warner, Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Gillette, or distinguished visitors such as Bret Harte, William Dean Howells or Rudyard Kipling.
The guest room is one of the most interesting in the spacious mansion. Some time ago the commission acquired the huge, tile-decorated, mahogany bed that Twain had installed in his guest suite shortly after the house was completed. The bed, sold at auction in 1903, had been in the possession of a Hartford family since then. The room also has other original furnishings.
Twain's own bed, imported from Italy and ornately carved by skilled craftsmen, is another of the prized furnishings in the house. His room has a balcony, a heavy marble fireplace and joining bath and dressing room.
The famous author was strongly attached to his home and to the family life it represented. He was heartbroken when his daughter, Susy, died there in 1894. He wrote at the time, "To us our home was not unsentient matter - it had a heart and a soul and eyes to see us with and approvals and deep sympathies - it was of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction."
River Pilot's License
He sold the house in 1903 and later moved to Redding, Conn., taking with him a handsome Scottish mantelpiece of which he was particularly fond. He lived in Redding until his death on April 21, 1910. The mantelpiece was found stored in a Redding barn in 1957 and has since been returned tots original place in the Hartford home.
Today's visitor can enjoy an inspection tour that will take him from the basement hall to the third-floor billiard room. Exhibits include several letters to and from the author, numerous manuscripts, first editions, his bicycle and sleigh, a copy of his river pilot's license, many items that he or his family brought home to Hartford from tours to distant places, and an ancient, hand-crank telephone.
Twain once extended Christmas greetings "to everyone except the inventor of the telephone," but he was among the first Hartford residents to have one installed in his home.
The house, open the year round, is at 351 Farmington Avenue, near Hartford's business center. There is a nominal admission charge. The house is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 2 to 5 P.M., Saturdays from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. and Sundays from 2 to 5 P.M.
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