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Special Feature

A March 1885 Visit
with Mark Twain and George Washington Cable

Mark Twain's personal notebook for March 1885, when he was in Washington, D.C. on a lecture tour, contains the following brief note:

Wadhams 1727 - 19 - N.W. (1)

Naval commander Albion V. Wadhams was married to the former Caroline Henderson, a first cousin of Louisa Mussina Baird. (Mark Twain's wife Olivia Clemens had provided financial assistance to Louisa Baird in purchasing ranchland in Archer County Texas several years earlier. Caroline Henderson was an old friend of George Washington Cable and during their 1884-85 lecture tour, both Twain and Cable dropped in to visit with the Wadham family in their Washington, D. C. home. A fourteen-year-old niece of Caroline Henderson Wadhams was staying with the family at the time and years later she wrote her memories of the visit.A typescript of her memoir is available in the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California at Berkeley. I am also indebted to family member and genealogy researcher Anna Marie Dahlquist for sharing her copy of the text of the memoir.

My Aunt and Uncle were very hospitable and often entertained. As I look back, I wonder how they ever thought of giving their two sons, 11 and 12, and a niece hardly 14, the opportunity to be present on all such occasions, but we were never absent. In those days George W. Cable and Mark Twain were giving readings and came to Washington. Cable was an old family friend, who always upheld the fiction that he had been in love with Aunt Carrie. He claimed he had once given her a bunch of flowers but when he found them faded and forgotten on the garden path he knew his suit was hopeless. One Sunday, the family went to church, having arranged to bring the two famous authors and a well known woman writer home for midday dinner. I was to stay and see that Dinah, a new waitress, made no mistakes in preparation. We put on the table cloth together and the inverted bowl which was to be covered with moss and topped with a few flowers. Saying I would return soon to carry out the plan, I ran upstairs to fix my braids and slip on the green cashmere dress trimmed with bright plaid satin. When I returned, I found that Dinah had not waited. The wet moss was in place and also a wide ring of damp table cloth. Hastily we began to remove silver and glass. Fortunately there was another clean table cloth of the right size and we were doing well, when I heard my Uncle's key in the front door. Just a moment and he was bringing the gentlemen into the dining room for cigars. Dinah escaped by the pantry, while I fled to the bay window but there was no escape for me. My Uncle found me and spoke to Mr. Cable, "This is Sister Mary's child," ["Sister Mary" is identified as Mary Ann Henderson who was married to L. Ferdinand Hertz] he said. I shook hands politely and then my Uncle turned. "My niece, Mr. Clemens," he said. Mark Twain's face was one big smile. He did not shake hands but pulled me around by my braids which he solemnly inspected. "What a funny color of hair she has," he said and strange to say, all my embarrassment was gone. Mr. Cable took my Aunt out to dinner and the lady author was escorted by my Uncle. Mark Twain offered me his arm. Just as we were seated Uncle turned to Mr. Cable and asked him to say grace which he did. Then the great humorist solemnly remarked, "A-A-AMen." It was irresistably funny, as was everything he did, but what should we do? We could not offend Mr. Cable by laughing and how could we help laughing. But of course a Naval officer always has a story and my Uncle at once relieved the situation by tolling us how he had once invited a French priest to lunch on board ship. He warned the officers in the wardroom to wait a bit before they began to eat, as it would be proper to ask a priest to bless the food. The day arrived and the officers dutifully waited as he struggled to find the French word for grace. Finally what he meant dawned on his guest, he made the sign of the cross and they all fell to. We laughed, all except Mark Twain who rose in his seat. "That explains some- thing I never could account for," he said. "When I was on the Mississippi River our Captain always seemed to have a fit just as we sat down to meals. He went across the room and held on to the back of a chair as if he were about to sit down, then he made a sort of growling noise and dropped into the chair. I do believe," said Mark Twain, "that he was saying grace.'' Mark Twain was in his element and he told stories till we were lame with laughter. "Never," said Mr. Cable, "Was he in better form." That was the day of autograph albums and our guests wrote their names for us, of course.

"There ain't no pints about that frog that's any different from any other frog."
Samuel L. Clemens
"Mark Twain"

It was only a few days before a Presidential inauguration and we were all to sit
in a window of the Navy Dept. to view the parade but at the last moment Mark Twain sent his regrets. He had quite forgotten an engagement he must keep in Hartford and had promised to speak to a small club of young girls of which his daughters were members and he could not disappoint them.


(1) Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Volume III, (1883-1891), ed. Robert Pack Browning, Michale B. Frank, and Lin Salamo. University of California Press, 1979, p. 99.

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