Gallows without Humor: How I Mined Mark Twain’s Western Violence

In 2008 I began my PhD program shortly after I had broken my second metatarsal on a run with former students. At the time, antebellum writers of the gothic and sensational occupied my imagination in the darkness of my newly sedentary life. I read the novels of George Lippard, George Thompson, and John Rollin Ridge and the journalism within The Hangman and the National Police Gazette. One day, as I searched for crime narratives set in the American West, I came across The Sagebrush Anthology, edited by Lawrence Berkove. This collection contained hoaxes written by Mark Twain, which had been published in Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise in the early 1860s. I had not read much early Twain, for I mostly spent time with Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, Hank Morgan or Pudd’nhead Wilson. But, as I researched and read, I noticed that Twain’s periodical writing read more like antebellum sensational writers than like the Twain I had read in school, or his writing I usually taught.

Now I began to catch up, though I could not run, and I emailed Larry Berkove. To my surprise, he responded. We corresponded several times, and I read all that he recommended. Still, I could not shed those gothic writers from eastern cities. I discovered many relationships between eastern metropolitan writers and western writers in mining towns, so I focused on these similarities in my research: narratives or journalism that criticized society, assessed gender norms, reported on or created scenes of crime and punishment, and employed violent discourse. Twain’s journalism and letters had it all. Even humor. I decided, however, mostly to avoid his humor and instead welcome the bullets and ropes, blood and bruises. Besides, I found out, James Caron had written the best book about Twain’s humor and western journalism, Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter, that same year.

So I focused on the violence. My essential question has kept me interested all these years: What and how did Twain write about crime and punishment during his time in the West and just after he left it? Though I was well into my research by 2011, one answer came during the first Clemens Conference in Hannibal, Missouri, that summer. Robert Hirst gave the keynote address, and as he discussed various letters and notes penned by Twain, Bob showed an envelope that contained Twain’s handwritten, but not mailed, response to Henry Bovee, a senator who had campaigned against capital punishment. After his address, I chatted with Bob about the note and asked him if any other such letters or envelopes existed in the Mark Twain Papers. The next year I visited the Papers in Berkeley, and within a box of unpublished materials in Bob’s office sat another envelope, with another response that Twain did not send to Henry Bovee. Images of both envelopes appear in my book, thanks to Bob Hirst.

Sam Clemens pistol practicing at his home in Redding, CT. (1908)
Image found at www.MarkTwainQuotes.com

During that exploration in the Papers I read various newspaper articles, bits, pieces, and columns that offered Twain’s specific, complicated, sometimes fluid views on western violence, including legal and extralegal punishment. He also wrote much about guns, but not in ways that would please either of our current political parties. He wrote about gender in ways that would not necessarily satisfy today’s men or women, whether traditionally or fluidly gendered. And he wrote about violence in ways that might disgust and excite his readers, for violence disgusted and excited him. These contradictions interested me. And though I can now run again, I cannot escape these contradictions, and the darkness and danger lurking in cities or mining towns that Mark Twain’s writing illuminated.


Dr. Jarrod Roark is a teacher at St. Teresa’s Academy (Kansas City, MO) and is Executive Coordinator of the Mark Twain Circle. Dr. Roark presented the following paper at the Elmira 2017: The Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies:

His recent book, Mark Twain at the Gallows: Crime and Justice in His Western Writing, 1861-1873, is available from McFarland & Co.

A Loving & Clairvoyant Parasite: George Steiner in "The Archives of Eden"

It would be grossly inaccurate to call George Steiner, who passed away earlier this week, an Americanist. His reading was cosmopolitan, certainly, and though it included the literature of the nation where he spent the plurality of his life, he was also famously dismissive of that tradition. Nearly every obituary published this week has mentioned that he once characterized Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, possibly the most revered novel in the U.S. canon, as “trivial.”

It can thus justly be characterized as a “stretch” for me to eulogize him on a site dedicated to Mark Twain Studies. Steiner made occasional, passing references to Twain’s works, enough to make evident he had read them (what hadn’t he read?), but he would have no doubt bristled at the very phrase “Twain Scholar,” not applied it to himself.

But I am taking the occasion of Steiner’s death to revisit one of the rare essays in which he not only glances at U.S. authors and artists, but searches for a definition of American culture. “The Archives of Eden” was published in Salmagundi in 1980 and later collected in Steiner’s No Passion Spent (1996). 

While he does not mention them all by name, Steiner’s most transparent objective in the essay is to discredit and replace the “Adamic” definition of American culture developed by the midcentury Americanist critics R.W.B. Lewis, Leo Marx, Perry Miller, and Henry Nash Smith. Far from being an organic, virgin, youthful, or Arcadian culture (all tropes of the “Adamic” school), Steiner insists, “American culture has stood, from its outset, on giant shoulders” and “is ‘very old’ precisely because it has been heir to so much.” 

