Excerpts from: IN THE CLUTCH OF CIRCUMSTANCE, My Own Story by a Burglar; D. Appleton & Co., 1922 pp. 168-182
CHAPTER XIV: THE MARK TWAIN BURGLARY
The idea of settling down and having a home of my own had never appealed to me very strongly until now. A real new interest in life and its future, however, made a great difference. I felt that the time had come to go straight; but to make a home for the girl I wanted to marry called for money, and lots of it. One more big haul, I still thought, was needed to make things even so far as myself and society were concerned, and also to give me my start. Thrusting aside all other thoughts, I started to work out various plans for the next and last "job."
A day or two after our unsuccessful invasion of the oil magnate's house, I picked up a Sunday newspaper and read an account and saw some pictures of the fine villa which the late Mark Twain had built somewhere in the country. He was going to move "all his earthly possessions" up there and "make it his permanent residence." The great author and humorist called his place "Innocents at Home," which he later changed to "Stormfield." Nat rally, my interest and curiosity were aroused, not so much by the description of the beautiful home as by that of the portable "earthly possessions." They appealed to me very strongly.
It was September 16, 1908, when I called on my partner and put the Mark Twain house proposition up to him. Like myself, he was "broke." We were in the same boat. The Mark Twain house possibilities lured him as powerfully as they did me. The following afternoon we boarded a train out of New York for Redding, Connecticut, where "Stormfield" stood.
It was quite dark when we arrived at the Redding Station. There was not a sound to be heard or a person to be seen on the roads. Only the sharp bark of a dog broke the stillness of the night as we passed by a farmhouse. Since we had never been in that part of the country before, we were not quite sure of our way. So, in order to make certain, I went back to the farmhouse and inquired about the road to Redding. This was the first mistake which I made that night. The farmer, seeing that we were strangers, came out and directed us on our way, lantern in hand.
After he left us, we kept on walking along the dusty country road until we came to a sharp turn, when the bright lights of a large house situated on the top of a hill arrested our attention. We concluded that this must be the Mark Twain residence, and accordingly walked in its direction. Arriving at "Stormfield," we found the house lights still burning brightly. The family had not yet retired. In order to give the occupants time to go to sleep, we picked out a secluded place behind some bushes and indulged in a quiet smoke during a period of watching and waiting.
It was getting well on toward midnight when one by one the lights were extinguished and the house was enshrouded in complete darkness except for one dim light upstairs. Experience told us that this was nothing unusual. My partner went on a tour of inspection around the house. He returned presently with the word that the coast was clear and that one of the kitchen windows had been left partly open. I helped my partner to climb in through it; and he then went and opened the big French double doors leading out from the dining room on the great veranda. I entered by the front door, like a gentleman.
By the rays of our flashlights, we first made a careful inspection of the dining room. The heavy, old-fashioned, oak sideboard near the door leading into the hall commanded our attention. We knew that it contained the family silver, which it was our object to secure first, as usual. We tried to open the drawers of the sideboard, but found them locked. To break them open would make a noise, of course, and disturb the family if done inside the house. We did not wish to be guilty of such carelessness, so we took hold of the sideboard and carried it out of the house and some five hundred feet down the road. There we broke the locks of the drawers and emptied their contents into a black bag which we had brought for the purpose. Then we went back into the house to see what else we could find.
Before proceeding, it is necessary to mention a brass bowl which had stood as an ornament on top of the sideboard, and which played such an important and fatal part on that night. Since a brass bowl was of no value to us I took it and placed it noiselessly on the dining-room floor - without my partner's knowledge, however. This was my second mistake on that night. When we entered the dining room the second time, my partner, walking rather carelessly, stumbled and fell heavily over that brass bowl.
In the stillness of the night it seemed to me as if an earthquake had suddenly struck the house. Such a noise that rolling brass thing made! With every nerve tense, we silently watched and waited for the result.
Presently a woman, dressed in bathrobe and slippers, appeared at the head of the stairs. Then a soft clear voice called: "Hello!" It was Miss Lyons, Mark Twain's social secretary, as we afterwards learned, who, awakened by the noise, had courageously come to investigate. A moment we hesitated. Then we turned and silently and swiftly left the house.
Running down the road, we picked up our bag with the silver, and continued running till we arrived at the foot of the hill. There we slackened speed and started to walk back in the direction of Bethel, some seven miles from "Stormfield."
