Eighteen times the speed of Mark Twain

We paid a visit to Mark Twain's house, and I do mean paid.

Twain and his family lived there from 1874 to 1891.  The neighborhood looked quite different back then.  Apparently, back in Twain's day, one could see from the house's atrium window all the way down to the river.  Nowadays, the river has been directed underground just before it reaches Farmington Avenue and, if you could see through the trees, all you'd have a view of is some apartment buildings.  The property itself is quite the developed set-up, with a visitors' center that includes a museum and a gift shop and a room for special exhibits and an art gallery.  There's even a life-size statue of the man made out of Legos.  In the museum, we saw Mark Twain's Desk.  There was also a Desk in the actual house.  I suppose a famous writer can have more than one Desk.

The house itself was fascinating, partly because our tour guide was interestingly well-informed, and partly because Twain was rather eccentric when it came to achieving the effects with decor that he wanted.  When you're such a famous wit and you've written so many classic books, I guess you get to be eccentric.  I think people may even expect it of you.  At least he wasn't eccentric with his house the way Mrs Winchester was with hers.  There's nothing approaching that scale here.

There was a bit of an air of enterprise about the tour, perhaps because after Twain sold the house it went through phases, like Toby Miniver:  first it was a school, then an apartment building, then a library.  The trustees have made every effort to restore the house to its Twain-era appearance, and they brought back many of Twain's original possessions, such as his bed and billiards table, and the enormous fireplace mantel.  I was most impressed with the upstairs schoolroom for the children and with the library.  I asked the docent who guided our group if those were Twain's original books, and he replied that the titles and editions were the same ones that Twain owned, but that his original books (with his name and any marginalia in them) were kept elsewhere, to keep sticky fingers from being tempted to purloin them.

In spite of the trustees' successful efforts at restoring the house to its former state, I felt like there was just that hint of commercialism and just that lack of the spirit of the man about the place.  They may have his stuff, but I don't think they have him.  Nevertheless, the house is well-worth visiting, especially if you have a knowledgeable and entertaining docent who will swoop you about the place.

Mark Twain's house all done up in 4th of July finery

The library, complete with enormous mantelpiece acquired from a Scottish castle.  
(No indoor photography was allowed; this is a postcard I bought.)

Harriet Beecher Stowe lived next door to the Twains.  
You can visit two famous author houses for the price of two!

Recommended reading:

Not that I have anything against Cooper; I just think this is dang funny.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Haha! Two for the price of two!