The word heir is important here, for it acknowledges that American Adam did not spring, unprecedented, from the Virgin Land, but inheritance also denotes the passing of property. American culture specializes, Steiner argues, in the accumulation of cultural properties, whether those be the Strativarian instruments in the vaults of the Library of Congress or the fruits of intellect which Diasporic physicists traded to the Manhattan Project for visas. 

“The dominant apparatus of American high culture is that of custody,” Steiner writes. Superior museums, superior libraries, superior concert halls, and superior universities comprise the “rummage-room of western civilization.” The British have to visit Washington D.C. to study Shakespeare. Russians come to New York City to study their revolution. The French journey to the Bay Area to study theirs. But, according to Steiner, our capacity for appropriating, cataloguing, curating, and, most importantly, arbitraging, the cultural artifacts of Europe masks the poverty of Americans own cultural productivity.

Summarized as such, Steiner’s argument may appear, up to this point, to be stereotypically Eurocentric, equal parts envy and elitism – the longform version of calling Moby-Dick “trivial.” I assure you, couched as it is in Steiner’s humility and dialectical reasoning, it does not read so dismissively. That said, it is really the second half of the essay which keeps me up at night. Steiner posits that by treating world culture with the same reverence as a pawnbroker and our own culture as purely disposable, Americans actually approach something virtuous. 

“The correlations between classic literacy and political justice, between the civic institutionalization of intellectual excellence and the general tenor of social decency, between a meritocracy of the mind and the overall chances for common progress, are indirect and, it may well be, negative.

Not even Americans orchestras want to play Aaron Copland. Our major metropolitan museums hang their Hudson River School paintings in the galleries furthest from the entrance. One suspect Emerson’s inclusion in the Norton Anthology of Western Philosophy is primarily an act of pity which only service to make the paucity of U.S. philosophers more apparent. But, Steiner’s comforting question to his U.S. colleagues: “Who cares?” Who needs to pursue the sensual transcendence of the arts and humanities when they are free to pursue happiness? “High culture, far from arresting barbarism, can give to barbarism a peculiar zest and veneer,” Steiner writes, “If a choice is to be made, let humane mediocrity prevail.”

Is “humane mediocrity” what we get when accept that the proper measures of culture are the the auction block, the domestic gross, the bestseller list, and the tuition price? 

Standing beside the fiction produced under Stalinism, Steiner says, “this month’s ‘great American novel’ is merely embarrassing,” but “Who cares?” Neither its author nor its readers were, as Joyce put it, “squeezed like olives” in the vice grip of a totalitarian regime. 

“The fundamental, if subconscious strategy of American culture is that of an immaculate astrodome enveloping, making transparent to a mass audience, preserving from corruption and misuse, the cancerous and daemonic pressures of antique, of European, of Russian invention.”

To choose Judd Apatow over Samuel Beckett – that is, to choose the “general dignity” of mass culture over the exclusive status of high culture – is, as Steiner puts it, “a thoroughly justifiable choice,” though not one he is constitutionally able to make for himself. Nor, and this is the rhetorical cruelty of his argument, are we. On the penultimate page of his essay, he points out, for those who have gotten so far, “by virtue of the simple fact that you are reading this essay, that you possess the vocabulary, codes of reference, leisure and interest needed to read it” you have already marked yourself as elite, as Eurocentric, as resistant to “the American way of life,” as potentially containing within your person and your tastes “the motor forces of social crisis.”

What I find haunting about this essay is not the trivialization of U.S. literature. (As Twain says, “My book are like water. Everybody drinks water.”) Nor is it Steiner’s characterization of the institutions of my profession (the university, library, and archive) as implicitly at odds with my person. What I really find haunting is that it was written four decades ago. It describes a “contagion of history” that Americans still carry with them, yet offers no account of what to do when the “immaculate astrodome” is no longer so immaculate. What happens when authoritarianism succeeds in raiding the archives of Eden? It is an essay in desperate need of a sequel. One which now we’ll never get.  

Wild To Move: Mark Twain in Cleveland

In the years following the Civil War, Cleveland was one of the wealthiest and largest cities in America. Its prime location on Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River made it ideal for manufacturing and transportation. Its population grew alongside its industries.

The U.S. Gilded Age was good for the city. As business and people took root, so did cultural institutions and neighborhoods. 

It was this booming American city that the country’s soon-to-be most famous writer visited in 1868, and several other times over the years. Not only did Samuel Clemens visit Cleveland, the city he almost called home served a pivotal role in his life. 

Mark Twain’s relationship with the city of Cleveland is explored in my new book, Mark Twain’s America Then and Now, published in October 2019 by Pavilion Books.