Naturally, the discovery of our presence created a sensation in the Mark Twain household. It is said that the butler, who had been aroused, fired several shots after us, "to hasten our departure," as Mr. Albert Bigelow Paine puts it in his biography of Mark Twain. For this, however, I cannot vouch, as we must have been considerably out of pistol shot by the time the gun went off. The shots, however, did awaken the aged author of "Huckleberry Finn" who, says Mr. Paine in his account, imagining that a champagne party was in progress below, rolled over and went to sleep again.
By the time we reached Bethel, the deputy sheriff had been notified and a posse of farmers, hastily organized, had started in pursuit of us. Had we continued our walk some two miles farther to Danbury, however, the probability is that we might never have been caught and that this story would never have been told. We decided to take a chance and to wait at Bethel for the early train to New York. This proved to be the third and the biggest mistake of that night.
We boarded the train at seven o'clock with out interference. After we were comfortably seated in the smoker, a man came up to us and inquired where we had got on the train. We told him Danbury. The interrogator happened to be a neighbor of Mark Twain, who suspected us as the culprits. He notified the sheriff in charge of the posse waiting for this train when it pulled into the Redding station. A dozen men, armed with pitchforks, shot guns, clubs, and other weapons, boarded the train just as it was pulling away from the plat form. After a survey of the other coaches, they entered the smoker by the rear door. My partner, seeing the armed men entering and that we were greatly outnumbered, jumped up from his seat and ran quickly to the front platform, where he succeeded in dropping off from the rapidly moving train. One of the posse fired several shots after him, but without hitting him.
My partner having successfully "flown the coop," the entire posse turned upon me. An automatic pistol was shoved in front of my face and I was commanded to surrender. In stead of obeying the command, I pulled out my own revolver and began to blaze away at the ceiling of the car to cause a panic if possible. I did not want to kill any one; and they did not want to shoot me. The sheriff, from behind me, seized me by the right wrist and tried to twist my gun out of my hand. The others now attacked me, and a free-for-all fight ensued. Showers of blows fell upon me from all sides. Then I was struck several times on the head with a blackjack and, partly conscious, sank to the floor still grappling with the sheriff. In the furious struggle for possession of the revolver, which I still gripped securely, it went off. I became unconscious.
When I came to myself, I was lying hand cuffed out on the tracks, with my captors standing over me. I felt a heavy stream of blood pouring down over my face from wounds in my head. A sickening sense of despair came over me. I was in for it again; and all my dreams of marriage and of happiness in a home of my own were blown to shreds.
When my gun was accidentally discharged in the fight with the sheriff, the bullet had entered the flesh just back of the sheriff's thigh. He was enraged; and now, after I had regained consciousness and attempted to rise, he seized me by the throat and struck me a severe blow savagely in the face. I staggered under the unexpected attack. Then several other members of the crowd jumped at me, raining further blows on my head and body as I stood defenseless. Then I was dragged back to the station, some distance away, where I found that my partner was also being held as a prisoner.
We were handcuffed together and marched to the farm near the station, where the night before I had made inquiries concerning the way to Redding Center. The old farmer came out of the house and, recognizing us as we drew near, greeted us with a sneer and snicker, saying: "Wall, boys, glad t'see yer ag'in!"
As I was weakened by the loss of much blood, they summoned a physician to dress my wounds and to bandage the sheriff's leg. We were then placed in a carriage and taken to the town hall in Redding Center for a preliminary hearing. After we had been seated in the dingy room which served as the court room, a carriage in which were Mark Twain, his daughter, Miss Clara Clemens, and Miss Lyons, his secretary, drew up before the building. The party entered; and passing close by, the humorist, dressed in his famous white clothes, turned upon me and delivered a scathing verbal castigation and lecture on morality, ending by denouncing me as "a disgrace to the human race." Apparently satisfied with the mental punishment which he had inflicted upon me, he took a seat alongside of the justice of the peace.
After being placed under heavy bail, we were remanded to the Fairfield County jail at Bridgeport for safe-keeping.
When Mark Twain returned to "Stormfield," he caused the following notice to be placed over his dining-room door:
To the Next Burglar
There is only plated ware in this house now and henceforth.
You will find it in that brass thing in the dining room over in the corner by the basket of kittens. If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing.
Do not make a noise - it disturbs the family.
You will find rubbers in the front hall by that thing which has the umbrellas in it, - chiffonier, I think they call it, or pergola, or something like that. Please close the door when you go away !
