The Crane House Speaks (A Quarry Farm Testimonial)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information here.

The main house at Quarry Farm speaks. It sighs in the morning when I sit with my journal and tea overlooking Elmira in the valley below. When I switch from page to screen, the radiators hiss and pop. Their clatter and the calling geese are the only sounds in my silence. The squeaky kitchen door greets me from my afternoon woods walk. I leave my boots at the door and settle into the study for reading and one warmer whistles a welcome. This is my second stay at Quarry Farm and I’ve learned the way of the house by its hum. It’s helped me find my own writing rhythm too. It’s November and I’m tucked away on East Hill for a two-week fellowship.

My writing process has always been to binge. In Washington, DC my days are filled with teaching, attending department meetings, writing letters of recommendation, serving on committees: the labor of university that fuels and delays my creative work, but none of that reaches me at Quarry Farm. As a fellow, my job is to write or as I call it, to make. On the first day I manage only three pages but they are a pivotal scene in my novel-in-progress. When I’m stuck, I read from the books I’ve brought or wander through the house for a volume I didn’t know I needed. Since my first stay at Quarry Farm, the internet speed and capacity has vastly improved so I keep my laptop offline to counter the ambitious improvements from the Center for Mark Twain Studies. If I’m researching detail, the study is stocked with resources, including a capable computer with a lightning connection to the outside world I’m keeping out.

Much of my work is rooted in my hometown, Hannibal, Missouri, which I share with Samuel Clemens. In my debut novel, Flood, set during and after the 500-year flood of 1993, I reimagine Becky Thatcher through a female friendship more akin to Tom and Huck’s famous mischief. Flood is a story of identity and how we construct narratives, especially those based on false assumptions. I wanted to avoid the familiar “Can you go home again?” in favor of the more ambivalent “What happens if you have to?” Like the Mississippi River that once ran backwards, Laura Brooks, Flood’s protagonist, flows in a dangerous direction through her past as she seeks to recalibrate her future. Like Mark Twain’s work and social criticism, I examine race, class, and ideologies of rural communities. I’ve come to Quarry Farm to work on Flood’s sequel and see how a modern Becky emerges on the page. I can’t help but find the view of Elmira in the valley below and the Chemung River matching the riverbanks and bluffs I was born and raised admiring in Hannibal. Sam and I are in on a secret.

By my third day, I have a plot map for a short story and a newly drafted sample chapter which I will take apart and rewrite four more times in the coming week. The ability to stay in work and to hold the pieces in my head as I move from study to kitchen to fields allows ideas and words to percolate until the steam from the boil must meet my page. The time, space, and place at Quarry Farm is ideal for the deep work necessary for scholars and creatives alike.

When the house can hold me no longer and I’m out of groceries, I drive to Elmira for provisions, art, and research. I explore “Mark Twain’s Elmira” at the Chemung County Historical Society and spend hours learning about Women’s Suffrage and the NAACP’s presence in the community. The generous docent at the Arnot Art Museum teaches me about the ties between the Arnot and Langdon family and she is patient with my many questions. I bring my journal so I can scribble on a bench in the gallery in the beauty of this collection. 

On the last day of my two-week residency, I send the sample chapters to my agent and the revised manuscript proposal to my editor—it’s the amount I’ve been trying to juggle in my academic days for an entire year—and it’s done. I’ve begun three new projects and they must now marinate until I can clear my calendar again for the gift of time.

Susan Crane understood that a writer needs solitude and support. She had dinner ready and a community to bolster Sam’s spirits when he returned from a day writing up the hill in his studio. As an artist informed by scholarship, Quarry Farm inspires me and I listen. The rabbit holes of research I fall into become a phrase for a future poem, a line of dialogue I hear imagining a hallway conversation between Sam and Livy, or a scene that might make its way into my next novel. I like to think that the Langdon-Crane crew might be pleased that a fellow girl from Hannibal made her way up to East Hill to write in Mark Twain’s footsteps.

Melissa Scholes Young is Associate Professor of Literature at American University and author of the award-winning Flood (2017).

April in Elmira & Redding (A Quarry Farm Fellow Testimonial)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Starting with today’s narrative from Larry Howe, we will occasionally be featuring testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information here.

