By Barbara Schmidt
abbreviated version of this article first appeared in
FROM HERE TO THERE; STORIES FROM A MOBILE VIRGINIA
Edited by Dan Smith, Virginia Museum of Transportation, 1998.
OPENING OF THE JAMESTOWN EXPOSTION
TWAIN AND YACHT DISAPPEAR AT SEA -- So read the bold front page headline of The New York Times on Saturday, May 4, 1907. Back home in Norfolk, Editor Harvey Wilson of the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch had stayed up all night ready to run an "Extra" for what might be one of the biggest news stories of his career--the death of America's best loved writer in a tragic accident at sea.
The past week had been like no other in the history of Tidewater. The Jamestown Exposition had opened on Friday, April 26--a world's fair to celebrate the founding of the first settlement in America at Jamestown, Virginia 300 years earlier. Not only had the eyes of the world been on Norfolk, but some of the most important people in the world had come to the Norfolk area for opening day ceremonies.
Postcard of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition featuring steamboats, yachts, and hot air balloons.
Postcard courtesy of Dave Thomson.
Governors, congressmen, senators, diplomatic delegations from at least 21 foreign nations and a crowd that official estimates placed at over 40,000 swelled the Exposition site at Sewells Point, just outside Norfolk. They came by trolley, boat, and horseback. A fortunate few who owned one, came by automobile. President Theodore Roosevelt had sailed down the Potomac into Hampton Roads on the presidential yacht Mayflower. Roosevelt was greeted by 100-gun salutes from one of the largest displays of naval strength ever assembled in Hampton Roads--a fleet of 16 American battleships, along with representatives of navies from around the world, including Great Britain, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.
Among the prominent figures making the journey from New York into Hampton Roads for the Exposition was Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers, builder and financier of the Virginian Railway which was currently under construction. Norfolk--having been selected as the terminating point for Rogers' rails--regarded him as one of their greatest benefactors. The corporate world regarded Henry H. as cut throat monopolist "Hell Hound" Rogers and Wall Street financiers regarded his railroad as "Rogers' Folly."
|Accompanying Rogers were his son Harry and Samuel Clemens, known to the American public as Mark Twain. Their entrance into Hampton Roads had been made aboard Rogers' steam yacht Kanawha, one of the country's largest and fastest private yachts--capable of twenty-two knots. Purchased by Rogers in 1901, The New York Times, ever ready to compare the wealth and toys of America's rich and famous, had described the Kanawha as "easily the superior of J. Pierpont Morgan's noted Corsair" (The New York Times, April 18, 1901).
The April 27, 1907, edition of the local Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported that the arrival of Twain and Rogers had caused so much excitement that a boat collision was narrowly averted.
Crowd Endangers Steamer to Get Passing Glimpse of Humorist Mark Twain
Between Steamer Sylvester and Yacht Kanawha Narrowly Averted
It was a very close shave that the steamer John Sylvester had yesterday morning as she was proceeding down the river for the exposition grounds with 1,200 people aboard.
The steam came within an ace of colliding with H. H. Rogers' steam-yacht the Kanawha. It was a frightened crown of passengers for a short time. The yacht was clearly at fault.
If the vessels had come together it would have been what is known as a "sideswipe" collision. It is a question as to which vessel would have gotten the worse of it.
Crowd Wanted to See Mark.
The Sylvester was just below Fort Norfolk making pretty good time when the Kanawha crept up on the steamer. As it had been printed that Mark Twain, the famous humorist, was aboard the Standard Oil magnate's vessel, the passengers on the steamer all seemed to get on the starboard side of the vessel, which caused her to careen. There were cries for Twain. The skipper of the yacht heard them and it appeared that he tried to run his vessel as close to the steam as possible.
The master of the yacht evidently did not count on the current for the yacht was swept close tot he steamer and it appeared that a collision was inevitable. Seeing the danger, the master of the yacht steered away and soon the vessels were far apart.