VERY TRULY YOURS,
S. L. CLEMENS.
The three months during which we lay in the county jail awaiting trial seemed a very long time. We were locked in separate corridors and not allowed to talk or even to see each other. Neither were any outside visitors, with the exception of our lawyer, permitted to see us. Twice each week our cells were care fully searched for contraband articles, and while the rest of the prisoners were allowed free exercise in the corridor we had to stay in our cells. Not even the weekly bath was I permitted to take with the rest of the prisoners. I was taken into the bathroom separately and always under a guard of two armed keepers. Since I did not make any attempt to escape, this treatment received at the hands of the county sheriff struck me then as very unjust. However, there was no one to listen to complaint; and I can see now that they regarded me as dangerous.
At last the day arrived for our trial. Securely chained to a number of other offenders, we were taken to Danbury. It was the first time in fifty years that the Supreme Court had sat in that particular Connecticut town. After spending a restless night in the ancient and dingy Danbury jail, we were led, heavily guarded by a large force of deputy sheriffs, across the street and up into the court room. The small room was crowded with spectators and with witnesses for the state. The most noticeable and distinguished person in the room, naturally, was neither the judge nor the sheriff, but the humorist, Mark Twain, wearing a dark suit instead of his customary light-colored clothes for this serious occasion.
After the usual formalities in starting the trial, the witnesses for the state were called to testify against us. The most serious charge against me was not that of burglary, but a far more important, and an unjust charge, conviction for which would have meant a sentence of thirty years in state prison - the charge of assault with intent to murder. I am inclined to think that my story and the realization of the hard years of suffering which I had undergone impressed Mark Twain and that he was responsible or influential in having the charged changed to a less serious one, thus probably saving me from twenty years of imprisonment which I should still be undergoing. As it was, upon conviction under the charge finally brought against me, I was sentenced to serve a term of ten years in the Connecticut State Prison at Wethersfield.
Perhaps it may not be amiss to mention that our visit to his house furnished a new subject to Mark Twain, to which he not infrequently referred in later lectures. Thus, while dedicating the little new library which he had founded for the residents of the town of Redding, Mark Twain took occasion to make characteristic fun of the affair as follows:
"I am going to help build this library with contributions - from my visitors. Every male guest who comes to my house will have to con tribute a dollar or go away without his baggage. If those burglars who broke into my house recently had done that, they would have been happier now; or if they had broken into this library, they might have read a few good books and led a better life. Now they are in jail, and if they keep on they will go to Congress. When a person starts down hill, you can never tell where he is going to stop. I am sorry for those burglars. They got nothing that they wanted, and scared away most of my servants. Now we are putting in a burglar alarm instead of a dog. Some advised the dog, but it costs even more to entertain a dog than a burglar. I am having the ground electrified, so that for a mile around any one who puts foot across the line will set off an alarm that will be heard in Europe."
Saturday, March 29
Excerpts from: IN THE CLUTCH OF CIRCUMSTANCE, My Own Story by a Burglar; D. Appleton & Co., 1922 pp. 168-182
Posted by Brent M. Colley at 11:10 AM
Saturday, March 15
To Charles T. Lark, in New York:
HAMILTON, BERMUDA. April 6, 1910.
DEAR MR. LARK,--I have told Paine that I want the money derived from the sale of the farm, which I had given, but not conveyed, to my daughter Jean, to be used to erect a building for the Mark Twain Library of Redding, the building to be called the Jean L. Clemens Memorial Building.
I wish to place the money $6,000.00 in the hands of three trustees,-- Paine and two others: H. A. Lounsbury and William E. Hazen, all of Redding, these trustees to form a building Committee to decide on the size and plan of the building needed and to arrange for and supervise the work in such a manner that the fund shall amply provide for the building complete, with necessary furnishings, leaving, if possible, a balance remaining, sufficient for such repairs and additional furnishings as may be required for two years from the time of completion.
Will you please draw a document covering these requirements and have it ready by the time I reach New York (April 14th).
Very sincerely, S. L. CLEMENS.
Posted by Brent M. Colley at 2:34 PM
Sunday, March 2
Posted by Brent M. Colley at 5:39 AM
Saturday, March 1
In the years since the death, in 1910, of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, whom we all knew and loved as Mark Twain, many people have asked me, "You actually knew him, didn't you?" What do you remember best about him?"
