The 3rd Quadrennial Clemens Conference in Hannibal, Missouri

On the final weekend in July, a dedicated contingent of Twain Studies scholars gathered in Hannibal, Missouri for the third quadrennial Clemens Conference, sponsored by the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. The weather was surprisingly agreeable for midsummer in the Mississippi River Valley and the conference organizers made sure there was plenty of time for adventuring between panels and plenary sessions.

Kerry Driscoll Delivers Keynote Address, “Historicizing Injun Joe”

The keynote address was delivered by Kerry Driscoll, author of Mark Twain Among the Indians. She explored the apocryphal association between “Injun Joe,” the antagonist of Adventures of Tom Sawyer and “Indian Joe,” a longtime resident of Hannibal. Dr. Driscoll’s compelling argument includes analysis of an essay on Native American and mixed race populations in and around Hannibal written by Sam’s brother, Orion Clemens.

Thomas A. Tenney Award Winner, Henry Sweets, Holds Up Commemorative Plate While Larry Howe Looks On

After the keynote address, the Mark Twain Circle and Center for Mark Twain Studies surprised the conference host, Henry Sweets, by awarding him with the Thomas A. Tenney Award for service to Mark Twain Studies. The award was not scheduled to be presented again until 2021, but in recognition of Sweets’s 42 years as Director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, a position which he is relinquishing later this year, it seemed appropriate to deliver the award on his home turf. Noted collector of Twain-related artifacts, Kevin Mac Donnell, sweetened the ceremonial plaque with a collectible plate designed and sold in Hannibal during Twain’s lifetime.

Past & Present Presidents of the Mark Twain Circle of America: Alan Gribben, Bruce Michelson, Ann Ryan, John Bird, Kerry Driscoll, & Larry Howe.
Conference Organizer, Ann Ryan, Summarizes Melissa Scholes Young’s Argument in “Reimagining Becky Thatcher”
Alan Gribben on “Surprises Abound in Mark Twain’s Library”
The Devil’s Backbone in Mark Twain Cave

Friday’s plenaries featured a preview of the forthcoming and much-anticipated volumes of Mark Twain’s Literary Resources by Alan Gribben and an exploration of intimacy, celebrity, and literary wit by Bruce Michelson. After an afternoon exploring the museums and attractions of downtown Hannibal, conference participants were treated to a guided tour of the cave where crucial scenes in Tom Sawyer are set.

On Saturday, John Bird discussed the lessons of his years editing the Twain section in American Literary Scholarship and editors of various Twain-related publications answered questions from the audience. Another panel focused on the influence of Twain’s authorized biography, Albert Bigelow Paine.

John Bird’s “Reflections on Writing the Mark Twain Chapter for American Literary Scholarship”

The weekend climaxed with a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River. Henry Sweets arranged for two of the conference organizers, John Bird and Ann Ryan, to take turns in the pilot house.

Ann Ryan Takes Her Turn At the Wheel of Mark Twain Riverboat
John Bird Seems Fairly At Ease In The Pilot House
Drs. Joe Csicsila and Ben Click Discuss Bromance of the Mississippi While Hiding Their Cocktails from Intrusive Cameras

The Center for Mark Twain Studies would like to heartily thank our hosts from the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, the Mark Twain Cave, Mark Twain Riverboat, Mark Twain Brewery, and Finn’s Food & Spirits.

Teachers Convene At Quarry Farm and Elmira College to Discuss Mark Twain and Generation Z

Thanks to Jan Kather of Elmira College for providing the video and photography from the Summer Teachers Institute.

A group of forty-six K-12 teachers, librarians, and other educators gathered in Elmira this week for the 2019 Summer Teachers Institute to discuss the challenges and opportunities created by using Mark Twain’s life and work with students from “Generation Z.” The Institute was led by Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recent President of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and author of numerous books on literature and literacy education.

“We had the opportunity to grapple with ways to integrate Twain in our already full curriculums. Dr. Chadwick was a delight to work with! Clearly a gifted educator herself, she was able to enrich us all with her experience and expertise in a truly accessible way.”

