The purpose of this project is to celebrate Samuel L. Clemens' life in Redding, Connecticut by documenting and showcasing his time here in multiple formats both online and offline. Your donations & site sponsorships will help me dedicate more time to these projects and allow me to get them online sooner.

Wednesday, August 12

Linking Connecticut Towns to Mark Twain

I grew up in Redding, yet it was not until a recent discovery that I realized there was a connection between Redding and Easton outside of each town originally being a part of the Town of Fairfield and the Region #9 school district [Joel Barlow High School]. As I was digging through the Mark Twain Library archives last winter out popped a note about Samuel L. Clemens and his home written by Helen Keller in 1909. Having wondered why Helen Keller was named for the Middle School in Easton and feeling a little guilty for the jokes we made about the name in middle school I was drawn to the entry in his guestbook:

"I have been in Eden three days and I saw a King. I knew he was a King the minute I touched him. Though I had never touched a King before."

-A Daughter of Eve
Helen Keller, January 11, 1909

Ms. Keller was a fan of Redding, CT and the man known to the World as Mark Twain! After all she refers to Redding as "Eden" and Twain as a "King".

Several more file cabinets later I found the photo below:




In case it is tough to read I'll quote it:

"I have visited Stormfield [Twain's home in Redding] since Mark Twain's death [April,1910]. The flowers still bloom; the breezes still whisper and sough in the cedars, which have grown statelier year by year; the birds still sing, they tell me. But for me the place is bereft of its lover. The last time I was there, the house was in ruins. Only the great chimney was standing, a charred pile of bricks in the bright autumn landscape."

This is likely after 1923 when Stormfield burnt to the ground during renovation work.

During her lifetime, Helen Keller lived in many different places—Tuscumbia, Alabama; Cambridge and Wrentham, Massachusetts; Forest Hills, New York, but perhaps her favorite residence was her last, the house in Easton, Connecticut she called "Arcan Ridge."

The same can be said about Samuel L. Clemens...He too fell in love with his final residence and himself wrote:

"I bought this farm of 200 acres three years ago, on the suggestion of Albert Bigelow Paine [Biographer], who said its situation and surroundings would content me- a phophecy which came true 3 years later when I arrived on the grounds. John Howells, Architect + Clara Clemens + Miss Lyons planned the house without help or advice from me + began to build it in June 1907. When I arrived a year later it was all finished + furnished + swept + garnished + it was as homey + cozy + comfortable as if it had been occupied for a generation. This was the 18th of June of the present year [1908] I only came to spend the summer, but I shan't go away anymore."
December 29, 1908

He didn't go away again...he traveled to Bermuda several times but Redding was the last place he'd call home.

Two great Americans, two great towns.

This discovery highlights the great opportunity Connecticut has as we close in on the 100th anniversary of Twain's passing...the opportunity to link Twain to towns and cities across Connecticut.

An idea I've been working on for most of the summer is...

To showcase and celebrate Mark Twain's life in Hartford and Redding, Connecticut throughout the year 2010 to "Mark" the Centennial of his passing.

This will be accomplished by displaying portraits of him in every public library and/or public place, that wants to be a part of this celebration, along with photos and information about his life, his work and his friends in Connecticut.

The friends of Twain aspect is very important because it ties in many Connecticut towns to his life, which allows us to make others aware of these people and their accomplishments. With any luck it will spur community pride as well.

For example: In Easton, Connecticut we would include information & photos about his friendship with Helen Keller; In Ridgefield, Connecticut we'd highlight his friend, Cass Gilbert; In Bethel & Bridgeport, P.T. Barnum; In Norwalk, E.K. Lockwood; In Westport, Ned Wakeman; Cos Cob/Greenwich, Charles & Jean Webster; Saybrook, the Fenwick Hotel; Obviously the Hartford area has many friends.

I feel this idea can be greatly expanded upon once each town and their historians join me to offer their input and ideas...I'm hoping to make connections all over the State so please send names and ideas!

I will be providing the artwork, and Redding information to all public libraries and/or public places interested (free). My hope is that the Mark Twain House will provide some photos and information on Hartford and they have already reached out to me so that's moving in a positive direction.

The artwork: http://www.susandurkee.com/the-mark-twain-gallery.htm

I am also pursuing an official Mark Twain Day in Connecticut on April 21, 2010. If you feel this is a worthwhile effort, you can assist me in pursuing the "Mark Twain Day" idea by contacting Governor Rell's office and asking her to approve it. Governor.Rell@ct.gov

I can be reached at bcolley@colleyweb.com or by phone at 860-364-7475.

It should be great fun,
Brent M. Colley

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Video of Hal Holbrook speaking at the site of the Mark Twain Study at Quarry Farm, Elmira, New York. Hal Holbrook discusses meeting with Clara Clemens during the Elmira Conference.

Why Do You Study Twain? An interesting question and answer video from the attendees of the 2009 Mark Twain Elmira Conference.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sQCclY-iUY

Attendeees answering in order of appearance:

Bruce Michelson
Patti Philippon
Barb Taylor
Gretchen Sharlow
Jeff Melton
Joe Csicsila
Tom Quirk
Chad Rohman
Lou Budd
Kerry Driscoll
Sharon McCoy
Alan Gribben
Cameron Nickels
Joe Alvarez
Ann Ryan
David L. Smith
Hal Bush
Michael Kiskis (w/ Ann Ryan)
Jan McIntire-Strasburg
Judith Yaross Lee (w/Joe Csicsila)
Jim Caron
Gregg Camfield
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Hal Holbrook


I study Twain because I am intrigued by his life, especially the final years of his life- 1905-1910, and I find his maxims, quotations, and various opinions interesting, thought provoking and accurate.

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain.
- Notebook, 1898

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