Yes, our family had the wonderful privilege of knowing him because father, Albert Bigelow Paine, was his biographer and was closely associated with him for many years. After Mr. Clemens moved to Redding, we frequently stayed at his hilltop home, Stormfield. On his afternoon drives- the old Redding Glen was one of his favorites- he often invited my sisters or myself to accompany him. He liked the companionship of young people and was especially understanding with little girls. Perhaps they reminded him of his own three daughters, whose long-ago games and make-believe he had shared and helped to invent. What do I remember of those years? A good many things, but two of the highlights are the Sunday morning he took me for a stroll and a bus ride on Fifth Aveneue, and the afternoon in June 1908, when he came to Redding for the first time, and I was fortunate enough to be in the small group that traveled with him.
To make these events more understandable, it might be well to give a brief picture of the background which made them possible. In 1906 my father was busy with the extensive preliminary work, preceding the writing of Mark Twain's biography. His subject was co-operating with enthusiasm. Mr. Clemens was then living in an impressive corner house at 21 Fifth Avenue. It was luxurious and lonely. His wife had died and his two surviving daughters were elsewhere. Father found himself being encouraged to spend more and more time in the big house. Mornings, accompanied by a stenographer, he would arrive for the daily interviewing, ready to encourage with questions, if need be, and alert for the fascinating stream of reminiscences, or philosophy, or occassional violent outbursts over burning subjects that followed. Father said of these mornings: "He was in bed when we arrived, and he remained there during almost all of these earlier dictations, clad in a handsome silk dressing gown of rich Persian pattern, propped against great snowy pillows. He loved this loose luxury and ease and found it conducive to thought. On the little table beside him, where he lay his cigars, papers, pipes, and various knick knacks, shone a reading lamp, making more brilliant the coloring of his complexion and the gleam of his shining hair." After these richly productive mornings, father often spent the afternoons working in the study adjoining Mr. Clemens' bedroom. At least that was the procedure until the Christmas when a handsome billiard table proved to be a history-making gift. From then on no day was complete without a spirited session around the great green table. Often the play would last for hours and then be resumed again in the evening. For all Mr. Clemens had passed his 70th birthday, he seemed tireless when engaged in his favorite game, and would twit my father- who was still in his 40's- when he seemed to falter. As their official relationship rippened into friendship, that friendship was extended to the rest of our family. The first time I saw this extraordinary man was at dinner in his home in New York in 1906. Under my father's guidance I had made the delighted acquiantance of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and the Connecticut Yankee. The worldwide fame of the author had been explained to me. Now, he had become a friend of the family, and during my stay in New York at Thanksgiving time, on vacation from boarding school, we were all to have dinner with him!! He was a charming host. He looked just like the pictures and he was as gracious to us three little girls as to my mother and father. Moreover, there was a dinner to delight children, topped off with a fairy-like mousse, piled high in a crystal bowl and accompanied by a sauce of big, red strawberries. Had he remembered that, at our age, dessert was at least as impressive as fame? After dinner, he played the orchestrelle, the first time I had ever heard the full, warm tones of an organ except for church music. Years afterward this orchestrelle was presented to us and we added a special room for it to our Redding house. I used to run it by the hour, playing over and over again the selections that Mark Twain had preferred. I believe it was the next spring that I was invited to return for the weekend, to be spent under the kindly supervision of Mr. Clemens' housekeeper and his secretary. What a story-book experience for a little girl! On Saturday we had a box for the Weber and Fields matinee, and I loved every minute of it, although once I was conscious of whispering concern behind me as to whether some of the humor was a trifle "adult" for my ears. But, like most children, I was blissfully unconscious of any lurking innundoes, and thought the whole show enchanting. Sunday my breakfast was brought to me on a tray by a uniformed maid. I knew then that I was "living like a princess," even though this was long before the movies had familiarized every schoolgirl with the details of luxury living. Then Sunday morning, came the memorable walk and bus ride. In those days the upper decks of Fifth Avenue buses were uncovered so that passengers could bask in the sun as they rode. Mr. Clemens enjoyed this and on a bright, mild Sunday he liked to ride from his home on lower Fifth Avenue up toward Central Park, and watch the gay crowds, returning from church or on the way to luncheon. Hatless, with his dramatic white hair and his famous white flannel suit, he was a unique figure. As we rode, people turned to look up at him and point him out. Afterwards, when we walked a few blocks, more than one person came up and spoke a brief word to him about the joy some particular book had given him. In