Cleveland is one of more than 69 significant places in Clemens’ life journey that are visited in the book. Together, they tell the story of man for whom a sense of place, and home, was of utmost importance. A man who wrote “I am wild with impatience to move — move — Move,” to his mother in 1867. At the time, he was preparing for a formative international voyage, the Quaker City cruise to Europe and the Holy Land.

Little did he know, this man wild to move, that he was just in the early chapters of his biggest adventure: a lifelong journey to reinvent American literature while making Mark Twain the most famous pen name in the world. It was for this reason that tracing Clemens’ biography through the geography of his life made sense. 

Many of the most essential places in Clemens’ life are well known: Hannibal, Mo.; Virginia City, Nevada; Hartford, Ct.; Elmira, NY.  But his life passage was filled with many formative stops, from Buffalo, NY to Keokuk, Iowa, to New Orleans, and, yes, Cleveland.

Clemens’ first visit was linked to that fortuitous Quaker City cruise. 

Mary Mason Fairbanks

While on the Quaker City, Clemens befriended a wealthy society matron named Mary Mason Fairbanks. Though she was only seven years older than him, he dubbed her Mother Fairbanks. She was the wife of Abel Fairbanks, the co-owner of the Cleveland Herald, Cleveland’s first daily newspaper. She was a college educated woman, mother of two, and a writer herself. She was also a member of Cleveland’s burgeoning upper class, which included families such as the Rockefellers and Hannas and Mathers and other residents of Millionaires’ Row. This world famous stretch of Euclid Avenue was compared to the Champs-Élysées and Fifth Avenue for its collection of wealth and beauty.

On the Quaker City, Mary Fairbanks was traveling under her nom de plume, Myra. She and Clemens quickly bonded. “Mother Fairbanks” was far more than just a wealthy wife. Sam called her the “most refined, intelligent and cultivated lady on the ship.” He trusted her so much that he let her edit the dispatches he was sending back to the Alta California. She was traveling with another wealthy Cleveland matron, Emily Severance, and came to view both Clemens and 17-year-old Charley Langdon as young “cubs” in need of her advice — in life, love and writing.

It was a friendship that would last 32 years. Mother Fairbanks’ influence on Clemens was extensive in the early years of their relationship. 

So it was no surprise that when Clemens was struggling with his writings about the Quaker City as well as trying to woo Livy Langdon, who would eventually become his wife, he turned to the other writer he had met on the cruise.

But this wasn’t just a social visit. Clemens had decided to throw himself full-force into his new lecturing career. He lined up an extensive 26-date tour that began in Cleveland.

The choice was not random. Given his newspaper connections, Clemens felt he could earn good reviews in town, something that would help boost the tour.  

He did, and not just from the Herald

“The most popular American humorist since the death of poor Artemus (Ward), made his first bow in Cleveland Public…Mark Twain has reason to feel gratified pride at the pleasant and satisfactory impression he made upon the immense audience,” raved The Plain Dealer.

Clemens spent the better part of two months in Cleveland, preparing for his November lecture debut. 

Mother Fairbanks provided much guidance, on how to court a refined lady and conduct oneself in society, but more importantly on his Quaker City stories, which would eventually become The Innocents Abroad.  Clemens had lined up his schedule without his talk yet written. He had given a lecture called Pilgrim Life, Being a Sketch of His Notorious Voyage to Europe, Palestine, Etc,. earlier that year, but wasn’t sure if he wanted to do the same again.  

He decided to rewrite Pilgrim, which had been criticized for its irreverent portrayal of the Holy Land, and retitle it The American Vandal Abroad. With his book slated for an early 1869 release, the tour would be an ideal way to promote it, too.

Mother Fairbanks agreed, in theory.  The refined lady had strong opinions on Clemens’ mean-spirited article about the trip in the New York Herald, as well as some of his book drafts. She thought he should rein in his more sarcastic tendencies that were likely to offend the passengers, the audience  …and herself.  

She proved a benign influence, toning down Clemens’ baser instincts and impetuousness, leading to a leaner, funnier and more benevolent narrative. Clemens allowed her to read and edit his draft several times as he worked in the Fairbanks’ St. Clair Avenue house. He also allowed her to throw a reception in his honor, introducing him to Cleveland society as “reformed prodigy.” He would spend more than a few nights carousing with the younger male residents of Millionaire’s Row thanks to her introductions. 

The Fairbanks helped Clemens promote the speech he would eventually deliver on November 17 at Case Hall, a 1,200 seat Victorian-Italianate lecture hall built in 1867, on Superior Avenue, not far from the Herald. Previous speakers at the hall included Horace Greeley and Henry Ward Beecher.

In the Herald, Mary Fairbanks was even more effusive than The Plain Dealer in one of three stories on Mark Twain’s Cleveland lecture. (Conflicts of interest were apparently not of concern.)

