Mark Twain, Mad Magazine, & Old Crow Whiskey

Cover of October 1959 Issue of Mad Magazine

News outlets reported last week that the current longest-running humor magazine in the U.S. – Mad magazine- will soon stop publishing new material. First issued in 1952, the New York Times describes Mad as an “irreverent baby-boomer humor Bible.” Details of the magazine’s future at this date remain sketchy. Mark Twain scholars John Bird and Judith Yaross Lee have recently edited a forthcoming collection of essays Seeing “Mad”: Essays on “Mad” Magazine’s Humor and Legacy from Cover to Fold-In. Lee describes Mad as having “a literary quality of intellect along with great irreverence in the parodies – and that’s reminiscent of Mark Twain’s Virginia City writing.”

This also seems an appropriate time to revisit at least one appearance of Mark Twain and Elmira in Mad: the October 1959 issue. The story behind this appearance begins in 1936 with a small privately printed memoir titled Drinking with Twain: Recollections of Twain and His Cronies as Told to Me Laurel O’Connor, Raconteuse (1936). The work was copyrighted by Frank Edward Kelsey (b. 1865 – d. 1952). Kelsey, a native of Michigan, was a rugged individualist who resided in Elmira for about four years in the late 1890s, working as a furniture manufacturer. During his brief time in Elmira, he dabbled in politics, helped incorporate the town of Elmira Heights and became that town’s first mayor. He also spent time at Charles Klapproth’s saloon listening to locals tell stories about their favorite hometown celebrity, Mark Twain. Laurel O’Connor (pseudonym of Laurabell Reed Connor Stones (b. 1901 – d. 1999), a journalist and intimate of Kelsey’s, wrote down the stories as Kelsey told them to her – stories about Twain drinking Old Crow whiskey at Klapproth’s in Elmira. However, there is no evidence that Kelsey ever actually met or corresponded with Twain. Klapproth’s name is misspelled throughout the memoir as “Klaproth” along with other historical inaccuracies.

By the early 1950s, Twain’s fondness for Old Crow, as told by Kelsey, gained the attention of that company and they began capitalizing on their connection to Mark Twain in their magazine ads. A number of Old Crow ads appeared featuring Twain, including one with Rudyard Kipling reading to Twain at Quarry Farm. The Twain/Kipling ad featured a small tagline: “$250 Reward is paid for documented information relating prominent 19th-Century Americans and Old Crow.” 

Another ad featured Twain asking Klapproth’s bartender, “Lou, which barrel are we using now?” The line is lifted directly from Kelsey’s memoir – further evidence that Kelsey’s stories were the source of the Old Crow ad campaign. Another Old Crow ad featured Mark Twain and Bret Harte in Hartford. Yet another featured Twain grouped with “Famous Americans” Daniel Webster, Gen. John H. Morgan, Gov. Robert Letcher of Kentucky, Henry Clay and James Crow himself. All the whiskey drinkers in those ads were men.

Between 1900 and 1959, no women had appeared in whiskey ads. Then, in 1959 the tide turned. In early 1959 D’Arcy Advertising Company announced a change of policy – they would be bringing women back to whiskey ads in an upcoming ad for House of Lords scotch whiskey. It was a perfect opportunity for Mad to capitalize on the situation with seven panels of mock advertising under the heading “Women Will Appear More and More in Whiskey Ads!”  The Mark Twain Old Crow ad originally captioned “Mark Twain holds forth at Klaproth’s Tavern” was re-captioned “Carrie Nation starts her Bar-Wrecking Crusade” as she takes an ax to a bottle of Old Crow.

It is not been determined when Old Crow discontinued their Mark Twain advertising campaign. However, by 1980 the company revised “When Mark Twain held forth at Klapproth’s cafe …” with new artwork and a corrected spelling for Klapproth’s name. The new artwork more accurately reflects the fireplace and bas-relief from Klapproth’s saloon that now is housed at Elmira College.

Much of the decor of the Mark Twain Archive, including the fireplace and the wood paneling, was originally part of the Klapproth Tavern.

Barbara Schmidt is an independent scholar who focuses on Mark Twain, American Humor, and American History. She is the webmaster at and the Book Review Editor for the Mark Twain Forum. In 2017, she was named a “Legacy Scholar” by the Mark Twain Journal.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years by Gary Scharnhorst

The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871. By Gary Scharnhorst. University of Missouri Press, 2018. Pp. 686. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-8262-2144-5. $36.95.