Mr. Clemens, whose nom de plume is Mark Twain, heard the shouting. He had been seen in the saloon of the yacht, his thick, bushy white locks standing out plainly through the windows.
The demand for his presence on the deck was so great that the famous writer came out, took off his hat and bowed. A mighty shout went up from the passengers on the steamer. Then Mark retired. He wore that famous white suit. On his head was a yachting cap. The yacht anchored near the warships.
Second Narrow Escape.
While the Sylvester was going through the long lane of warships in the Roads she had another narrow escape from colliding, this time with the yacht Embia, of New York. Again it was the fault of the other vessel, for the yacht tried to cross the bow of the steamer. The captain of the steamer exercised rare judgment and maneuvered his vessel so that she steered clear of the white flyer that got in her way.
police lines in the Roads were drawn tight. The Sylvester hadn't
proceeded far before a navy launch hove in sight and the commander through
the megaphone warned the master of the steamer not to get within the
The Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch of April 25, 1907, featured the bold headlines ROARING GUNS WILL WELCOME PRESIDENT adjacent to the headline MARK TWAIN HERE WITH H. H. ROGERS.
and Standard Oil Magnate Arrive of the Latter's Yacht
A luxurious mahogany tender bearing the name Kanawha lay wallowing in the slip adjoining the Norfolk-Portsmouth ferry pier this afternoon. Off shore lay a great white steam yacht, while o the pier an inquisitive person connected with the local newspaper sought to pump out of the head man on the yacht tender whether Norfolk's greatest benefactor Henry H. Rogers, was aboard his yacht or to the best of his knowledge and belief ever had been aboard and failed completely.
Then a figure in ghostly garb, which recently with rare humor announced that it had just rounded "pier 70," and did all its work of illuminating the world in bed, came down the pier from the connected end and the inquisite person instantly concluded, it seems, that it was the head of the Standard Oil Company.
It was escorted by Walter H. Taylor, attorney for the Virginian railway company, and H. P. Reigart, purchasing agent for the same road, formerly the Tidewater-Deepwater. Its locks were white as the fleece of that Angora goat from the raising of which more profit is derived by amateurs than is from raising chickens, and it was clothed in a sort of light grey cloth of almost an ice cream hue.
Mark Twain; Not Rogers
This distinguished figure was introduced to the inquisite person as Mr. Rogers, but MR. Taylor gave proof that he has a conscience by explaining subsequently that it was Mr. Clemens. Then everybody did what all the world does when Mr. Clemens wills with words. They laughed.
Mark Twain then told who was aboard the Kanawha, saying that Henry H. Rogers was brought along because he owns the yacht and pays the freight, that Mr. Rogers son, Henry H. Rogers, Jr., Messrs. W. E. Benjamin and Urban Broughton, his sons-in-law, and Mr. Lancaster, an English gentleman, were along.
He said that all the others went out on the Tidewater this morning to inspect the line and that the party will stay here over tomorrow, at least, to see the ceremonies incident to opening the Jamestown Exposition. He said he had no impressions fit for publication and immediately afterward said that the fleet in Hampton Roads this morning was a pretty sight.
Speed of Sound.
Then he started to tell, in a story which stretched from the ferry landing almost to the Monticello Hotel, sometimes taking long strides and occasionally halting, how he counted the guns which were fired from our warships this morning when the British and Austrian squadrons came in from sea; that he counted eight between the flash of fire and the sound which reached the Kanawha and estimated that the firing ships were eight-elevenths of a mile away.
At intervals afterward, while his brain was chewing away upon this problem and his lips occasionally expressed aloud the fear that the brain was not telling the truth, and the wish that he could have a look into the encyclopedia in order to verify the impression gained therefrom some thirty years ago the only one made side remarks.
he, and Messrs. Taylor and Reigard, his entertainers, sailed for the
exposition grounds in an automobile. As the infernal machine made the
preliminary thundering noise preparatory to starting he shouted that
all he wanted to know was how far sound travels in a second; that he
thought then it was 1,100 feet and his seconds in the opening chapter
of this story were much too short.