 “For nearly two hours he held them by the magnetism of his varied talent,” she wrote. “We shall attempt no transcript of his lecture, lest with unskillful hands we mar its beauty, for beauty and poetry it certainly possessed, though the production of a profound humorist.”

This glowing review helped Mark Twain add more dates across the country. Eventually, it would grow from 26 dates to 40, through March of 1869.

In just one year, the Herald would again figure prominently in Clemens’ life when he made a bid to become co-owner with Abel Fairbanks. 

“Livy, I guess that after all I shall become interested in this ‘Herald,’ and then you shall be managing editor – that is to say, you’ll manage the editor,” Twain wrote from Cleveland on Dec. 30, 1868. “I think we’ll live in Cleveland, Livy…But I don’t think we’ll live in the Avenue yet a while, Livy – we’ll take a back seat with Mrs. Fairbanks, in St. Clair street.”

Alas, Abel Fairbanks raised the asking price and Clemens was forced to pursue other career paths. The paper ended up closing in 1885, two years after the Fairbanks sold their interest before moving to Omaha, Nebraska. 

It was a deal that clearly worked out well for Clemens who went on to much greater things that running a midwestern newspaper – after a stint at the Buffalo Express, which his father-in-law bought a stake in following Clemens’s 1870 marriage to Livy Langdon. Clevelanders today must wonder what their city might have been like if Mark Twain had made it his permanent home. 

Though he chose not to live in Cleveland, Clemens did return to the city that played an important role in his formative years in 1895. Again, the visit was of high significance. Facing bankruptcy, Clemens had been forced to return to the road to repay his debts. 

An ambitious international speaking tour of Australia, New Zealand,  India and Africa was planned. But it began on familiar territory. Very familiar territory.

Mark Twain kicked off his world speaking tour on July 15 at the Music Hall in Cleveland, the city that had served him so well launching his 1868 tour.  Opening night would be followed by 140 other dates and would take more than a year. Domestic tour dates were billed as Mark Twain Reading and Talking. Overseas, the lecture was called Mark Twain at Home.

The show was announced in The Plain Dealer on July 7.  His old friends Abel and Mary Mason Fairbanks were long gone, so he couldn’t count on a rave review from her to boost the tour. Clemens stayed at the new Stillman Hotel on Erie Street while he prepared. 

Music Hall, opened a decade earlier on Bond and Erie streets,  was the town’s largest gathering place, a steep, foreboding building that could seat 4,000; it burned down just three years later

Clemens needn’t have worried about the press. Raved The Plain Dealer, “His immense shock of hair has turned nearly white, but his humor is just as vigorous and his style as entertaining as ever.”

Once again, Cleveland had helped launch Mark Twain.


Laura DeMarco is the author of Mark Twain’s America Then and Now (2019), Lost Cleveland (2017), and Cleveland Then and Now (2018). She is an arts and culture reporter for the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio. 

For more on the many places across the country that helped shape and inspire Mark Twain, from small-town Missouri to Mississippi river cities to the Wild West, Hawaii and the great cities of the East, check out Mark Twain’s America Then and Now (Pavilion Books, 144 p) The book features 69 locations, with more than 200 vintage and new photos.

A Tale of Today: Mark Twain on Impeachment

With articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump passed by the United States House of Representatives in December 2019, political gridlock has prompted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to deliberate how and when to send the articles to the Senate to begin the subsequent trial. 

Impeachment intrigue gripped and enraptured Washington’s attention previously during the administration of President Bill Clinton, who was impeached in 1998, and President Andrew Johnson, who was impeached in 1868. 

As a Washington City correspondent covering parts of the 1st and 2nd sessions of the 40th Congress Mark Twain penned thousands of pointed words analyzing the machinations of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats within the charged social and political atmosphere of the nation’s capital surrounding Johnson’s impeachment

During the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998, the New York Times cited Twain’s observations of President Johnson’s impeachment:

“A Tennessee Democrat, President Johnson had been Lincoln’s running mate in 1864 on a ‘National Union’ ticket but had run afoul of the radical Republicans since succeeding Lincoln. He fought them often over their efforts to harshly punish the South. Congress repeatedly sought to strip him of power and radical Republicans tried several times to impeach him. The climactic battle came when the President fired his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, in the face of a law designed to give Congress control over Cabinet officers’ tenure.

Twain was working that winter as a journalist, filing dispatches from Washington to newspapers around the country, when Andrew Johnson’s enemies in Congress finally found ammunition they thought would remove the President from office.”

“Word for Word / Samuel L. Clemens, Journalist; When Congress Last Rose to Impeach, Mark Twain Rose to the Occasion.” New York Times. December 20, 1998.

