"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Home of Becky Thatcher in Danger

The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri is working hard to save the Becky Thatcher House, home to Laura Hawkins, inspiration for Tom Sawyer's famous girlfriend.

According to a story from the AP this morning, the house is in serious need of repairs, but the Mark Twain Home Foundation is also in serious need of cash. Visits to the museum this summer have been down 30 percent.

Right now, the foundation is looking for $250,000 to fix sagging rafters, foundation and floor problems, and termite damage. From there, they are planning a new $350,000 exhibit on childhood experiences during the 19th century, but the Becky Thatcher House can't remain open at all if the repairs are not made.

The Becky Thatcher House is directly across the street from the house Mark Twain grew up in, which explains how young Laura Hawkins inspired the character. On August 9, an auction will be held there to help raise money.

All those interested in helping may got to www.marktwainmuseum.org.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Twain's Work Included in Course on Deafness in Literature

"I am filled with the wonder of her knowledge, acquired because shut out from all distractions. If I could have been deaf, dumb and blind, I also might have arrived at something."
--Twain on Helen Keller

The works of Mark Twain have been included as part of a course this summer at the University of Virginia called "Deafness in Literature and Film", according to Media-Newswire. The course takes a look at the treatment of the deaf in some major movies and major books of the 19th and 20th centuries. The course also includes works by deaf authors, some performed on film in sign language. The instructor, Christopher Krentz, is director of the University's American Sign Language program.

Later in his life, Twain became fascinated with the young Helen Keller, whom he greatly admired. While residing in Connecticut, he also lived a mile away from a school for the deaf in the town of Hartbrook.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Last Mississippi Steamboat to Hit the Scrap Heap

Although constructed in 1926, the Delta Queen is the last traditional, 19th-century style paddle steamboat currently traveling the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. It is the last connection to a type of ship that is a part of Americana; the type of ship once piloted by Twain, and written about in his memoir Life on the Mississippi.

However, the U.S. Coast Guard has decided that the Delta Queen is too old and dangerous to remain in service, and so it has been scheduled for decommissioning, according to the international news website EURSOC.

That isn't stopping those who want to preserve this iconic piece of American culture. That's right, there's a movement afoot to save the Delta Queen. Those interested should visit save-the-delta-queen.org.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Styron's "A Literary Forefather" Reprinted in New Essay Collection

In 1995, the late novelist William Styron, best remembered as the author of Sophie's Choice and Confessions of Nat Turner, published in The New Yorker the essay "A Literary Forefather", in which he illustrated the parallels he saw between himself and one of his greatest inspirations.

"Our early surroundings possessed a surface sweetness and innocence - under which lay a turmoil we were pleased to expose - and we both grew up in villages on the banks of great rivers that dominated our lives," he wrote, referring to Twain's Mississippi River and his own James River in Tidewater, Virginia. Now this essay, and others, can be found in the brand-new collection Havanas in Camelot, reviewed yesterday in the Boston Globe.

Like Twain, Styron also grew up in the shadow of slavery (albeit a century later), living in a Southern culture with slaveholding in his family's history. And also like Twain, he wasn't afraid to deal with it in his writings.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Twain-Barnum Connection

Well, they're both famous former residents of Connecticut, and they were indeed friends, so I guess it makes some kind of sense.

The Bridgeport News reports today that the Twain House in Redding, CT (not the more famous Twain House in Hartford, but rather "Stormfield", the house in which Twain spent his final years) will be utilized to help celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of pioneering impresario (read: huckster) P.T. Barnum in 2010.

Specifically, the Barnum Museum in Barnum's hometown of Bridgeport is working on an exhibit, to be presented at Stormfield, that will focus on museums during Barnum's day, and how they were operated.

“We want to tell it with a Twain-esque voice,” says Barnum curator and executive director Kathy Maher. “I can’t think of two more prominent names in the state than P.T. Barnum and Mark Twain. We’re still in the planning stages, and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for fun and for engaging the entire public.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

California's Mark Twain Cabin Nearly Destroyed by Fire

What is believed to have been a brushfire in California's Tuolumne County threatened 200 buildings, including the cabin where Sam Clemens sketched out the short story that brought him to prominence, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

Thankfully, firefighters got the blaze completely contained late Tuesday night, and expect it to be fully extinguished by Thursday, according to the Union Democrat.