Friday, April 26, opening day for the Exposition, had begun in fog which quickly lifted, allowing President Roosevelt to make his way to an outdoor grandstand where he addressed the burgeoning crowd. Among the issues Roosevelt talked about that day were the evils of large corporations and a pledge to curb unjust and illegal practices of corporate wealth. "Hell Hound" Rogers probably chafed at Roosevelt's words, believing they were personally directed towards him and the railroad collusions that Standard Oil had engineered--collusions that allowed Standard Oil to become the world's richest and most powerful monopoly.
The Saturday edition of the Ledger-Dispatch reported that Rogers met with his railroad officials and the leading businessmen of Norfolk to discuss what the Ledger-Dispatch described as "an enterprise greater than ever one man, singlehanded, essayed before and is carrying forward to completion." Rogers took great pride in discussing the status of his Virginian Railroad enterprise which would comprise 446 miles of rail from the coal fields of West Virginia to a port at Sewell's Point. Rogers also took great pride in discussing his friendship with his famous traveling companion Mark Twain. The Ledger-Dispatch reported that Mark Twain was not present at the meeting and "therefore everybody felt free to talk about him, and did" (Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, April 27, 1907). Mark Twain was also the topic of discussion in a separate article titled EASY MARK TWAIN.
The man whom a few people know as Samuel L. Clemens is an easy mark. That was demonstrated Thursday when he came here aboard the steam yacht Kanawha, as the guest of Henry H. Rogers, the Standard Oil Collossus, and talked when a newspaper reporter was within short ear shot.
He seems to have none of that quality which one who wished to exhibit a deplorable lack in a fancy dress might well perhaps, call business acumen. Why everyone of those little words which slipped out of his mouth might have been sold for something.
True, they were not exactly new words, but he could have dressed them up so no one would have known that they ever had been used and they could have been worked off at a good profit to the producer.
Instead of the producer profiting, however, the public profited. That goes to show that a man may have the art to dress up old words in a new style and amuse the public immoderately and still be without business acumen.
Men do not make money talking for nothing. Mark Twain, as he lies slumbering aboard the Kanawha, the breeze from the Dismal Swamp which Tom Moore peopled with the ghost of a maid which never ceases from paddling, fanning the sleeper, is surrounded by several luminous examples all pursuading to the contrary.
Not all he said yesterday has yet blossomed into print either, but may be expected to be hoarded and retailed by the newspaper men slowly, so as to not break the market. He said something to the effect that some people here expressed concern lest the Jamestown Exposition should not be complete.
Such a possibility as that, he could not comprehend in view of the fact that he really was the show and he was all here and it was all right. He allowed that his daughter once said that her Papa never went any where except it was some place where he could show himself off and he thought that he was doing that here pretty well.
The reporters say that he said these things. Of course, the reporters sometimes misquote a man. Who has not known men whom they have quoted in print as saying something which sounded entirely different when read than when uttered. Fortunately for reporters the things which they write which please the public and make that public applaud the man who uttered them are rarely misquotations.
Mark Twain, though, has rarely been misquoted. Perhaps the principal reason why this is true is that nobody else could think of anything which might be said which was so good as that which Mark Twain really said.
can say good things, there isn't any doubt of that, but that he has
business acumen three is no earthly use of pretending. Perhaps it is
because of this very lack that the world loves him so dearly. The crippled
child generally is loved by the mother better than the perfect one is.
Rogers, his son Harry, and Twain stayed in the Norfolk area throughout the weekend enjoying the newspaper attention and Norfolk hospitality. When recurring fog off the capes delayed the departure of the Kanawha from Hampton Roads, the Rogers party departed on Monday by train to return to New York. Mark Twain refused to travel by rail--a method of travel which no longer held any charm for the former steamboat pilot. Twain and the Kanawha remained anchored off Old Point with the yacht's navigator refusing to move the anchor one inch in low visibility.
On Tuesday, April 30, Twain discussed his predicament with a Ledger-Dispatch reporter and the interview appeared in print the following day.