Larry Howe is Professor of English at Roosevelt University, author of MARK TWAIN & THE NOVEL (1998), and co-editor of MARK TWAIN & MONEY (2017).

I came to Quarry Farm on April 1st for a stay of about 3 weeks. This is my second Quarry Farm fellowship, and I have had the pleasure of a couple of other short stays, so the house, grounds, and the city in the valley below are quite familiar to me. I didn’t need a getting-acquainted period as I settled in.  

My other visits to Quarry Farm were in the Summer and Fall. So I wasn’t sure what to expect in April. Despite the fact that Spring was several weeks underway, there were days when a Winter chill still lingeredFortunately, sunshine made intermittent appearances frequently enough to allow a cup of coffee on the front porch. Given the general weather, instead of taking long walks over the hills and in the woods, I fell quickly into a work routine.

I’m in the midst of a project on Mark Twain and property, and my fellowship period is dedicated to revising earlier work on the real estate chapter and developing aspects of Clemens’s time in Hartford and Stormfield. I spent long hours at the kitchen table, drafting and revising. For me, the latter is the most time consuming part of the process because I will revisit a paragraph numerous times: reshaping, cutting, adding, and recasting sentences. As a result, my production is never what I hope it will be, but I’ve come to expect that.  

Anyone who has had the pleasure of working here knows that having the wealth of scholarly resources readily available on the study shelves make this an ideal setting. If there’s a downside, it’s that there is so much material close at hand; hours can go by dipping into one volume or another. Having the collective wisdom of so many dedicated scholars close at hand leaves one no choice but to dive in to answer any question that arises, and to locate one’s own interpretive position within the wide range of critical opinions. 

Some of my research of property records is available online. And for this work, the upgraded internet access at Quarry Farm was indispensible. For example, I was able to track down the deed records of Livy’s purchase of the estate in Tarrytown, NY, in 1902 and Sam’s sale of that property in 1904, after Livy’s death. Still, a lot of older records have not been digitized.

Elmira is also the seat of Chemung County, so it was very easy to drive down the hill and drop into the Registry of Deeds on Lake Street to compare Quarry Farm property to others in which Livy and Sam Clemens had a personal stake. It was somewhat suprising to see that Sam Clemens was among the executors of Jervis Langdon’s estate, recorded in sales of Langdon town lots to a variety of buyers. 

Records for Stormfield in Redding, CT, are also only available in bound form. Because it’s a shorter journey there from Elmira than it is from my home in Chicago, I took the opportunity on one day to drive to Redding to consult the town clerk’s records. Along the way, I was also delighted to stumble onto Mark Twain Lane—which ends at the gated entrance to the Stormfield property. 

Just across the from the gate is the site of Isabel Lyon’s Lobster Pot, which has been replaced by a different building (though still called the Lobster Pot), now an art studio and gallery of a local painter. Her portraits of Sam and Jean Clemens hang in the Mark Twain Library not more than a mile away on Redding Road. As I took photos of the stone pillars that frame the entrance to Stormfield, I was approached by a local who tipped me off to walking trails on a part of Clemens’s property that had been acquired by the Redding Land Trust. He also gave me directions to the property that Clemens acquired for Jean. The stone walls at the head of that driveway bear a sign that reads “Jean’s Farm.” Her original house still stands on what continues to be a working farm.  

Back at Quarry Farm the next day, I organized the photos of the documents that I reviewed at the Town Clerk’s office, including Clemens’s acquisitions of various parcels that comprised the Redding property, the deed of twenty acres to Isabel Lyon, the Power of Attorney that Clemens executed to void the notorious POA document that he accused Ralph Ashcroft of tricking him into signing, and the transfer of the twenty acres of Lyon’s property back to Clemens. As I pored over the “Ashcroft–Lyon Manuscript” for the conclusion of my real estate chapter, the formal language of property records, written in impeccable cursive hand and signed by the parties involved lent an authenticity to the story that I was tracking.   