Washington Weather as a Forecaster of Impeachment Sentiments 

Arriving in Washington in late November 1867 to serve as a private secretary for Nevada Senator William Stewart, Twain maintained his byline for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise and Daily Alta California as a Washington Letter writer. He also contributed original reportage to local papers in Washington, and riffed about life in the District of Columbia for papers in Chicago and New York. 

A conspicuous presence in Washington, from receptions to the press galleries, Twain could quickly assume a provincial perspective, directing his disdain towards the city’s tempestuous environment and its commentary on the incessant impeachment chatter. 

Comparing the political climate with the apparently schizophrenic thermometer of Washington, with a date line of December 4, 1867, Twain wrote to the Territorial Enterprise

“I have been here a matter of ten days, but I do not know much about the place yet. There is too much weather. There is too much of it, and yet that is not the principal trouble. It is the quality rather than the quantity of it that I complain of; and more than against its quantity and its quality combined am I embittered against its character. It is tricky, it is changeable, it is to the last degree unreliable. It has catered for a political atmosphere so long that it has come at last to be thoroughly imbued with the political nature. 

As politics go, so goes the weather. It trims to suit every phase of sentiment, and is always ready. To-day it is a Democrat, to-morrow a Radical, the next day neither one thing nor the other. If a Johnson man goes over to the other side, it rains; if a Radical deserts to the Administration, it snows; if New York goes Democratic, it blows—naturally enough; if Grant expresses an opinion between two whiffs of smoke, it spits a little sleet uneasily; if all is quiet on the Potomac of politics, one sees only the soft haze of Indian summer from the Capitol windows; if the President is quiet, the sun comes out; if he touches the tender gold market, it turns up cold and freezes out the speculators; if he hints at foreign troubles, it hails; if he threatens Congress, it thunders; if treason and impeachment are broached, lo, there is an earthquake!

If you are posted on politics, you are posted on the weather.”

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, December 22, 1867. Letter is dated December 4, 1867.

Twain on Patronage

Twain observed the machinery of Washington as an embedded capital correspondent, as well as a reluctant office-seeker and half-hearted lobbyist for his older brother Orion. In February 1868 Twain described how the atmosphere of uncertain impeachment impacted the established spoils system for readers of James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald, one of the country’s most widely distributed newspapers.

Twain’s “Washington Gossip” column described the adversarial attitude towards President Johnson replete within Washington’s government departments. He wrote:

“A Cabinet may dispense patronage. The one we have at Washington does this on a small scale, but more to the President’s injury than benefit. Nearly all the government employés are in sympathy with Congress. They used to furnish Sumner with all his petitions for “manhood suffrage,” “civil rights,” “republican forms of government,” &c., and now they supply aid and comfort to the radicals in New Hampshire. Except from the evidence of their personal assurances the President has no knowledge that his constitutional advisers entertain views corresponding with his own.

A coinciding tendency of opinion has, under the accepted rules or partisan constancy, heretofore been exemplified by an appropriation of the benefits of patronage. It is proper to say that the President has not at any time exhibited a proscriptive spirit, nor has he exacted of the heads of departments a transfer of patronage from his enemies to his friends. 

At this time the departments are filled with radicals who have openly clamored for the impeachment of the President, and contributed of their sympathy and substance to uphold and perpetuate the Congressional policy. Not one man has ever been removed for vigorously abusing the President, nor has there been any discrimination against applicants who were recommended by influences in hostility to the administration. 

Furthermore, the President’s recommendation of an applicant, in former times, was equivalent to an appointment. Now it is otherwise. His endorsement of an application amounts to no more than that of any other man. If there is a vacancy, he may get it or he may not. Positive men are now the most successful. An uncompromising radical or an out and out democrat can succeed where a conservative would hardly get courteous attention. This is not a fancy of my own. I heard the same opinion expressed by a conservative Senator, who gave utterance to it under the force of a somewhat unpleasant experience.”

“Washington Gossip.” New York Herald. February 8, 1868.

The Movement towards Impeachment 

Chronicling the crescendo-ing political engineering of the impeachment movement by Radical Republicans in the House, Twain contributed a letter to the Chicago Republican with a biblical sub-head: “LAZARUS IMPEACHMENT, COME FORTH!”

With a date line of Monday, February, 24, 1868, in the immediate aftermath of President Johnson’s dismissal of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Twain wrote of the resurrective spirit of impeachment.

The past few days have been filled with startling interest. On Friday the nation was electrified by the President’s last and boldest effort to dislodge Mr. Stanton. The wild excitement that pervaded the capital that night, has not had its parallel here since the murder of Mr Lincoln.