Was Bottled Up at Old Point Because He Refused to Go Home by Rail
Mark Twain marooned at Old Point Comfort on the yacht Kanawha, and so far from Fifth avenue that he says he will never look upon the Washington Monument again; that was the whisper that went around the lots or at the Hotel Chamberlin Yesterday.
Mark himself held a reporter with his glittering eye and drowned the blare of the loud basso in the dining room in recounting his modern versin of the ancient marinter's tale:
"Here I am," said the author, nervously flicking a big of cigar ashes from his copyrighted white flanner suit, "here I am alone on Mr. H. H. Rogers' yacht Kanawha anchored out there and not one saint to look down in pity.
"Rogers has gone home, his son, Harry, has gone and the only remaining guest that came down to this merry, exposition opening last Friday says he is going back to New York tonight. But I cannot go. For two days we have been held up by the fog out by the Capes, and the navigation officer says that he won't risk the passage.
"I simply will not go back by train, so here I remain, pacing the boards of the Kanawha or the carpets of the Chamberlin, utterly, unforgiveable alone, I think of that Fifth avenue and of th edear omnibus trunding up and down from the monument and I feel that I am without a country."
Mr. Clemens bit deep into his cigar end, and went on to explain that he had come down as Mr. Rogers' guest on the Kanawha to witness the opening of the exposition, believing in his innocence that he would straightway be carried back to New York and his work after the show was over. But when the fogs of the last three days chained up the Capes and the navigatin officer on the yacht would not move anchor one inch, Mr. Clemens had the alternative of taking the train back with hishost or waiting on the pleasure of the weather bureau. Since he detests railroad travel, he says that there is no alternative, and that he will remain a marooned mariner until the fog lifts.
Impatient Mr. Clemens was the only unhappy man in and about Hampton Roads. Exhilaration shrieked from the whistles of every launch that plied between the steel ships and the pier at Old Point, there was promise of joy in the piled cases of beer that awaited transport to th battleships against Thursday night's feasting.
the fog lifted yesterday morning, Mark took no chances, but lay overnight
below. This morning a big steam yacht pretty well identified as the
Kanawha passed out the Virginia Capes at 4:45 o'clock. She was
followed an hour later by the Carola, another big steam yacht,
which has been here during the exposition opening festival.
However, on Friday,
May 3, news reports came from Norfolk that Twain and the Kanawha never
made it through the Capes. And Harvey Wilson was standing by--ready to run the
"extra" as details emerged while "negro servants were kept busy
rushing messages to the telegraph offices, while the most expert of the julepers
of the Southland worked their arms off cracking ice and plucking the tender
leaves of the fragrant herb in the preparation of a certain famous concoction
guaranteed to dispel sorrow and lighten hearts that are heavy" (The
New York Times, May
When Twain awoke in his Fifth Avenue apartment in New York and read the Saturday, May 4 edition of The New York Times, announcing he was lost at sea, he realized that the Kanawha had slipped through Hampton Roads several days earlier unnoticed by his Virginia associates who were now fearing he might be resting in a watery grave.
Twain jokingly sent word to his friends in Virginia via a report published in The New York Times that he would conduct an "exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public" (The New York Times, May 5, 1907). It was the second time in his public career that the reports of his demise had been greatly exaggerated. Harvey Wilson's May 4 afternoon Ledger-Dispatch ran only a six line AP news release from New York that "Mr. Clemens is at his home in this city."
The May 5, 1907 edition of the Washington Post hinted that the culprit behind the story of Twain and the missing Kanawha was Henry Rogers himself who sent out the call to Virginia to look out for his missing yacht. In a story headlined "Joke on Mark Twain" the Post reported "There is just a suspicion in the humorist's mind that it is no less a person than the usually serious Henry H. Rogers" who was responsible for the press uproar.