Although technically not the same cabin (the original was burned down in 1922 and an exact replica was built on the spot using the original foundation, fireplace and chimney), the cabin nevertheless is cherished by the folks in the surrounding area. During his days of trying his luck at gold mining, Twain stayed there with friends from December 1864 to March 1865. Although he was unsuccessful at striking it rich, the young writer did happen to hear the story of the jumping frog in a local bar in the nearby town of Angels Camp. The notes he took in the cabin formed the basis for the story he would later publish.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Wild Humorist of the Western Slope

Actor MacAvoy Layne will be performing his one-man show "Wild Humorist of the Western Slope, Mark Twain" at Taylor Creek, Nevada's Lake of the Sky Amphitheater, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Layne has impersonated Twain at Taylor Creek in a wide variety of shows over the past two decades. This one in particular covers the author's adventures out West, which made up the bulk of his 1872 memoir, Roughing It. Most Twain enthusiasts will recall that much of those adventures took place in the then-territory of Nevada, particularly in the fledgling Carson City.

For more information on the show, call the Taylor Creek Visitor Center at (530) 543-2674.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Unique Bed & Breakfast in Hannibal, Missouri

I've already paid a visit to the Twain House in Hartford, but one of these days, I need to get myself out to Hannibal, Missouri. Obviously, this is because it was the hometown of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens. And I know if I ever make it there, I'll be staying at the historic Garth House bed & breakfast.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a profile today of this historic B&B, voted number-one in the entire Show-Me State. Once owned by John Garth, schoolmate of Clemens and the purported inspiration for Tom Sawyer, the building sheltered Twain during his 1882 and 1902 returns to Hannibal. In fact, a letter from Twain commemorating his childhood friend, who had passed in '02, now hangs framed in the second-floor hallway.

If you're inclined to stay there, first of all, I envy you. Second of all, pay a visit to www.garthmansion.com.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jim Post's Laughing River Returns

Folk singer Jim Post rolled out the acclaimed one-man musical show "Mark Twain and the Laughing River"--which he introduced in 1997--last night at Galena, Illinois' Trolley Depot Theater, according to the Tribune Herald of Dubuque, Iowa.

The show is a celebration of Twain's childhood on the Mississippi River, which he often cited as a major inspiration of his life. The Smithsonian Institution has this to say:

"Post's depiction of Mark Twain is nothing less than brilliant, and each sentence and song is a gem... nothing but kudos from our audience members of all ages... This is a show that should be on Broadway."

Post regularly performs the show throughout the Illinois/Iowa area, and even brought it out to California last February.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Twain's Heaven on Earth

Dr. Sean Carey, a research fellow at London's Roehampton University, argued yesterday that the island nation of Mauritius should return to its previous use of a famous Mark Twain quote as the slogan for its crucial tourism industry.

The quote in question comes from Twain's 1897 South Pacific travel tome Following the Equator, in which he declared, "Mauritius was made first, then heaven" (a line which he actually quotes from someone else in the book.) Writing in Mauritius' newsspaper L'Expresse, Carey deplores the recent switch to the much duller and vaguer slogan, "An unforgettable experience."

No reason is given for the change. But for Mauritius, located off the eastern coast of Africa near Madagascar, tourism is clearly of major importance, so maybe someone should listen to Dr. Carey.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Unearthing the Town Where Sam Clemens Became Mark Twain

The old Nevada mining town of Virginia City, where a 20-something Samuel Clemens lived and worked as a newspaper reporter in the early 1860s, is currently the site of an archaeological dig being undertaken by the University of Nevada, according to NBC-TV affiliate KRNV.

The ultimate destination of the westward journey Clemens and his brother made, which formed the basis of the 1891 travelogue Roughing It, Virginia City had literally sprung up just a few short years before Clemens' arrival, thanks to the Comstock Lode silver strike.

A rough town of poor repute, Clemens made his journalistic bones there as a newspaper reporter for the Territorial Enterprise, who never let the truth get in the way of a good story. In fact, it was in Virginia City that he first took up his fictional pen name of "Mark Twain". He eventually left the town after getting mugged one night walking home from a bender at a friends' house.

A summer field school from the University's Department of Anthropology plans to dig for the next two weeks in what was once a particularly seedy area of the town known as the Barbary Coast. The purpose of the dig is to learn what life was like in the city during Twain's time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Twain House Mere Weeks from Shutting Down

The running gag is that Mark Twain is in danger of losing his famous home for the second time. But this is a serious matter, as the historic Hartford, Connecticut structure continues to struggle with its financial crisis.

Thanks to an overly ambitious visitor's center that was constructed in 2003, costing the Twain House nearly twice the $10 million it had expected, the situation is now grim. Twain House officials estimate coming up short by $370,000 by the end of the year, despite attracting 68,000 visitors in 2007 and eliminating two-thirds of its staff.