Michelle Halperin, Hendy Elementary (4th Grade)

Dr. Chadwick began the Institute by defining what she means by “Generation Z,” a category loosely describing those born after 9/11 and encompassing all the students currently working their way through the K-12 system. Over the past several years, Dr. Chadwick has been conducting fieldwork for NCTE, NBC Learn, and Pearson Publishing by visiting classrooms across the country and conducting interviews with students and teachers. She shared selections from a couple of those interviews and discussed what she was learning about this generation and their educational environments. She described a young student who proclaimed there was no longer any “American Dream,” and suggested that this was indicative of a broader dissatisfaction among Gen Z students with the idea of education as a means to an end, rather than as an end in itself. Dr. Chadwick assured the audience of teachers that their students will do the work if they are persuaded that the texts and tasks being assigned are directly and immediately relevant to their lives and communities. Furthermore, she insisted, Twain’s enormous body of public and private writings is well-suited to addressing many of Gen Z’s most common concerns, including financial precarity, community service, blended families, and technological change.

A selection of interviews with teachers and students about sensitive texts, produced by Jocelyn Chadwick & John Grassie.

During the second session, Matt Seybold, the resident scholar from the Center for Mark Twain Studies, used the example of social media as something which Gen Z students and their teachers were likely to have strong opinions about. Using demographic tables from the U.S. Census, Dr. Seybold summarized the media environment of Twain’s life, as new printing technology made periodicals less expensive, more accessible, and more diversified. He asked participants to imagine the butterfly effects of changing, over the course of a few decades, from a nation with a few hundred periodicals concentrated on the eastern seaboard to one which published 2.5 billion issues in a single year. Participants speculated that people would be more informed and more inclined to imagine the world beyond their daily experiences, but would also be unprepared to be discerning about what they were reading and might depend primarily upon publications that reinforced their existing beliefs. Dr. Seybold also pointed out that celebrities like Mark Twain (or Taylor Swift) are one manifestation of Americans’ desire for national identity amidst this cultural cacophony.

“The past two days were especially valuable to me as a new teacher preparing for my first year because I was able to glean ideas from local educators and scholars.”

Rebecca Heagy, Campbell-Savona (8th Grade English Language Arts)

During the first breakout session, small groups of teachers discussed how the generic Generation Z student who Dr. Chadwick described resembled students in their classes and how some of the Twain texts they had read could be used to generate or supplement discussion of the topics which resonated with such students. Upon reconvening, one group of primarily elementary instructors reported that unconventional and fractured family structures were common in their districts and that students were likely to empathize with characters and narrators who felt insecure and who struggled to adjust to changing environments. A second group of elementary instructors were drawn to the theme of community-building and also community exclusivity, as in Adventures of Tom Sawyer and “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg.” They suggested that these texts could be leveraged to increase student “buy-in” for cross-curricular and blended classrooms. They wanted to look particularly for ways Twain could be paired with historical contexts and visual arts projects. They also expressed a desire for texts which dealt with diversity and human rights, but did so without vulgarity or other potentially incendiary content.

A group of middle school teachers reiterated the desire for pairing and blending fiction with non-fiction, literature with history, literacy with other subject matter instruction. They wanted to know more about how Twain used games to educate his own children. With reference to “disenfranchised students,” they were looking for how Twain represented struggles for self-definition and self-esteem. A group of secondary teachers reiterated the importance of framing texts around the inevitable questions of adolescence and young-adulthood: “What I am doing and why am I doing it?”, “Where am I going and how do I get there?,” and “Who am I?” They also acknowledged the sticky wicket which they need to navigate: they want to engage with topics that are important to their students but they also want to teach texts which create a safe distance between the classroom and the frightful world. They want relevance to Gen Z, but without making students feel “at risk.”

“The teacher conference was an intellectual experience I will not forget for some time…Teachers of all subjects should seek out this professional development opportunity, to experience Elmira, Mark Twain, and to share in the sincere interest of helping teachers be the best for their students.”