ROBERT FULTON DAY AT THE JAMESTOWN EXPOSITION
Almost immediately upon his return to New York, Mark Twain began planning a return trip to the Jamestown Exposition--this time as a founding member of the Robert Fulton Monument Association. September 23, 1907, had been designated as a day to celebrate the centennial of Fulton's invention of the steamboat. A giant three-mile long marine parade was planned which would feature every sort of craft powered by steam along with a full agenda of speeches and banquets. Descendants of Robert Fulton would be on hand as well as high profile members of New York's Robert Fulton Monument Association including Cornelius Vanderbilt, President of the association who would be entering Hampton Roands on his North Star--a magnificent steam yacht that had hosted rulers of Great Britain and Germany.
Once again Twain would make his entrance into Hampton Roads aboard the Kanawha. Rogers would not make the return trip to Virginia, but Twain kept him apprised of all plans for the use of his yacht, including names of potential guests. Rogers had placed only one condition concerning guests, warning Twain, "If you take on board that fakir from Washington I'll have him dumped from a water closet" (HHR to SLC, June 12, 1907). Presumably President Teddy Roosevelt was not welcome aboard the Kanawha.
Twain's initial plans included transporting former President Grover Cleveland to the Exposition to be the chief orator for the occasion. However, in late July, Twain informed Rogers that former President Cleveland's "half-wrecked health" would prevent him from going to Virginia (SLC to HHR, July 29, 1907). Twain began scrambling to find a suitable replacement Cleveland.
By late August, with Fulton Day closing in, Twain became despondent from the pressures of the pending celebration and the inability to find a suitable speaker. He asked his secretary Isabel Lyon to withdraw his name from the celebration. Lyon wrote to Rogers, "But it seems they count so much on having Mr. Clemens there; they feel so without him they might as well give up all idea of having the celebration, as he is their great card" (Lyon to Emilie Rogers, August 27, 1907).
Upon receipt of Lyon's letter, Rogers sent Twain a curt message, "They want Mark Twain. If you cannot see that, I can. Why not make short work of the whole matter by saying that Mr. Rogers writes you that he would be glad to send you and your friends down to Virginia, and now since Mr. Cleveland is unable to attend, why not make it a 'Clemens' Day?" (HHR to SLC, August 30, 1907).
Heeding Rogers' advice, Twain proceeded with plans to participate in the Fulton Day festivities agreeing that he would step onto the speaker's platform to make one introduction for retired Rear Admiral Purnell Harrington, a former commandant of the navy yards in Portsmouth and Norfolk who was now serving as chairman of the Naval Board for the Jamestown Exposition. In explaining his choice of Admiral Harrington, Twain's secretary wrote that "Mr. Clemens is a sort of water bird himself and has no land connections any longer, so the Admiral will suit him best" (The New York Times, September 22, 1907).
The New York Times gave the Robert Fulton Monument Association a grand write-up on the departure from their city to Virginia: MARK TWAIN SKIPPER OF ROGERS' YACHT -- SUGGESTS RACE WITH VANDERBILT YACHT shouted Sunday's headline on September 22. The Times was ever ready to fan the rumors that Twain was eager to test the speed capabilities of the Kanawha against the North Star--vessels from the playgrounds of two of the world's richest moguls.
On Monday, September 23 the weather chose not to cooperate for Fulton Day. High winds and rough seas hampered the three-mile long marine parade festivities. Even the task of transporting guests ashore via launch proved hazardous. Twain later confided to Henry Rogers how grateful he was to have had young Harry Rogers and his wife with him throughout the day. "Their presence forbade me to shame them with certain vicious and ungracious public utterances which longed for an outlet, but were much better unsaid than said" (SLC to HHR, September 26, 1907).
When Mark Twain, dressed in white, entered the magnificent auditorium for the formal ceremonies of the day, he received an unprecedented storm of applause and cheers. Twains entrance and speech that night was fully documented in the local Virginian-Pilot which reported that Twain received a full five minutes of cheering and standing ovation as the audience waved their hats and umbrellas. Deeply touched, Twain said, "When you appeal to my head, I don't feel it; but when you appeal to my heart, I do feel it" (Virginian-Pilot, September 24, 1907). Even though Twain had agreed to only speak an introduction for Admiral Harrington, his performance was much more. He was their drawing card for the evening and he knew it. Twain playfully bantered back and forth with Admiral Harrington throughout his introductory speech, much to the delight and laughter of the crowd. When he finished, the crowd once again gave him a triumphant ovation.