Within a month, the landmark--which the Clemens family occupied from 1874 to 1891--may be forced to close to the public if something is not done. Hartford television station WFSB is now joining the fight to keep the House open by further publicizing its plight and helping raise the necessary funds. Any wishing to contribute to this very worthy cause may do so here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Twain's Jerusalem Hotel at Last Identified

As part of the famous international journeys which make up Twain's groundbreaking 1869 travelogue The Innocents Abroad, the author spent several days in Jerusalem, becoming the 19th century's most well-known Holy Land tourist in the process. Yet for years, the location of the "Mediterranean Hotel" at which Twain stayed during his time in the city has remained a mystery. Until now.

Haaretz.com reported yesterday that researcher Yoni Shapira, archaeologist Prof. Shimon Gibson and Rupert Chapman, secretary of Britain's Palestine Exploration Fund, have successfully identified the present-day Jerusalem hotel now known as the Wittenberg House, as the very same building that was originally named the Mediterranean Hotel when it was built in 1866, just one year before Mr. Clemens checked in.

Back then, the hotel was a hot spot for noted American and European luminaries looking to spend some time in Jerusalem. Apparently, the name change occurred some 120 years ago, when one Moshe Wittenberg purchased the hotel from its original owner. At least one of the letters Twain compiled in putting together The Innocents Abroad was written during his stay there. You can bet the place is about to get a whole new influx of American tourists.

For more on the discovery, go here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

WSJ Reviews New Twain Biography

The Wall Street Journal on Saturday featured a review of the forthcoming book The Trouble Begins at 8, a biography of Twain aimed at young readers.

Although reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon praises author Sid Flieschman's obviously enthusiastic prose and Twain-like cadence, she also makes the solid point that the book should probably not be aimed at children aged 9-12, many of whom have yet to read Mr. Twain's work.

For the full review, go here. The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West comes out July 29. The book's title comes from the notorious advertisements for Clemens' first lecture in San Francisco.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Big River Comes to Rapid City

Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--the musical which debuted on Broadway in 1985--is currently being presented at Rapid City, South Dakota's Black Hills Playhouse, according to the Rapid City Journal.

Based on Twain's most celebrated novel, the Rapid City production kicked off last night, and will run until July 27. For more information, call the Black Hills Playhouse at 605-255-4141.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

An Evening with Mark Twain

Clemens enthusiasts in the great state of Massachusetts are encouraged to seek out "An Evening with Mark Twain" in Newburyport. Part of a tradition of Twain impersonation/tribute shows (the most famous of which was that of Hal Holbrook) , the presentation will occur on the evenings of Friday, July 18 and Saturday, July 19.

Stage actor Michael Mauldin will portray the man himself, as he has been doing in the one-man show since 1975. Mauldin has long been a mainstay of regional theatre, particularly in the New York area, where is best known for having portrayed Iago in the Riverside Shakespeare Company's production of Othello. His performances as Twain have appeared in the past on both ABC and PBS.

For more information, go to firehouse.org.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

DeSoto, TN to Hold Community Tom Sawyer Reading

With a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the DeSoto Arts Council in suburban Memphis will be organizing a community reading of Mark Twain's seminal classic of idealized boyhood, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The reading will take place throughout the month of October, and include an outdoor gathering of artists on the Mississippi River, as well as school dramatizations of the novel. Part of the NEA's "Big Read" initiative to encourage community involvement in reading, the event was built around Tom Sawyer in particular due to the proximity of DeSoto County to the great river that is so central to both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Twain's work in general.

Other planned activities include dance and musical productions, a "visit with Mark Twain", oral and visual history of life on the river in DeSoto County, adventures on the Mississippi River, exhibits of historic fishing equipment and photographs of the Mississippi River. There will even be a workshop on creating a graphic novel based on the book.

For more information, check out desotoarts.com.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Twain on the Cover of Time

It takes a hell of a man to make the cover of Time magazine after being dead for 98 years, but Sam is just the guy to do it. America's great literary genius is featured front and center this week in the nation's premiere news periodical.

Much of the issue is devoted to Twain. There's some very interesting commentary on the way he originated the concept of the American funnyman-as-political commentator, a role filled today by the likes of John Stewart, Bill Maher and Dennis Miller. There are also discussions of Twain's pioneering views on race and his prophetic opposition to political correctness, epitomized by the controversial essay "The United States of Lyncherdom", which wasn't even published in unedited form until 2000.

Now that's a man who knew how to piss people off.
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