The air was thick with rumors of dreadful import. Every tranquil brain, thrown from its balance by the colossal surprise, magnified the creations of its crazed fancy into the phantoms of anarchy, rebellion, bloody revolution! Assassinations were prophesied; murders, robberies, and conflagrations; cannon were to thunder, drums to beat, and the pavements to echo to the tread of armed men! 

The Senate sat at night, and the unusual spectacle of the illuminated Capitol attracted every eye, and impressed every mind with something like an assurance that its bodings and prophecies were well founded. And out of the midst of the political gloom, impeachment, that dead corpse, rose up and walked forth again!”

“Mark Twain’s Letter.” The Chicago Republican, March 1, 1868.

Capturing the scene overnight as Friday, February 21 turned into Saturday, February 22, 1868, Twain observed life inside and outside the grounds of the United States Capitol. Defying previous custom, Congress convened on the birthday of the country’s first president, George Washington. 

Twain wrote,

“The Senate sat at night, and multitudes flocked to the Capitol to stare and listen. The House resolved to make Saturday a working day for once, and both bodies decreed that for the first time since Washington’s death Congress should transact business on the anniversary of his birthday.”

Territorial Enterprise, March 13, 1868. Mark Twain’s Letters from Washington, No. 10.

Elbowing his way into the Capitol past onlookers, lobbyists, office-seekers, doorkeepers and fellow scribes, Twain took his seat Saturday morning from the vantage point of the press gallery. 

He noted,

“By 9 o’clock – full three hours before the sitting of Congress, long processions of men and women were wending their way toward the Capitol in the nipping winter air, and all vacant spaces about the doors were packed with people waiting to get in. 

When I reached there at noon, it was difficult to make one’s way through the wide lobbies and passages, so great was the throng. There was not a vacant seat in the galleries, and all the doorways leading to them were full of tiptoeing men and women, with a swarm of anxious citizens at their backs, eagerly watching for such scanty crumbs of comfort as chance opportunities of glancing between their shoulders or under their arms. 

I went immediately to the reporters’ gallery – it was about full, too, and excited doorkeepers and sentinels were challenging all comers and manfully resisting an assaulting party of men, women and children who were the fathers, brothers, wives, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, schoolmates, admirers of editors, correspondents, reporters, members of Congress, Cabinet officers and the President of the United States – and consequently they demanded to know why they couldn’t go into the reporters’ gallery!”

Territorial Enterprise, March 13, 1868.

Covering the scene for the Chicago Republican, Twain observed,

“A strong interest was depicted in every countenance — even in the countenances of the members of the floor — inasmuch that these latter earnestly conversed in groups and couples, instead of looking listless and writing private letters, as is their custom. The multitude of strangers were waiting for impeachment.

They did not know what impeachment was, exactly, but they had a general idea that it would come in the form of an avalanche, or a thunder clap, or that maybe the roof would fall in. Bye and bye a member rose up solemnly, and every soul prepared to stand from under. But it was a vain delusion — he only had a speech to make about a degraded cooking stove patent. The people were justly incensed.”

The Chicago Republican, March 1, 1868.

In the Territorial Enterprise, he added,

“It was a relief to the galleries, who somehow seemed to look upon this trifling about cooking stoves as a fraud upon themselves, and a sort of affront, as well, thrust forward, as it was, at a time when any idiot ought to know that impeachment was the order of the day!

No committee yet. Something must be done. Motion to adjourn, ‘in honor of Washington.’ Amendment – to read Washington’s Farewell Address. Both were voted down. Ayes and nays called on both, and the long, tedious, monotonous calling of names and answering followed. The vote was no – everybody knew what it would be before. 

Before the roll call was finished, Boutwell came in [sensation]; afterwards, at intervals, Bingham [sensation], Paine [sensation], several other committee men, and finally Thad. Stevens himself. [Super-extraordinary sensation!]”

Territorial Enterprise, March 13, 1868. Mark Twain’s Letters from Washington, No. 10.

After the “hour of irksome suspense rolled away,” Twain reported, “the one man the audience found out they must look for, entered — Thaddeus Stevens.”

Scholars of Twain are likely familiar with the notations and colorful observations he recorded of members of Congress in his journals upon his preliminary sittings in the House reporter’s gallery.

With descriptive rhetoric inartful by today’s norms,Twain took special notice of Stevens, the long-serving congressman from Pennsylvania, who was born in 1792 and would ultimately pass later that year.

The haggard, cadaverous old man dragged himself to his place and sat down. There was a soul in his sunken eyes, but otherwise he was a corpse that was ready for the shroud. He held his precious impeachment papers in his hand, signed at last! 

In the eleventh hour his coveted triumph had come. Richelieu was not nearer the grave, Richelieu was not stirred up by a sterner pride, when he came from his bed of death to crown himself with his final victory.