History does not record which yacht--Rogers' Kanawha or Vanderbilt's North Star--won the proposed race back to New York from Virginia, if there was indeed a race. However, upon his return, Twain wrote to Rogers, "I wish you could have been there that day; it was the completest and perfectest fiasco in history, and worth going a thousand miles to see. But all the same I had a good time, notwithstanding the conditions were so ridiculous" (SLC to HHR, September 26, 1907).
record that the Jamestown Exposition of 1907 was a financial failure. However,
the impressive U.S. Naval fleet that had gathered there remained stationed in
Hampton Roads and later toured the globe as Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet.
Only a decade later, in 1917, the Exposition site was purchased by the federal
government. It's destiny was to become Norfolk
Naval Base--the world's largest.
OPENING THE VIRGINIAN RAILWAY
It would be two years before Mark Twain and Henry Rogers would again return to Norfolk. The final spike in Rogers' Virginian Railway had been driven on January 29, 1909--Rogers' sixty-ninth birthday. The total cost of the project had exceeded $40,000,000 and most of the funds had been provided by Rogers himself. Once again the local Norfolk newspapers provided extensive coverage to the city's distinguished guests as they arrived for the celebration of the completion of the railroad. The Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch reported that Rogers and his party had arrived on the Old Dominion steamer Jefferson about 10 o'clock with all her bunting flying. Rogers and Twain also granted an interview with the Ledger-Dispatch.
Henry H. Rogers and Dr. Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) Good for Many Years Yet--A Talk With Them.
Henry H. Rogers and his party, who came down from New York on the Old Dominion line steamer Jefferson to attend the celebration of the opening of the Virginian Railway, debarked on the pier here about 10 o'clock.
Raymond Du Puy, vice-president and general manager of the Virginian, met them at the pier, bundled them into three big Rambler automobiles, which were in waiting, whisked them to the Lynnhaven Hotel and after registering them and seeing that they were comfortably settled, went off to resume his work of running the big railroad.
According to pre-arrangement with Mr. Du Puy, a reporter for the Ledger-Dispatch met the Rogers party upon their arrival at the hotel, and gained audience with Mr. Rogers, Mark Twain, whom Mr. Rogers said, should be given his proper name and title, which is, Rogers said, Doctor Samuel L. Clemens, Charles Lancaster, H. H. Rogers, Jr., others of the party who had something to say, during an informal talk of perhaps a half hour.
In Fine Health
One of the most gratifying things observed during the sorting out and stowing away of something like a couple car loads of luggage which the visitors brought along, was the fact that both Messrs. Rogers and Clemens, notwithstanding each is well along in years and the latter confessed a couple of years ago to having then "rounded pier 70," appeared to be in as good health as ever in their lives.
Mr. Rogers in fact, seems to be stronger than he has been for many years. Neither of these gentlemen manifested an inclination to take one of the comfortable seats in the hotel lobby, but stood up and seemed as spry as any of the party.
Mr. Rogers who has never been quoted in print in his life, so far as newspaper men know, save that once when he permitted this newspaper to quote him as saying that Norfolk is going to be a great city, said little today beyond expressing his pleasure at being here and his gratification over the completion of his railway and the manner in which the people here are celebrating it.
Hardly a more democratic man than Mr. Rogers is may be imagined. He is, although of commanding presence, frank, outspoken, direct, approachable and particularly courteous. He laughed when he said that the newspaper men should be particular about addressing his close friend, Mark Twain, as Doctor Clemens, and there seemed to be some joke in connection with this, which was not explained. It was suggested later, however, that the title was bestowed because of the literary attainments of Mr. Rogers' friend, which are by man esteemed considerable.
