Last week on Wednesday, July 28, members of the Elmira community attended a lecture about the relationship between Mark Twain and John W. Jones and their role in shaping the memorial landscape in Elmira. This was the final lecture in the Park Church Summer Lecture Series hosted by the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies. Jillian Spivey Caddell, lecturer in nineteenth-century American literature at the University of Kent and a tutor at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Continuing Education, led the discussion.
Entitled, “Memory-Building and Memorializing in Elmira: Mark Twain and John W. Jones in Relation,” the lecture centers on Jones, a celebrated Elmiran who escaped slavery and became a leader of Black civic and religious communities. Jones’s most famous act was to bury 3,000 Confederate soldiers who died at Elmira Prison with respect during the Civil War. Caddell explores how Jones’s legacy extends beyond this act, especially when considering his life in relation to Mark Twain and his fictionalized portraits of memory and storytelling inflected by the vestiges of slavery. This lecture offers a study in how Elmira’s dynamic monumental landscapes illuminate post-Civil War intersections of race and memory that continue to be arbitrated today.
For this lecture, Caddell draws on work she is contributing for a forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Literature of the Civil War and Reconstruction. She is also working with Kristen Treen of the University of St. Andrews on the Civil War Monuments Database, a digital map of American Civil War monuments with data, interpretive essays, teaching resources and more.
About The Park Church – Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community. Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.
About the Center for Mark Twain Studies – The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.