Nathan Morrill, Brady High School in Brady, Texas (English)

After lunch, Dr. Seybold gave a brief history of Mark Twain’s connection to Elmira with particular attention to the domestic instability of Samuel Clemens’s youth and the conflict between his habitual itineracy and his desire to provide his wife and daughters with a stable home. Dr. Chadwick proceeded to address some of the cross-curricular opportunities which could be explored using primary sources, including Bills of Sale from slave auctions, selections from African-American Newspapers, artwork by Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival, and speeches by Frederick Douglass. The first day closed with an open-ended discussion, as Dr. Chadwick called upon individual teachers to articulate what had surprised them about either Generation Z or Mark Twain during the first day of the Institute. Several teachers expressed surprise at the breadth and diversity of Twain’s writing and particularly at the potential to move away from teaching Twain exclusively as a commentator on race in America. Others admitted to being unaware of how influential Twain became in his own lifetime, amassing enough cultural power to influence political campaigns, amplify the voices of younger artists and activists, and bring publicity to colonial atrocities.

On Thursday morning, Institute participants congregated on the porch at Quarry Farm. After breakfast, Dr. Chadwick led a session on one of her favorite subjects: using Twain’s fiction as a model for teaching the formal elements of writing, particularly as they are outline in the education standards of New York State. For more than an hour, the group discussed how a single famous passage from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn could be used to teach genre, audience, allusion, symbolism, anaphora, verisimilitude, and many other ELA terms and concepts. During the breakout session, participants analyzed other passages of their choosing from the reader and shared their ideas for using these passages to teach close-reading and writing. Selections discussed came from Twain’s poems, speeches, sketches, and letters, as well as his novels. Several groups recommended pairing with texts by other authors, from Harper Lee and Toni Morrison to Pope Urban II and The Beatles.

The second session of the day began with Dr. Chadwick reading Twain’s “A True Story, Repeated Word For Word As I Heard It” on the very spot which the story is set. After her reading, Dr. Chadwick led a wide-ranging discussion of the story.

Dr. Chadwick reads Twain’s “A True Story” on the Porch at Quarry Farm, where the story is set

During lunch, teachers toured the grounds at Quarry Farm and mingled with one another, as well as with a few fourth-graders from Michelle Halperin’s class at Hendy Elementary in Elmira. During the Spring term, Dr. Chadwick visited Mrs. Halperin’s class both via video-conferencing and in person to discuss what they had been doing with Twain, including reading “A True Story” and Adventures of Tom Sawyer. After lunch, the students joined the teachers on the porch and answered questions about their experiences reading and listening to Twain’s works. These precocious young Elmirans felt that Tom Sawyer, in particular, compelled them and their classmates to be imaginative, even those who weren’t naturally inclined to be. They were able to remember specific details from the story and even half-remember direct quotations. Even under pressure they refused to admit that any of their classmates had not been enthusiastically engaged by the material. If nothing else, this proves they had learned to consider their audience.

The final session of the Institute focused on memory and memorization. Dr. Seybold began by reading a short selection from a work-in-progress about how Twain used specific works of music to memorialize his wife and daughters after they died. He listened to these specific works of music almost daily, using them to stimulate both his memory and his imagination. In other places, like the speech “Memory & Morals,” Twain discusses the importance of converting the vagaries of memory into productive lessons. Dr. Seybold also summarized some of the games and pneumonic devices Twain developed for the purposes of memorizing historical facts and his own lectures. This prefaced a discussion of what we require students to remember and why. What are the justifications for memorization and how can memorization be better integrated with imaginative and creative work?

“Regardless of your role in educating students of any age, like Mark Twain’s writings this seminar was inspirational, motivational, and rewarding.”

Sonia Barchet, Elmira City Schools (EDA Library Media Specialist)

Dr. Chadwick and the Center for Mark Twain Studies left the Institute with promises of updated resources and continued support. In addition to the provided reader, Institute participants have access to a digital archive of primary sources, opportunities for continued engagement with Dr. Chadwick and other Twain scholars, including eligibility for a six-week graduate course at Elmira College during Fall semester.

2019 Summer Teachers Institute Resources

The following is primarily a repository of resources related to the 2019 Summer Teachers Institute hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies on Wednesday, July 16 and Thursday, July 17. While a few of these resources are password-protected for intellectual property reasons, many of them are open access and may be of interest to teachers, students, and scholars, even if they are not attending the STI this year. This page will continue to be updated throughout the duration of the Institute, after which it will stay active.


