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Special Feature

Norfolk LEDGER-DISPATCH, Monday, April 5, 1909

Famous Humorist at the City Kindergarten and the High School


It Was "Medicine," Though That Thousands Have Taken With Pleasure -- Dr. Clemens Leaves for Home Tonight

Dr. Samuel L. Clemens heard a considerable number of younger children somewhat haltingly but never the less delightfully repeat today a certain story written by one whom they have been taught to look upon as illustrious.

The story is the story of Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain, and the telling of it to Dr. Clemens was held by the Norfolk women interested in the kindergarten who maneuvered to bring it about, as a pretty good turning of the tables upon the world's favorite humorist and historian, who apparently shared their view afterward.

The plotters asked Dr. Clemens today to visit the Atlantic City Kindergarten which is in charge of Miss Lillian Wadsworth and he took the bait. Then they prepared to have the children tell him his own inimitable story, of the French girl, which story is now the kindergarten classic.

The ladies were at the Lynnhaven Hotel preparing to transport Dr. Clemens to the kindergarten in a Rambler bubble which he had just blown, when Superintendent of Public Schools R. A. Dobie and School Committeeman H. B. Bagnall called at the hotel to ask Mark to address the High School scholars. They found that the kindergartners had him booked, but proposed to let the high school scholars have him after the kindergarten visit, which was imminent, was over. They, therefore, took Messrs. Dobie and Bagnall into partnership and all bundled into the auto with Mark and Secretary of Mark Twain, Incorporated, Ralph Ashcroft; and set off on the expedition.

At High School Also.

After the visit to the kindergarten, which seemed to give great delight to Doctor Clemens, Messrs. Dobie and Bagnall took him to the high school where he made one of his famous speeches. There is very little studying likely to be done today in at least two schools in this town in which the boys and girls, little and big, are perfectly wild.

Dr. Clemens who declined to go out on the inspection tour of the Virginian Railway with his friend, H. H. Rogers, and party, yesterday but decided to return with Mr. Ashcroft to New York tonight aboard the Old Dominion liner Hamilton, spent several hours yesterday watching the Sunday school children and the church-goers traversing Freemason street, apparently studying us with a view to making literature of us.

Once, when in the vicinity of the Church of the Disciples, some one told the Doctor that Mrs. Thomas Miranda, of Norfolk, was that artist who discovered some years ago the shadowy outlines of a child in a photograph of Mark, the child apparently whispering in the writer's ear. Thereupon, Mrs. Miranda, accompanied by her husband, came out of the church and both were introduced to the author, and called upon the Doctor at his hotel later.

His triumphant progress about Norfolk yesterday, during which he was introduced to many folks here, was attended by many diverting incidents and his brilliant wit flashed at brief intervals.

When he returned to the Lynnhaven, after his walk, to say good-bye to Mr. Rogers, who left the city at eleven o'clock, for the run over the road which will end at Deepwater and allow the party to reach New York next Thursday, Mr. Rogers saw him pick up his overcoat and immediately charged him with attempting to make off with another man's coat.

Mark protested that the coat was his, as it really was, but Mr. Rogers said that he knew Mark's coat and also his other one and that this was neither. This badinage which was much enjoyed by everybody in the neighborhood did not end until Mr. Rogers bade Mark an affectionate farewell, inquiring, first, however, his plans, and ascertaining that Mr. Ashcroft was to remain with him and look after his comfort.

Home at Redding.

"You are going straight to New York, are you," asked Mr. Rogers, "You are going right to my house, aren't you?"

"No," said Mark, "I have an engagement which I must fill and then I shall go right on to Redding." Redding, Conn., where he has his home is that place where he said, during the late panic when some rich men were rightly and some erroneously reported to be pinched for money, he would give Mr. Rogers a lot if he needed a home.

It also is the place where he put out the famous notice to burglars asking them to take what they wanted without waking him. During the chafing between him and Mr. Rogers yesterday, Mark asked his friend to speak to Manager Johnston, of the hotel, and assure him that Mark was a nice man and probably would pay his hotel bill some time.

"Where is the manager?" inquired Mr. Rogers.

"He is hiding behind a screen," said Mark.

The manager does not seem today to be apprehensive over his bill. Indeed he has placed a big automobile at the service of his famous guest.

Son of Uncle Remus.

A visitor who was received at the Lynnhaven today and whose call was highly appreciated by Dr. Clemens, is Evelyn Harris, son of the late Joel Chandler Harris, "Uncle Remus," whose close friend and admirer Dr. Clemens is. There has been a stream of callers today. It is suspected that he will have something of an ovation at the Old Dominion pier, when he sails tonight.

Dr. Clemens' absolute disregard for conventionality was never better shown than yesterday. With his private secretary, he had been taking a stroll along Freemason street, the street of the churches, in Norfolk, and happened to pass the Freemason Baptist Church just as services had been concluded.

Dr. Livius Lankford, one of the deacons of the church, was one of the first to spy the eminent humorist, and he promptly introduced himself, concluding the introduction with an invitation to dinner. Dr. Clemens as promptly accepted.

"But, Dr. Clemens," protested his secretary, "you have an engagement at half past four this afternoon."

"Guess I am man enough to break it," said Mark Twain.

He dined with Dr. and Mrs. Lankford at their home, Edgewater, Dr. Burnley Lankford and his wife being the other members of the party, and returned to the city later in the touring car of W. H. H. Trice, in time to keep his engagement.

Mark Twain continued his visit at the High School for about one hour. He met and addressed the boys and girls of the school separately and was on each occasion given great ovation by the pupils. He shook the hand of each present. The enjoyment of the occasion seemed quite as great on the part of Dr. Clemens as on the part of the pupils.



After the children of the kindergarten told Mark his story of Joan of Arc, he delighted them by telling a beautiful story of a gold shell which he had with him and showed the shell to each of the youngsters. To Miss Wadsworth, whom he thanked for the courtesy of her reception of him and for the privilege of visiting a kindergarten for the first time in his life, he said that he had enjoyed his novel experience tremendously.

Boys Would Have Him.

At the High School later, he delivered an address to the girls which they applauded to the echo but he said that he had no time to fool away talking to boys. The boys, however, would not have it so, came into the girls' room in numbers and hauled the author into their room where he finally addressed them.

Among other diversions he chafed Norfolk with little mercy, saying that they can tell a story here with such art that the reader will believe it to be true. A case in point, he said, was a story which he read in one of the morning papers here a day or two ago in which it was asserted that the water borne commerce of this port is something near as big as that of Liverpool. That is not true, he said.

Related story in The New York Times, April 4, 1909

For more information regarding Twain's association with Ralph Ashcroft, see Karen Lystra's DANGEROUS INTIMACY
(University of California Press, 2004).

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