The Twain Mine
Mark, being a mine, was next worked.
"Mr. Twain, I beg your pardon, Dr. Clemens, will you say a few words for publication in the Ledger-Dispatch, but before you begin will you kindly mention what your price per word is; I have heard that it is thirty cents, but want to be sure about it before ordering?" said the newspaper man in an unbroken stream of words.
Then he was informed that his newspaper wants only the highest class of literary word and has heard of some writers who lately have charged a dollar a word.
"I have raised my price, " the only one said, "and am as high as the highest of them now."
Here Mr. Rogers observed:
"The call you Mark Twain, Incorporated," apparently alluding to an editorial which recently appeared in this newspaper.
"Yes," said Mr. Clemens, "the newspapers may treat that matter humorously, but it is no laughing matter. Do you know that I have received a letter from the German Government about that and my incorporation of myself is probably going to break the present international copyright system all to smash?"
Next, Mr. Clemens, who it is known by some was a pilot on the Mississippi river a little earlier in the game of life and knows all about the bars and snags and other nightmares of navigators, was asked whether he is going to pilot the river steamer Nanticoke from Franklin, Va., to Venezuela, which steamer was said in a recent press report to have been sold to one who perhaps is an agent of former President of Venezuela, Castro.
"What does the job pay?" he inquired, "it is altogether a question of how much there is in it and the security.
With this evasive answer Mark ported his linguistic helm and sheered off.
Charles Lancaster, chairman of the Council of the Chamber of Commerce of the city Liverpool, one of England's greatest capitalists, who is largely interested in the Virginian Railway, and is a member of the Rogers party, spoke optimistically of the future of this port, which he said he visited some two years ago.
George B. Hopkins, another of Mr. Rogers' guests, proved to be most engaging and widely informed.
Henry H. Rogers, Jr., who is of the party, expressed his pleasure at being in Norfolk again, and in meeting a number of those whom he met upon former visits.
The party includes Henry H. Rogers, H. H. Rogers, Jr., Charles Lancaster, of Liverpool; James M. Beck, the great lawyer; William Evarts Benjamin and W. R . Coe, sons-in-law of Mr. Rogers; Samuel L. Clemens, alias Mark Twain; Melville E. Stone, general manager of the Associated Press; R. W. Ashcroft, George H. Church, treasurer of the Virginian Railway Company, and George B. Hopkins. The latter is a guest of Mr. Rogers, while MR. Ashcroft is secretary of Mark Twain, Incorporated.
Urban H. Broughton, director of the Virginian Railway, and also of the great new smelting company, the International Refining and Smelting Co., the rival of the American Smelting Company, and a son-in-law of Mr. Rogers, with Franklin Q Brown, of Redmond & Co., bankers of New York, a director of the Virginian and formerly vice-president and general manager of the Plant System of Railways and Steamers, are due to arrive her from New York this evening, by rail and to join the Rogers party here.
the banquet tomorrow night the principal speeches are to be made by
Melville E. Stone and James M. Beck. It is expected that Mr. Clemens
also may sparkle at this function.
Reports continued to shadow Rogers and Clemens during their stay in Norfolk. The following day's edition of the Ledger-Dispatch reported that Clemens had made an informal speech alongside Rogers at the previous evening's reception at the local Board of Trade and Business Men's Association.
Mr. Rogers' Joke
Norfolk's distinguished guest, Mr. Henry H. Rogers, pleased the large company who were yesterday evening entertaining him at a reception at the rooms of the Board of Trade and Business Men's Association by a display of oratorical gifts which he has heretofore never been suspected of possessing.
Incidentally, he incurred a debt which it is safe to say bears interest and is likely to be paid shortly by Mr. Rogers' great friend, Dr. Samuel L. Clemens.
At the conclusion of the reception Dr. Clemens got up on a perch or raised dais of some sort in response to irresistible demands for a speech and made a very felicitous one, in which he said he had been greatly complimented by innumerable people who have since he came here called him "Mr. Rogers," mistaking him for the great financier and railway builder. This talk was punctured at short intervals by tumultuous applause.