Mark Twain in Elmira


Teaching With Sensitive Texts


Mark Twain & Sensational Journalism


Twain on Memory & Memorization


Testimonials to Twain’s Influence


Twain on Business & Economics

2019 Elmira College Twain Art and Writing Contest Winner Announced

The Center for Mark Twain Studies has announced the winners of the Annual Portraying Mark Twain Art Contest and the Mark Twain Essay Contest. First place prizes were awarded to Jamie Dorsey ’21 and Rebecca Heagy ’19, respectively. Jamie’s winning piece in the Art Contest was a photograph of the Mark Twain gravestone taken from a dramatic angle that emphasized “Twain.” His photo has already been used to advertise the spring Trouble Begins lecture series on the CMTS Facebook page. Rebecca was this year’s annual essay contest winner.

Honorable mentions in the Art Contest were awarded to Emily Selbert ’20 for her photo highlighting several volumes of “Mark Twain’s Letters”; Erica VanNostrand ’20 for her self-portrait standing at the doorstep of the Mark Twain Study; and Shannon Strawinski ’19 for her digitally enhanced photo of the Mark Twain statue outside of Harris Hall.Each student was awarded a monetary prize ranging from $75-$250 for their artistic and writing skills.

The 2020 Portraying Mark Twain Contest will open for entries at the end of May, 2019. All Elmira College students are encouraged to submit artwork that reflects some aspect of Mark Twain, his writings, or his life in Elmira. More information is available here.

2019 Summer Institute For Teachers: Mark Twain & Generation Z

The Center for Mark Twain Studies, in association with the Elmira College Office of Continuing Education & Graduate Studies and the Greater Souther Tier Teacher Center, will once again host a two-day institute for primary and secondary school educators this July. As in the past, participants will, for a relatively small fee, subsidized by our partner organizations, get to spend time intensively studying the life and works of Mark Twain in the historic environs of Elmira College and Quarry Farm.

Jocelyn Chadwick

This year, in addition to myself (Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College and resident scholar at the Center for Mark Twain Studies), the institute will be led by Jocelyn Chadwick. Dr. Chadwick recently finished a term as President of the National Council For Teachers of English, during which she paid particular attention to how 21st-century students responded to sensitive texts, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In addition to her many years as a secondary-school teacher and an education professor, currently at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Dr. Chadwick has a lengthy track record of scholarship on Mark Twain’s works in U.S. classrooms, notably her book, The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn, as well as numerous articles (for instance, in this special section of English Journal from 2017) and presentations.

In March of 2018, Dr. Chadwick used MarkTwainStudies.com as a vehicle for her response to a decision by Duluth Public Schools to drop Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird from their curriculums. This remains one of the most popular pages on our site, as is the follow-up, in which she shared excerpts from interviews with teachers and students which she had conducted during her nationwide travels for NCTE. In these posts and her ongoing work, Dr. Chadwick focuses on the importance of reframing these texts for this generation of readers, as well as putting Mark Twain into conversation with other writers and utilizing additional primary sources which both situate students in the historical contexts of the novels and put those novels in conversation with contemporary culture.

During this year’s institute, “Mark Twain & Generation Z,” Dr. Chadwick is eager to both share the perspective she has gained from visiting classrooms around the country and engage with the unique perspectives of faculty from our region.

As has always been the case, participants in the Summer Institute will receive a certificate, but for the first time in 2019, Institute attendees will also have the option of enrolling in an abbreviated course, offered during the Fall 2019 term, at Elmira College. The course will meet once a week, on Wednesday evenings, for six weeks. Teachers who attend both the Summer Institute and take the course will earn 3.0 credits towards their Masters in Education at Elmira College.

This course will include more sustained discussions of texts introduced during the institute and pedagogical approaches to them. Participants will also have the opportunity to follow-up with Dr. Chadwick via video-conferencing and engage with other Twain scholars in residence at the Center for Mark Twain Studies during the Fall of 2019.

For more information and registration information, please check out this page and feel free to contact the Center for Mark Twain Studies or the Elmira College Office of Continuing & Graduate Studies.

Second Year Creative Writing Contest Focuses on Quarry Farm Fireplace

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is again sponsoring a creative writing contest for area students in grades 2-6, encouraging students to explore Mark Twain’s legacy in Elmira and the Southern Tier.  Submissions for the competition are due by April 19.

One of the winners of last year’s contest reading her story to her classmates in the exact same spot Mark Twain told stories to his daughters.