The buzzing and whispering died out, and an impressive silence reigned in its stead. The Speaker addressed the galleries in a clear voice that reached the farthest recesses of the house, and warned the great concourse that the slightest manifestation of approbation or disapprobation of anything about to be said, would be followed by the instant expulsion of the offending person from the galleries; he read the rules, at some length, upon the subject, and charged the Sergeant-at-Arms and his subordinates to perform their duty without hesitation or favor. 

Then Mr. Stevens rose up and in a voice which was feeble but yet distinctly audible because of the breathless stillness that hung over the great audience like a spell, he read the resolution that was make plain the way for the impeachment of the President of the United States!

The words that foreshadowed so mighty an event sent a thrill through the assemblage, but there was no manifestation of the emotion save in the sudden lighting of their countenances. They ventured upon no applause, nor upon any expression of dissent. Mr. Brooks of New York took the floor, and in a frenzied speech protested against impeachment, and threatened civil war if the measure carried.”

Territorial Enterprise, March 13, 1868.

Twain Predicts Johnson’s Acquittal 

Possibly reading into the latest weather front to settle over the nation’s capital, in his final Washington Letter for the Territorial Enterprise,Twain gave a less than optimistic forecast for impeachment.

“A few days ago, everybody was entirely satisfied that the President would be impeached and removed with all possible dispatch. To-day nobody has a settled opinion about the matter. The Democrats do not howl about impeachment much now, a fact that awakens suspicion. Maybe they are satisfied that to martyr the President would make a vast amount of Democratic capital for the next election. Martyrdom is the coveted thing, now, by everybody.

The Republicans show a disposition to quit talking about the impeaching of a President on stern principle for a contemptuous violation of law and his oath of office; they show a disposition to drop the high moral ground that such a precedent must not be sent down to hamper posterity, and they already openly talk about the “impolicy” of impeaching. It would be curious to hear a Court talking of the “impolicy” of convicting a man for murder in the first degree.

This everlasting compelling of honesty, morality, justice and the law to bend the knee to policy, is the rottenest thing in a republican form of government. It is cowardly, degraded and mischievous; and in its own good time it will bring destruction upon this broad-shouldered fabric of ours. 

I believe the Prince of Darkness could start a branch hell in the District of Columbia (if he has not already done it), and carry it on unimpeached by the Congress of the United States, even though the Constitution were bristling with articles forbidding hells in this country. And if there were moneyed offices in it, Congress would take stock in the concern, too, and in less than three weeks Fessenden and Washburne would fill it full of their poor relations. 

What a rotten, rotten, and unspeakable nasty concern this nest of departments is, with its brainless battalions of Congressional poor-relation-clerks and their book-keeping, pencil-sharpening strumpets.”

Territorial Enterprise, April 7, 1868. MARK TWAIN’S LETTERS FROM WASHINGTON.

Sensing the result of a pending impeachment acquittal against Johnson two months in advance of its actuality in May 1868, Twain wrote, “It is dead for good, now, I suppose. It promised so fairly, two months ago, that everybody boldly turned prophet and said it would certainly succeed. But it didn’t. Nobody’s prophecies concerning Washington matters ever come out right. Isaiah himself would be a failure here.”

Despite describing Congressman Stevens as pallid and with one foot in the grave, Twain wrote, 

Hon. Thad. Stevens, the bravest old ironclad in the Capitol, fought hard for impeachment, even when he saw that it could not succeed. He is not choice in his language when he speaks on this subject, concerning his fellow-committeemen and Congress generally. He simply says the whole tribe of them are ‘Damned Cowards.’ It is the finest word painting any Congressional topic has produced this session.”

Territorial Enterprise, March 7, 1868. MARK TWAIN’S LETTERS FROM WASHINGTON.

Twain Leaves Washington City 

Seemingly unmoved by the opportunity to cover the ensuing impeachment trial in the Senate, Twain wrote to his mother February 21, 1868 of his growing discontent with Washington,

“I couldn’t accept the Postoffice—the book contract was in the way—I could not go behind that—& besides, I did not wantthe office. I might want such a thing under the next administration, & if it shall so happen, it will be in my favor that I did not serve under this one.”

Samuel L. Clemens to Jane L. Clemens & Family. February 21, 1868.

On Monday, March 9, 1868 the Evening Star noted, “Mark Twain”—Clemens—has left Washington for California to make arrangements for the publication of his work.”

The Innocents Abroad would eventually be published in 1869 as one of Twain’s most popular works during his life and one of the best-selling English language travel books of all time. Although his life as a Washington letter writer was short-lived, Twain’s observations about our nation’s capital and the fervor of impeachment more than one hundred and fifty years ago prove to be prescient.


John Muller is author of Mark Twain in Washington D.C. (The History Press, 2013) and Frederick Douglass in Washington D.C. (The History Press, 2012). He is an Associate Librarian in the Washingtonia Division of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, part of the DC Public Library system. He regularly writes and speaks about the history of Washington, D.C.