Scholarly work is often described as a solitary enterprise, and my experience was no different. There were quite a few days when I saw no one. This was my own doing. Steve Webb, the friendly and knowledgeable Quarry Farm caretaker is on site and available. Joe Lemak, Matt Seybold, and Nathaniel Ball are close by (I bumped into Matt at Wegman’s one evening, and I met with Joe and Matt for lunch on another day) and are more than willing to help out with anything one may need. But the steady rhythm of work would allow whole days to go by without interruption. One evening, my wife called to see how things were going. When I tried to speak, a hoarse whisper was all I could muster. I realized that this was the first time I had used my voice since the day before when I had made a run for provisions.  It was disconcerting to find myself temporarily mute. The trade-off for this weird experience was well worth it. A temporary loss of speech was a small price to pay for a concentrated period of luxuriating in the world of Mark Twain, in a site that remains as it was when he occupied it.

Even for scholars, a Quarry Farm fellowship is a rare opportunity.  The Mark Twain community is fortunate that the Langdon family made this available to us and that its stewardship has been so responsibly maintained by the Center for Mark Twain Studies. My advice to Twain scholars who’ve yet to enjoy a residency at Quarry Farm: plan on it. The memories of your visit will stay with you. 

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.

Dispatches From Quarry Farm: Sympathetic Funk

Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.

“If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” – Mark Twain

If a skunk walks into your house at 2:30 in the morning you may not notice. You might, and will most likely, sleep right through the visit. It is, if fact, in your best interest to sleep through the visit; startling any creature at such an ungodly hour—especially a loaded one—is risky behavior. 

Knowing this—at least on a subconscious level—was why I kept my eyes shut. If I pretended to be asleep maybe would it just go away? I had to try. Please, I begged my own brain as my trachea constricted in self-defense, this has to be a weird dream.  Little paws, soft leather steps, on the wooden floor around my bed in the dark. The math. The odds of a skunk finding the secret cat door under the house and entering and climbing the stairs and pushing my door open and strolling right past the dog and jumping on my bed: slim. 

Mark Twain’s pet cats “Awake”

I sprang up, startling the animal (the damage had already been done,) and flailed around for the light by my bed. It was hard to function through the gagging; it was hard to see through the invisible-green sulfur cloud in the dark; I could only hear the quick, scratching claws on the door as the animal deftly pulled it open enough to slip out. My Olfactory senses were desperately trying to outsource and my stomach was refusing the work. 

I stumbled across the room blinded by the light and the stench and followed the trail. I thought about how much better it is to be sleeping at 2:30 in the morning. I wondered why humans feel it’s so fun to have pets. I wondered if a tomato juice bath is just an urban legend? 

In the adjoining room on the desk where I write massively important stories about cats, dogs, my kid and Mark Twain sat a soggy, disheveled animal hacking up the remnants of a confrontation—perhaps a date gone really wrong—on all the notes and papers in my disorganized, organized piles.

Everyone’s favorite Quarry Farm cat, Mr. Cat felt that it was ok to take a direct hit in the face from a skunk and then stroll into my room in the middle of the night and tell me all about it. Well, he’s actually a very literary animal; he showed me as opposed to telling me. He showed me how repugnant the nightlife can be by filling our entire home with a cloud of his bad decisions. 

With gentle hatred I grabbed the animal by the back of the neck and carried him as far away from my body as I could—there are no arms long enough—to the bathtub where I threw him, ever so delicately, in and slammed the shower door shut. 

A tomato juice bath isn’t a thing, which is good, because I didn’t have any tomato juice. Google was quick to find me the solution: hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap which is bad because I didn’t have any of that either—except for the dish soap. All the articles stressed the importance of working quickly before the oils in the spray “set”—A very inconvenient fact at that time of night. Once they do set it takes about six to eight weeks for the smell to dissipate. 

Caretaker Webb’s feline charge at Quarry Farm

A dish-soap bath for a cat in full protest while the glass, shower doors rattled in their tracks and I flailed with the howling, clawing animal is not a quiet affair. Yet, all the while, my son—one of those humans that thinks it’s fun to have pets—slept peacefully in the next room as I wrestled the soppy, raging pin-bag. It did cross my mind that he should share the joy pet ownership with me but I resisted the urge to wake him and did my best to quiet the beast. I considered some extended time under water to quiet him down but I also considered that the inclinations of the disturbed mind at 2:30 in the morning shouldn’t always be trusted. 