While staying at Quarry Farm, Mark Twain often encouraged his children to create and tell their own stories based off the tiles adorning the parlor fireplace.   The 24 tiles around the fireplace depict fables written by ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, who utilized animals, such as crows, snakes, mice, and foxes, to illustrate moral lessons.

Students from schools within a 25-mile radius of Quarry Farm are encouraged to access the fireplace tiles on the CMTS website, marktwainstudies.org, and create their own stories based on the tile images.

Three winners from three different schools will be chosen by CMTS staff.  CMTS has received special permission to give the winners a personal tour inside Quarry Farm, normally only open to Twain Scholars.  The winning students will be able to read their story next to the Quarry Farm parlor fireplace, tour Quarry Farm, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.

Submissions for the contest should be submitted by Friday, April 19, to the Center for Mark Twain Studies, Elmira College, 1 Park Place, Elmira, NY 14901.  Additional information, including a virtual tour of Quarry Farm, can be found online at marktwainstudies.org.

All the contest information and high-resolution pictures of the Quarry Farm fireplace tiles can be found at MarkTwainStudies.org.

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. –

CMTS Partners with Community Arts of Elmira, Providing Studio Sessions for Local Artists

Mark Twain on the Quarry Farm Porch, 1903

Community Arts of Elmira is proud to present Clemens & The Pen, programming designed to catalyze the creation of artwork inspired by the writings of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, his life, and the life of the Clemens and Langdon families. 

Clemens & The Pen centers on creative expression.  The monthly gatherings at Community Arts of Elmira are open to the public and will consist of two parts: first. a brief discussion of selected work and themes related to Clemens’ writings and life; and second. self-guided Studio Sessions, time to read related material, write, sew, sketch, paint–create,” explained Clemens & The Pen originator Lynne Rusinko.  Participants will engage in self-directed, creative processes during the Studio Session, bringing their own materials, such a journals, laptops and art supplies.  Rusinko continued, “One focus will be social criticism, challenging participants to connect issues from the author’s writings to social justice movements of today, with the long-term goal of presenting their ideas to the community through their artwork.” 
 
Clemens & The Pen also fills a need in Elmira, Chemung County, and the region for individuals to engage with the iconic author in a new way that also expands community outreach and impact.  In partnership with Community Arts of Elmira, The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies is increasing its connection to the local community.  


Dr. Joseph Lemak, Executive Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, will collaborate with Community Arts of Elmira in selecting twenty participants from Clemens & The Pen who will have the opportunity to spend an afternoon on the Porch at Quarry Farm in a two-hour, self-guided Studio Session Saturday, June 29, 2019, 1:00-3:00pm.  In addition, on Saturday, November 30, 2019, 5-7pm, Community Arts of Elmira will host the opening reception of the Clemens & The Pen exhibition and reading, also in partnership with the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies.  

For additional Clemens & The Pen updates, visit its Facebook Event:  https://www.facebook.com/events/806638439676708/

The Park Church Culture Into Which Mark Twain Married: An Introduction to “Mark Twain’s Music Box”

EDITOR”S NOTE: The following was offered as an introduction to the performance of “Mark Twain’s Music Box” at the Park Church in Elmira on February 8th, 2019.

117 years ago this week, in February of 1902, Mark Twain, age 66, took off running after a train that was leaving from the Elmira depot on what is now 3rd St. (you know, behind the McDonald’s). He fell, badly scraping his hand, but after picking himself up he managed to get the attention of the brakeman, who helped him climb aboard. Upon arriving in New York City the next morning without a coat or hat, having shedded them during the chase, one of the reporters charged with meeting his train asked America’s foremost celebrity about his bandaged hand. Twain replied, “I have just come down from Elmira. It is a great place to keep away from in winter…the express trains passing through never stop long enough to see whether a fellow gets on or not…but I was going to catch that train if I had to lose a leg, or an eye, or an ear. I was determined to lose something.”

Twain mostly stayed away from Elmira during the Winter, but every Summer and Fall, he and his wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens, and their three daughters could be found here. And I mean that quite literally. Livy and the girls were dependable congregants at the Park Church, which her family had financed when Thomas K. Beecher’s congregation became so big it could only be accommodated by an Opera House. Mr. Clemens, though he was not as dependable a presence in the chapel, could frequently be found in the rooms behind it, especially the pool room where Reverend Beecher is rumored to have kept beer on tap.