the St. Regis, where we paused to leave a message, one bell boy was quite overcome. Eagerly, he started "You are Mark Twain, aren't you?" and then, on being reassured could hardly continue his sentence of appreciation. Mr. Clemens encouraged him gently and I don't suppose that young man ever forgot the encounter. Before I returned to school he gave me his photograph, inscribed with my name and "with love from Mark Twain." He had a little group of schoolgirl friends whom he called his "Angel Fish." Each one of us was given a small enamel angel fish pin from Bermuda, and each was assigned one of the charming collection of fish pictures which used to hang on the walls of his billiard room. He inscribed each name carefully on the picture. Collectively, we were referred to by him as "Members of the Aquarium." One of the obligations of the membership was to write regularly to the "Curator of the Aquarium." His replies were prompt, and in longhand. One of these cherished letters to me begins with a well-deserved reproof. Here it is: Dear Louise, I don't expect this to reach you, for your habit is to violate the first law of correspondence, which is, repeat your address in every letter. Tammany is dead. I am very sorry. She was the most beautiful cat on this western bulge of the globe, and perhaps the most gifted. She leaves behind her, inconsolable, two children by her first marriage-Billiards and Babylon; and three grandchildren by her second-Amanda, Annanci, and Sindbad. She met her death by violence, at the hands of a dog. She was found dead in the early dawn, under my windows, whither she had apparently dragged herself from a predacious excursion, for she had with her a field mouse that had suffered death by murder. She was buried by Miss Lyon with the honors due her official rank- for by appointment she was Mascot to the Aquarium, and brought it good luck as long as she lived. She took great interest in the M.A.'s and went to the billiard room every day to look at their pictures. As a token of respect and regret, it is requested that each M.A. wear black head ribbons during one hour on the 30th of this month- Tammany's birthday. Lovingly, S.L.C. At this time our family home was in Redding, in a simple old saltbox house at the foot of Diamond Hill Road. Father's enthusiasm for this unspoiled bit of country communicated itself to Mr. Clemens. He decided to buy some nearby property. He did not plan to build immediately, if at all, but perhaps he was wearier of the city life than he realized for it was not long before he began to dream of a home on the hilltop he had never seen. It was is daughter Clara who first saw the property, liked it, and selected the location for the house. Of the building of Mark Twain's Redding home, father says, in the Biography: "Innocence at Home" as the place was originally named, was to be ready for its occupant in June, with every detail in place, as he desired. He had never visited Redding; he had scarcely even glanced at the plans or discussed any of the decorations of the new home. He had required only that there should be one great living room for the orchestrelle, and another big room for the billiard table, with plenty of accommodations for guests. He had required that the billiard room be red, for something in his nature answered to the warm luxury of that color, particularly in moments of diversion...His one other requirement was that the place should be complete. "I don't want to see it, until the cat is purring on the hearth." He wanted the dramatic surprise of walking into a home that had been conjured into existence as with a word." And that is exactly how it was. On the 18th of June, 1908, at about four in the afternoon he left New York City by an express train that was to make its first stop in Redding that day. With him were my father, a reporter or two, a photographer and that most fortunate little girl, myself, whose boarding school closed that day so that I, too, was homeward bound to Redding. It was exciting to be going with Mr. Clemens when he was about to get his first glimpse of his new house. Moreover, he generously provided me with a large box of candy to enjoy on the way, although when we were about to leave the train, he suggested that we leave it behind, "because the porters sometimes like candy, and we can get some more." Waiting for us at the Redding station was a proud array of carriages, flower trimmed, and filled with smiling people who waved warmly. I knew I would never forget it. Mr. Clemens waved in return, then stepped into his own carriage and drove toward the beautiful house that was t be his last home. What a lovely place he made of it, and how we used to enjoy visiting him there. We lived nearby so my sisters and I could walk there easily, but other "Members of the Aquarium" came with there parents or governesses to stay for the week-ends or longer, and he taight us all to play Hearts and, with infinite patience, to manage billiard cues. He never made us feel that he was elderly man whose good manners included being kind to children. On the contrary, he seemed to be having such a genuinely good time himself that age differences were forgotten. Another question I am asked is "Was he always joking?" No. His tender, pervasive humor was far removed from ordinary joking. For me, it is summed up with his lovability and his philosophy- in the inscription he wrote in my autograph book: "Dear Louise: Consider well the proportion of things: it is better to be a young June-bug than an old bird of paradise. Affectionately yours, Mark Twain."
Posted by Brent M. Colley at 12:48 PM