The dish-soap bath did almost nothing and I was not relieved as I wrapped the somewhat defeated creature in a couple of old towels and carried him to the basement where he would be quarantined until the Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide Store opened. 

Unable to fall back asleep with all the gagging I stripped my bed and tried to wipe down all the things I think he may have touched or rubbed up against before I woke up. This was a task of blind guessing and seemed pointlessly impossible. I felt that I was getting used to the smell and at the same time smelling it absolutely everywhere. 

I put some new sheets on my bed and lay down and stared into the darkness. It was almost four in the morning and the sky outside my window was black. The old iron radiators hissed and clinked, tired from the long winter. The neurotic little footsteps of a squirrel in the attic came and went it short bursts. The dog snored softly in the corner. The window lightened shade by minute shade until the trees outside became clear and towering into view. The alarm chirped from my phone—bird sounds—and I clicked it off almost before it started, only six weeks to eight weeks, I thought. 

I woke the small person with an apologetic look on my face as I could see the toxic air sink into his. “What the…?” (At eleven he’s not quite into his free-use-of-expletives-in-front-of-dad phase but I could tell what he wanted to say and I wouldn’t have punished him for it.) 

“Yeah, your friend, Cat, got into some serious business with a skunk last night. Not good.” Our furrowed expressions of funky disgust mirrored each other’s, although I was almost used to it by then he was experiencing it for the first time, so my expression was that of sympathetic funk. 

And getting used to it did not ease my mind; personally, that’s great, but publically it’s a real problem. I noticed at the gym later, after I dropped the boy off at school, that the woman on the treadmill next to me wilted like a water deprived seedling and flung off the back of the motorized track with a zing and a thud. I wanted to believe it was just a simple heart attack—she was well into her golden age—but deep down I knew and let the commotion of rubberneckers and EMTs be a distraction for my slinky disappearance.

And when I went to pick the boy up from school he had a very strange look on his face. “Today was a weird day.” He said with a ghostly expression. “I’ll tell ya in the car.” 

Apparently our hero, Mr. Cat, had rubbed all up on his backpack after the incident because when he arrived at school the entire class groaned in disapproval and he experienced his first taste of social ostracization. The teacher procured a trash bag and his backpack was sentenced to solitary confinement for the day; tied up tight in that bag and shoved deep into the closet. “It was really embarrassing, dad.”

“Well, at least you didn’t kill somebody.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.” 

The boy went on to say that a couple of his friends were extra nice to him because they could tell he was super embarrassed and we had an at-least-you-know-who-your-real-friends-are Hallmark kind of moment; it was touching and profound and by no means worth it. At the same time, even though I didn’t wake him during the incident, he still got to experience the joy of pet ownership and I can’t say that was worth it but there is some relief in a deeply rooted, involuntarily blossoming, smirk. 

Lecture focusing on Twain’s friend from New Orleans starts the Fall 2018 Trouble Begins Series

The fall portion of the 2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, begins Wednesday, October 10 in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

Portrait of Grace King

The first lecture “Getting to Know Mark Twain through the Eyes of Grace King, a Southern Woman of Letters” will be presented by Miki Pfeffer, from Nicholls State University. New Orleans writer, Grace King, enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Sam and Livy Clemens and their daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean. King visited the family in Hartford in 1887 and 1888 and in Florence in 1892. She wrote to her family about the Twain homes, meals, dress, and habits. From New Orleans, she exchanged letters with each Clemens, especially Livy, with whom she became a confidante. As each family member died, she kept in touch with the living, right through Clara’s brief messages around 1918. Miki Pfeffer will read from some of King’s captivating letters that offer a fresh view of the Clemenses and of Mark Twain as loving homebody, father, and generous friend to this ambitious southern woman.

Miki Pfeffer holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Urban History from the University of New Orleans. She is a visiting scholar at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Louisiana. Her book, Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women’s Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair, was awarded the 2015 Eudora Welty Prize for scholarship in Women’s Studies and Southern Studies from the Mississippi University for Women.Her current mission is to see Grace King’s letters published and appreciated, and she offers the collection of the family of Twain in a book to be published in 2019.

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.