The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871 is the first volume in a planned 3-volume edition from Gary Scharnhorst, university professor, editor, and noted Mark Twain scholar. It is a well-written and well-documented attempt to untangle the facts from the myths and legends that surround the early life of Samuel Clemens. Much of the information that has been published about Clemens’s early life originated with Clemens himself who embellished, embroidered, and misremembered facts in his own writings and autobiography. His hand-picked biographer Albert Bigelow Paine, who lived nearby him during his last years and assumed the role of a surrogate son, exercised a rigid determination to please the Clemens family and protect their reputation. Paine’s 1912 biography has been rightly criticized for being less than objective.

Scharnhorst supports his arguments for a new multi-volume biography of Clemens with unflinching disdain for Paine. He refers to Paine as “a young sycophant without a pedigree” (xviii), a man who had a “lack of professional training” (xxiii), and a “hagiographer” (439). Scharnhorst judges Paine using twenty-first century standards. It is a common attitude displayed by many of today’s scholars who overlook nineteenth century realities. Such treatment of Paine was recently discussed by Mary Eden in her excellent article in the Mark Twain Journal (Spring 2018).

Scharnhorst states his goal is to provide a multi-volume biography of Clemens from his personal and “single point of view on an expansive canvas” (xxvi). While some scholars such as Greg Camfield have suggested that specialized, tightly focused, single-volume biographies are the best way to capture the complexity of Clemens’s life, Scharnhorst disagrees and feels such coverage only leads to “wildly different conclusions.” He compares the wide array of current biographies written by a multitude of scholars to constructing a “grotesque Cadillac from spare parts from different models” (xxvi). However, Scharnhorst makes clear in his preface that readers should expect “no bombshells” or “dark secrets” in this first volume. He is correct–the material should be familiar ground to many scholars.

Scharnhorst’s preface also makes clear that his point of view is contrary to those of many scholars today–such as Shelley Fisher Fishkin who feels that Clemens and his works are still relevant and that he is “more a creature of our time than of his” (xxvii). Scharnhorst disdains the Mark Twain impersonators in white linen suits and fright wigs who mimic “a middle-aged bankrupt” and he has no love to share for “coffee-table compilations of his maxims” (xxviii). Scharnhorst’s approach prompted one early reader of an advance reading copy of the book to comment, “As I read parts of his book I could not shake the feeling that GS doesn’t like Twain”…

…continue reading Barbara Schmidt’s review at Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Mark Twain’s Geographical Imagination, Edited By Joseph Alvarez

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Mark Twain’s Geographical Imagination. Joseph A. Alvarez, ed. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. Hardcover, 167 pages. $58.95. ISBN: 978-4438-0585-8.

This collection of essays edited by Mark Twain scholar Joseph A. Alvarez was inspired by a 2005 South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) conference session. The session was organized by Morehouse College professor Eileen Meredith, who coined the title of the session that this book uses. Then of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alvarez was not involved in that session, but he nevertheless took up a suggestion from Cambridge Scholars Publishing (no relationship to Cambridge University Press) to shape a book around the subject of Mark Twain’s writings on geography. In June 2006, he posted a call to the Mark Twain Forum listserv for papers on Mark Twain’s individual travel writings. The result was this collection of ten essays, including two originally presented by Jeffrey Melton and Charles Martin at the SAMLA conference. When the book was published in late 2009, it received sparse publicity and no reviews and then quickly fell out of print. However, in a stroke of good luck for those who failed to find a copy previously, the book is now once again listed on and a request to the publisher for a review copy was promptly answered.

The book’s cover features a popular cartoon of Mark Twain standing atop a laughing globe that appeared on 22 December 1900 in the New York Commercial Advertiser. It was signed by a cartoonist with the initials LWM whose identity remains unknown in spite of several queries over the years on the Mark Twain Forum to solicit assistance in providing his or her name.

Alvarez begins the volume with his introduction titled “Mining Ore from Physical and Imaginative Travels.” Therein he observes that Mark Twain’s geographical imagination took him back almost 2000 years to the Garden of Eden–when he wrote the Adam and Eve diaries–and carried him into time travel, heaven, and various fantasy spaces.

Contributors to the volume include several names familiar to members of the Mark Twain Forum. Among them is John Bird, author of the book’s first essay, “Metaphors of North and South, East and West in Mark Twain’s ‘The Private History of a Campaign that Failed'” (pp. 7-16). Calling attention to the tendency of many readers to overlook the fact that much of Mark Twain’s story is fiction, Bird sees that Civil War story to be “about confusion over directions, and even more deeply, about confusion over war in general and war writing in particular” (7). He goes on to show how Mark Twain used the story as a sort of corrective to northern views of published accounts of the war–an implicit criticism, perhaps, of the Century magazine series of wartime memoirs in which the piece first appeared.

 Continue reading Barbara Schmidt’s review at Mark Twain Forum…

Copyright © 2017 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.