The Clemenses winter residence in Hartford, CT was across the street from that of Reverend Beecher’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famed author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Mark Twain, somewhat facetiously called Mrs. Stowe the “self-appointed instructor of the public.” On Twain’s 100th Birthday, in 1935, her grandson, Lyman Beecher Stowe, returned the favor. He stood on this very spot and delivered a lecture called “Mark Twain, Self-Appointed Instructor of the Public,” in which he argued that Mr. Clemens, admired though he was, had the unfortunate lot of being a “confirmed pessimist, though he often laughed through the tears.”

Max Eastman, another famous son of Elmira, saw things rather differently. He and his sister, Crystal, two important activists in the suffrage movement, lived in this building while their mother, Annis Ford Eastman, was minister here. Reverend Eastman was the first woman ordained in the state of New York and the person who Mark Twain chose to write his eulogy. Max Eastman, who, I repeat, literally grew up in a church, called Mark Twain the only “saint of a faith to which I adhere.” This, Max said, was “the exact center of one of the most interesting clusters of people and ideas that American churchdom has ever produced.”

This small, upstate town founded the first degree-granting college for women, was a key junction in the Underground Railroad, and was one of the first American communities to embrace abolitionism, the Women’s Rights Movement, prison reform, and radical anti-poverty initiatives. According to Max, Mark Twain was the prophet of a “gospel of revolt” which he did not bring to Elmira, but found here and sought to spread around the world. Max wrote,

“There was a hardier and deeper ‘radicalism’ in the Park Church culture into which Mark Twain married than there was in Mark Twain. To find so much open revolt against empty forms and conventions, so much laughing realism, and downright common sense, and democracy, and science, and reckless truth-telling in these people of Elmira who were, nevertheless, dedicated with moral courage to an ideal, may well have given Mark Twain the possession of his deepest and best self.”

from “Mark Twain’s Elmira” by Max Eastman (Harper’s Magazine, 1938)

The first time Max met Twain was, appropriately, when he stopped by during the installation of a new organ on the stage from which tonight’s music will be played. He requested a specific work by Richard Wagner to test out the grand new instrument, but later whispered to young Max, “That stuff’s all too high up for me. I live right down here!

Tonight’s show captures, through his musical tastes, many of the resilient paradoxes of Mark Twain. He was simultaneously high and low, vulgar and refined, cynically fatalistic and radically progressive. He could say, without irony, “I am not an American, I am the American,” and also be among the most cosmopolitan men of the 19th century, whose works, as well as his feet, took hold on every continent.

As the poet, Robertus Love, put it upon Twain’s death:

“Mark Twain became before he died the most famous man on earth. He was not merely a man: he was an institution. He was a sort of neighborhood settlement of good cheer, with many branches located in the oases as in the waste places…Millions – how many millions is beyond estimating – came and partook of his optimism and stayed for supper. His fame was and is universal. Though an American born…he belonged to all lands…He had perhaps more permanent homes than any other man of his day. Nearly always he was a wanderer, sometimes from necessity, more frequently from choice. The world was his plaything, and he was not content without remapping for himself the surface of the big ball.”

from “Mark Twain, King of Humor” by Robertus Love (Pittsburgh Gazette, 1910)

This tireless wanderer who became “the most famous man on earth” had, at last, one permanent home and it was by way of this very chapel and the words of Annis Eastman that he was transported to it.

Mark Twain wrote, “As to the past, there is but one good thing about it, and that is, that it is the past – we don’t have to see it again. There is nothing in it worth pickling.” Yet he penned these words from a place, Quarry Farm, which never failed to inspire a flood of memories, upon which his most successful works were based. This is the lasting paradox of Twain’s Quarry Farm novels, that they depend transparently upon remembrance and reflection, yet are also steadfastly resistant to the sentimental and romantic aesthetics one expects to be associated with such nostalgia. The Quarry Farm novels manage to be, like the community in which they were written, somehow simultaneously reverent and radical.