CMTS’ Fall 2018 Trouble Begins Lectures Series Set

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for Wednesday, October 10 in The Barn at Quarry Farm.  All four lectures begin at 7:00 p.m., and are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 10 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Getting to Know Mark Twain through the Eyes of Grace King, a Southern Woman of Letters” Miki Pfeffer, Nicholls State University

Grace King

New Orleans writer, Grace King, enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Sam and Livy Clemens and their daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean. King visited the family in Hartford in 1887 and 1888 and in Florence in 1892. She wrote to her family about the Twain homes, meals, dress, and habits. From New Orleans, she exchanged letters with each Clemens, especially Livy, with whom she became a confidante. As each family member died, she kept in touch with the living, right through Clara’s brief messages around 1918. Miki Pfeffer will read from some of King’s captivating letters that offer a fresh view of the Clemenses and of Mark Twain as loving homebody, father, and generous friend to this ambitious southern woman.

Miki Pfeffer holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Urban History from the University of New Orleans. She is a visiting scholar at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Louisiana. Her book, Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women’s Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair, was awarded the 2015 Eudora Welty Prize for scholarship in Women’s Studies and Southern Studies from the Mississippi University for Women.Her current mission is to see Grace King’s letters published and appreciated, and she offers the collection of the family of Twain in a book to be published in 2019.

 

 

Wednesday, October 17 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7p.m.

“Mark Twain, TV Star” David Bianculli, Rowan University and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Woody Harrelson as Mark Twain

The real Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens, appeared in only one film in his lifetime, shortly before his death: a short silent movie of him walking around his Stormfield home, photographed by Thomas Edison’s Edison film company in 1909. But since then, Mark Twain has been on television dozens of times – immortalized, and impersonated, by a frankly startling array of actors on the small screen. The
best of them, Hal Holbrook in his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!, you know, and should. But the rest of them? Other actors portraying Mark Twain, in various programs over the 70-year-history of television, have ranged from Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby to Woody Harrelson and William Shatner. The character and image of Mark Twain have been kept alive by shows ranging from Bonanza and The Rifleman to Touched by an Angel and Star Trek: The Next Generation. David Bianculli will discuss and show clips from all these and more.

David Bianculli has been the TV critic for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, where he also appears as occasional guest host, since 1987. Beginning in 1975, he’s worked as a TV critic for newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, most recently for the New York Daily News from 1993-2007. Currently, he is a full-time professor of TV and film history at Rowan University, and editor of the website TV Worth Watching (www.tvworthwatching.com) which he launched in 2007. Bianculli has written four books – The Platinum Age of Television: From ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘The Walking Dead,’ How TV Became Terrific; Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’; Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously; and Dictionary of Teleliteracy – and has written chapters for and co-edited, with Douglas Howard, Television Finales: From ‘Howdy Doody’ to ‘Girls,’ to be published by Syracuse University Press in November. Bianculli has a B. S. in Journalism and an M. A. in Journalism and Communications, both from the University of Florida.

 

Wednesday, October 24 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Writing from Roots in ‘America’s Hometown’: Flood, a Novel” Melissa Scholes Young, American University

Literature and life often claim you can’t go home again, but what happens if you have to? In this book talk and author reading, Melissa Scholes Young will chronicle how Mark Twain’s own exodus from Hannibal parallels Laura Brooks’, the protagonist of her debut novel, Flood, who like the Mississippi River, once ran in the wrong direction in order to recalibrate. She’ll share her historical research and creative writing process as well as explore whyTwain’s origin in rural America is more relevant than ever.

“Filled with pithy dialogue and cultural references, Scholes Young’s writing ties Laura’s journey of self-discovery squarely to Hannibal and its famous young troublemakers. As Laura reckons with her past, Scholes Young reckons with Twain’s influence on the region. This debut is a wonderful story of home, hope, and the ties that bind us to family.” – Publishers Weekly

Melissa Scholes Young is an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. and a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, and Poets & Writers. She’s a Contributing Editor for Fiction Writers Review and Editor of the anthology Grace in Darkness. Her debut novel, Flood, set in Hannibal, Missouri, the hometown she shares with Mark Twain, was the winner in Literary Fiction for the 2017 Best Book Award.