When Dr. Clemens finished speaking there were insistent calls for a speech from Mr. Rogers. To the great surprise of many, the great capitalist arose, and in the clear and resonant voice of an orator of great power, and with the grace of such an one, said that his business is the building of railroads; that he employs the ablest men he can secure to build them, and when they are finished he employs orators to tell about them. Then he pointed at "Mark Twain" and said that he was one of those. Tremendous applause followed this clever sally. Then Mr. Rogers explained that "Mark" was his friend, with whom he occasionally took liberties, thus unmistakably indicating that was a joke of no mean ability.
reception to Mr. Rogers and his party at the Board of Trade was an enthusiastic
success, and gave the representative business men an opportunity to
become acquainted with the owners of the Virginian railroad, whose coming
means so much to this section.
On April 3, 1909, the businessmen of Norfolk honored Rogers at a banquet for his unprecedented accomplishment comparing him to Napolean and Ceasar. The occasion was reported in newspapers across the country from The New York Times to the San Francisco Daily Morning Call. Mark Twain, in one of his final public appearances, provided the crowd with a touching tribute to his friend interspersed with sparks of humor. Twain admitted he had not yet seen the rails but would do so at a quiet time "when I shall not be called upon to deliver intemperate compliments on a railroad in which I own no stock" (Mark Twain Speaking, Fatout).
MARK TWAIN AT RAILROAD FEAST
Humorist in Speech Makes Jest of H. H. Rogers' Road Building
NORFOLK, Va., April 3. - The opening of the new Virginian railroad was celebrated tonight with a banquet given in honor of H. H. Rogers by the businessmen of Norfolk. Among the speakers was Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who made one of his characteristic humorous speeches. He appeared in his well known suit of immaculate white and declared he was the whitest man in attendance.
Explaining why he did not leave the car to inspect the great steel pier of the Virginian railroad, Clemens said he saw it en route to the city and noted that, like Rogers' foot, "it was long and bony."
Clemens said: "It is no small thing to be classed as you have classed Mr. Rogers. Why didn't he say it was the proudest moment of his life, like Julius Caesar did? They can't be here to defend themselves, but I'm here. Napoleon built 50 roads, and your toastmaster here has put Mr. Rogers, who has built only one road, in that class, and he has not got that done yet. I like to hear him complimented, but I don't like to hear it overdone.
chairman says Mr. Rogers is full of practical wisdom. I remember when
he took his first trip across the Atlantic. He did not like to ask questions
and show his ignorance, so he just kept quiet and observed. On the way
over some of the young Englishmen go to betting on the time the ship
was making. They got him to wager half a crown, but he did not know
what half a crown was, so he went to bed and tried to figure out what
he had bet. He did not know whether a half a crown was money or what.
He figured it out that a crown belonged to a king and that it was probably
[I am indebted to Dave Thomson for providing a clipping of this news report.]
The Sunday morning following the Rogers banquet, Mark Twain declined to accompany Rogers on his tour of the Virginian Railroad. Reporters again dogged his every movement around Norfolk and the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch of April 5 reported he would be returning to his home aboard the Old Dominion steamer Hamilton on Monday night while Rogers would again be riding the rails.
Photo courtesy of the Millicent Library, Fairhaven, MA.
In the crowning
achievement of his lifetime, Rogers rode the rails on an inspection tour across
Virginia. The tour brought thousands to trackside. The following month Henry
Rogers died. However, his Virginian Railway was destined for success as the
leading coal transport in the region and in 1959, the much coveted Virginian
became part of the Norfolk and Western Railroad, headquartered in Roanoke, Virginia.
See the Millicent Library website for more info on Mark Twain and Henry Rogers.
Mark Twain's Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers, edited by Lewis Leary University of California Press, 1969.
Mark Twain Speaking, edited by Paul Fatout. University of Iowa Press, 1978.
Also see more news stories about Mark Twain and Henry Rogers.