Just as Twain’s Quarry Farm novels look backward, unromantically, to more clearly reflect the unsentimental realities of Gilded Age America, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has inherited a sometimes counterintuitive mission: preserving the legacy of Mark Twain in Elmira, while also subsidizing the future of Mark Twain scholarship everywhere. Among those scholars which we are proud to support is Kerry Driscoll, a former Elmira College professor who wrote the essay upon which tonight’s performance is based. It is my honor to introduce: “Mark Twain’s Music Box.”

Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes will perform “Mark Twain’s Music Box”

By 1878 Sam Clemens had accomplished substantial wealth and fame and was living comfortably with his wife Livy and their family near Hartford, Connecticut.  Yet something important was missing.  A wide gap persisted between his personal cultural development and that of his upscale neighbors and social circles in the Hartford area. 

Sam and Livy resolved to fix this gap by extended travel and cultural study in Western Europe.  Beginning in 1878 they set out to tour seven countries in Western Europe.  Given the prevailing stylistic differences between European and American music at the time, confrontation of these differences was inevitable.  Following a symphonic musical performance in Baden Baden, Germany by the Baden Baden Philharmonie, Sam wrote his compelling and introspective analysis of music, defining the place of music in human society.  Although he showed an interest in music and made passing reference to his musical preferences on prior occasions, this time he faced music head-on with a clear and compelling message.  It was a time of an obvious inflection point in his cultural development regarding music.   

In the musical production Mark Twain’s Music Box, the important role of a music box is woven into the story of Sam Clemens’ relationship to music.  The mysteries surrounding the music box extend to this day.  Perhaps our audience can play some role in finally resolving these 140 year old conundrums.  Join the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble, consisting of what Twain would call ten “high grade” musicians, as they deliver the intriguing story of the music box and Mark Twain’s relationship to music. 

We wish to thank the following organizations and individuals for their important contributions and collaborations in the development and presentation of Mark Twain’s Music Box:

  • The Park Church
  • Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies
  • Dr. Barbara Snedecor, former Director of CMTS
  • Dr. Joseph Lemak, current Director of CMTS
  • The Baden Baden Philharmonie, Baden Baden, Germany
  • Herr Arndt Joosten, Orchestermanager
  • Kiril Nikolow, Principle Cello
  • Dr. Kerry Driscoll, University of St. Joseph, Hartford, Connecticut

Concert details:

The Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes is proud to announce its third Musicians’ Choice Chamber Series concert of the 2018-19 season.  This concert, titled Mark Twain’s Music Box, will be held in the majestic sanctuary of the historic Park Church in Elmira on Friday, February 8 at 7:30 PM.  All ages are welcome.

Mark Twain’s Music Box explores Sam Clemens’ (Mark Twain’s) fascinating personal relationship with music.  The production is filled with live music, drama, mystery, and the comedy befitting the title character.  Mark Twain’s Music Box is a one of a kind concert that uses fine music to teach about important history, while using important history to teach about fine music. 

25% Off Group Discount for 10 or more, group rates available by phone or in person.

Relive Twain’s Summer of 1884 with the Final Lecture of the “Trouble Begins” 2018 Season

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, November 7 when presenter John Bird takes the audience through Twain’s summer of 1884 at Quarry Farm.  The final fall lecture begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

 

Mark Twain working in the Study, circa 1880’s.

Bird, emeritus professor of English at Winthrop University, will present “‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm.”  As he did for many summers, Mark Twain packed up his family (including dogs and cats, and in this case, a bicycle) and left Hartford for an extended stay at Elmira’s Quarry Farm. Part of his current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, Bird’s presentation will let audiences relive Twain and his family’s experience that summer. Even though Twain wrote his friend Joe Twichell near the end of the stay that he had not accomplished anything of value during the summer, he actually had an interesting and productive summer: he read a proof of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and made some important revisions; he began a sequel even before he published his novel, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn Among the Indians; he became fully engaged in national politics during the presidential campaign; and he sat for the bust Karl Gerhardt made (twice) at Quarry Farm for the frontispiece of Huck Finn. Just as importantly, he engaged with his family, writing a short but charming personal memoir, “At the Farm,” with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes about his daughters. Living with Mark Twain day-by-day for this summer brings him and his family back to life and gives the audience a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.

 

Bird is the author of Mark Twain and Metaphor, as well as a number of articles on Mark Twain. He is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America.

 

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.