 

Wednesday, November 7 in the Barn at Quarry Farm

“‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm” John Bird, Winthrop University

Quarry Farm in the 1880s

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 my current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, my presentation will let audiences relive his 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 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 us a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.

John Bird is Emeritus Professor of English at Winthrop University. He 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.

CFP: Special Issue of Mark Twain Annual & 2019 Quarry Farm Symposium – “Mark Twain & the Natural World”

CALL FOR PAPERS SPECIAL ISSUE: MARK TWAIN AND THE NATURAL WORLD

 

The Mark Twain Annual is seeking article-length submissions that examine aspects of Twain’s work that comment on the relation between human beings and the natural world. This broad scope allows for critical examinations of Twain’s writing about the natural world in any number of ways: as nature writing; as a form of environmentalism; as commentary on animal welfare, technology and science, and travel; and as a forerunner to mid-20th to early 21st century writers (Krutch, Abbey, Kingsolver, Quammen, and Gessner) who offer comic responses to nature as well as recognize the comic in the natural world and in our relationship to that world. Anthologies of nature writing may feature short passages from Life on the Mississippi (and sometimes from Roughing It), but most of Twain’s writing about the natural world is left out. More importantly, it is left underexamined. This special issue seeks to explore that unexamined territory in Twain’s fictive and nonfictive writings.

 

In addition to being published in the Annual, authors will have the opportunity to be part of the Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium program sponsored by the Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York. The symposium will be held sometime in the beginning of October 2019, one month prior to the publication of the Annual. The gathering will begin with a dinner on the Elmira College campus, followed by a keynote address. The symposium will continue throughout the next day with presentations and discussions in the tranquil atmosphere of Quarry Farm, a writing retreat reserved for scholars and writers working in the field of Mark Twain Studies, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner will also be served. Registrants will be invited back to Quarry Farm on Sunday morning to enjoy an autumnal breakfast and casual discussions. For more information about how the Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium operates, you can view the 2018 Symposium by clicking here.

 

Those interested should submit a 150-word proposal to Ben Click at [email protected] by August 31, 2018. Final manuscripts must be submitted by December 15, 2018. Selected essays should be 4,000-8,000 words in length, but longer essays of more than 8,000 words will also be considered.

Quarry Farm Carpet Leaves For Thirty Years, Goes To Turkey, and Comes Back Home

Here is the story of a 15′ x 11’6” Mahal Carpet once belonging to the Langdon family, how it came to me, and how it was restored through the generosity of Charlotte and Leo Landhuis.

In 1988, I was cleaning and restoring carpets for Elmira College. A former employee of the College was volunteering at Quarry Farm and asked if I would offer any advice on the rugs and carpets in the main house.  Among the rugs that I reviewed was a 15′ x 11’6” Mahal. A Mahal rug is often defined as an incredibly decorative and ornate carpet, something that is almost an object of art unto itself.  Unfortunately, this rug was in dire condition – large areas were glued and taped together, large tears were everywhere – but the worst was damage caused by water. The wet threads were so rotted that the rug was coming apart in my hands. The folks at Quarry Farm wondered if the carpet could be saved.

The master restorers in Turkey repaired sections of the carpet by hand

During my tour of the farm, I saw a number of impressive carpets that came from the nineteenth century. While I gave an appraisal for all the carpets at Quarry Farm, I knew that the damaged Mahal was rare and probably made before the 1850s. I suggested that because of the connection to the Langdons, Mark Twain, and Quarry Farm, the carpet was worth saving.

Gretchen Sharlow, director of CMTS at that time, asked if I would put the carpet into storage with the hope that some interest could be generated to fund the repair. The carpet came to my studio where it was labeled and placed in a closet. It remained there for 29 years.

Last fall I planned to retire and send the carpet back to Quarry Farm. At that time, my husband and I took a trip to Niagara on the Lake with Charlotte and Leo Landhuis. In conversation, the Quarry Farm Mahal carpet was mentioned and Charlotte expressed an interest in funding the restoration. Charlotte is from Elmira and her aunt used to sit on the porch of Quarry Farm. Charlotte, herself, used to play on the grounds when she was a little girl.

Master weaver at work on the carpet

I have been sending rugs to Turkey for repair and restoration through Gady Yesilcay of Orientalist Home, an organization specializing in antique and vintage carpets, and their repairs. On a visit in early December 2017, Gady inspected the carpet, offered a price for restoration and Charlotte Landuis covered the restoration costs. The carpet was then shipped off to Turkey.

When the work was completed, Gady delivered it to my study in May 2018. Gady believes that the carpet was made before 1850. A knowledgable collector in Rochester, New York looked at the carpet and confirmed Gady’s opinion. He pointed out that the design is archaic and belongs to an early period of carpet weaving. The irregularity of the size (it’s not completely rectangular) indicates that it was not made by a large establishment, but most likely in a village setting.

It is a beautiful, rare carpet and the association with Quarry Farm makes it even more unique!

Frances Millard and Steve Webb lay down the carpet pad. The Mahal carpet now resides in the Quarry Farm dining room

I am thankful for the generosity of Charlotte and Leo Landhuis and to the weavers of Orientalist Home for the skill of their restoration.

 

Frances Millard is an independent art historian, textile arts expert, and carpet & rug appraiser.

Quarry Farm Fireplace Writing Contest Gives Local Students A Chance To Visit Mark Twain’s Living Room

Tessa Baker, from Finn Academy in Elmira, reads her contest winning story.

During the 2017-2018 academic year, The Center for Mark Twain Studies sponsored a creative writing contest for area students in grades 2-6, encouraging students to explore Mark Twain’s legacy and the importance of the Langdon family in Elmira and the Twin Tiers.

While staying at Quarry Farm, Mark Twain 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 were encouraged to access the fireplace tiles on the CMTS website, MarkTwainStudies.org, and create their own stories based on the tile images.

Four area students were selected for their creative writings: Tessa Baker, Finn Academy; Alexa Fairbanks, Fassett Elementary; Mayla Falank, Cohen Elementary; and Alana Heath, Hendy Elementary.

The winning students and their classmates received a personal tour inside Quarry Farm, open only to Twain Scholars. They were able to read their story next to the Quarry Farm parlor fireplace, tour the main floor and grounds, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.

Mayla Falank, from Cohen Elementary in Elmira Heights, points to the tile that inspired her story.

While Quarry Farm will never be a roadside museum,  we very much want it to be part of the Elmira legacy. We are quite aware that Mark Twain is a cornerstone of the historical and cultural narrative of Elmira and the Southern Tier.

The staff of CMTS facilitates dozens of school field trips every year, taking students to visit the Mark Twain Study on the Elmira College campus, the grounds and barn at Quarry Farm, and the family gravesite at Woodlawn National Cemetery. However, access to the main house is a rare treat.

We want these students to be proud that they grow up in Elmira, to learn how important the Langdon family was to Mark Twain, and how important Twain is to U.S. history and culture. We hope that this contest helps them see that Twain’s history and the Langdon’s history is their history as well.

For teachers interested in bringing the life of Mark Twain and his literature into their classrooms, CMTS strongly encourages you to explore our internet resources dedicated to teachers.

For coverage about this story from the Elmira Star Gazette, click here.

Finn Academy, Elmira, New York

Cohen Elementary, Elmira Heights, New York

Fassett Elementary, Elmira, New York

Hendy Avenue Elementary, Elmira, New York

Winners Selected for the Quarry Farm Fireplace Creative Writing Contest

Winners have been selected for the Quarry Farm tile fireplace creative writing contest sponsored by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS). Four area students in grades 2-6, were selected for their creative writings exploring Mark Twain’s legacy in Elmira and the Southern Tier: Tessa Baker, Finn Academy; Alexa Fairbanks, Fassett Elementary; Mayla Falank, Cohen Elementary; and Alana Heath, Hendy Elementary.

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.

The winning students and their classmates will receive a personal tour inside Quarry Farm, something that is normally only open to Twain Scholars. In addition, the winning students will be able to read their story next to the Quarry Farm parlor fireplace, tour the grounds at Quarry Farm, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.

CMTS has an extensive list of online resources for teachers, available to everyone at no cost to the student, teacher, or school.  To access this list, please click here.

CMTS encourages all local schools to participate next year.  For more information contact Director Joseph Lemak at [email protected]