CMTS' 2020 Strategic Plan

For a full version of the Center for Mark Twain Studies 2020 Strategic Plan, click HERE.

Strategic planning is a useful tool for the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) to assess its past and design its future.  Strategic management helps CMTS cultivate a continuing commitment to its mission and vision, promotes a culture that includes meaningful input from all stakeholders and encourages a focus on the annual agenda by means of a transparent decision-making process.  The annual strategic plan allows the staff of CMTS to identify and respond to its most fundamental and immediate issues, and develop strategies for fostering fiscally sustainable growth in moving CMTS toward being a leading internationally recognized academic center.  Finally, the CMTS strategic planning process fosters proactive discussion and formulation of action plans by all staff members, both within their spheres of influence and within the organization as a whole.

CMTS continues to strive for transparency in all its endeavors and is more than willing to make its strategic plan available to the public.

Vision Statement of the Center for Mark Twain Studies

The Center for Mark Twain Studies strives to renew and deepen its identity as a scholarly center for Mark Twain Studies and any and all related academic disciplines with the goal of becoming one of the best academic centers in the country.

To achieve this vision, the Center for Mark Twain Studies must harness its great energy and talents, inspire its supporters, and most importantly, exercise the collective imaginations of the greater Mark Twain community to build and maintain an even better Center for Mark Twain Studies for its current constituents and future generations.

Mission Statement of the Center for Mark Twain Studies

The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) is dedicated to fostering and supporting scholarship and pedagogy related to all aspects of Mark Twain.  The primary purpose of CMTS is to serve an international community of scholars and educators.  The responsibilities of CMTS also include oversight and preservation of two historic landmarks: Quarry Farm, which has been designated a cultural humanities site dedicated to scholars and writers working in Mark Twain Studies, and the Mark Twain Study, now located on the Elmira College campus.  Starting in 1871 and for over twenty consecutive summers, Twain lived at Quarry Farm and worked in his octagonal Study.  It was here that the author wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and many other important works, signifying his most productive and successfully creative time of his life.

In addition, CMTS closely collaborates with the Elmira College Mark Twain Archive, the home of primary and secondary sources dedicated to Twain and his circle.  CMTS also seeks to enrich local and regional community members and organizations by promoting and preserving the legacy of Twain and his deep connection to Elmira.  CMTS fulfills its mission through the sponsorship of academic and creative research fellowships-in-residence; the creation of content for MarkTwainStudies.org, the website of CMTS; and through the facilitation of a number of scholarly events, including annual symposia, academic lectures, teaching institutes, and the quadrennial International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies, the world’s largest scholarly conference focusing on Mark Twain.

Strategic Goals

Reflecting its vision and mission statement, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has established the following strategic goals:

  1. Enhance and sustain service to all constituents of CMTS
    1. Scholarly community
    1. Internet community
    1. Local and regional community
    1. Elmira College community
  2. Increase the quality and quantity of scholarly production associated with Quarry Farm
  3. Enhance and sustain the services and materials offered by the Mark Twain Archive to the academic community
  4. Preserve the historical infrastructure of Quarry Farm, the Study, the Exhibit, and the Archives
  5. Increase financial sustainability to support CMTS’ mission and strategic goals

For a full version of the Center for Mark Twain Studies 2020 Strategic Plan, click HERE.

CMTS Announces the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows

At the heart of the Center for Mark Twain Studies mission is service to scholars. Nothing reflects this better than the Quarry Farm Fellowship program.  When the Langdon family bequeathed Quarry Farm to Elmira College on December 31, 1982, the Langdons insisted that the main house be used exclusively as a cultural humanities site dedicated to Mark Twain Studies. As a result, the Center for Mark Twain Studies funds national and international scholars, allowing them to fully engage in scholarly pursuits at Quarry Farm.  CMTS makes a concerted effort to include graduate students, independent scholars, and scholars with new doctoral degrees to ensure the robust future of Mark Twain Studies, ensuring the continuation and rejuvenation of Mark Twain as a central figure in American literature and the field of the Humanities.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is honored to announce the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows


Max Cavitch

Sponsor: Christopher Looby, University of California, Los Angeles

Max Cavitch is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also an affiliated faculty member of the programs in Comparative Literature, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the author of American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman (2007) and of numerous essays on topics in American and African American Literature, Cinema Studies, Poetry and Poetics, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the editor of the forthcoming Oxford World’s Classics edition of Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days and co-editor, with the historian Brian Connolly, of the forthcoming essay collection, Situation Critical! Critique, Theory, and Early American Studies. He also edits and regularly contributes to Psyche on Campus: A Blog on Teaching Psychoanalysis in the Undergraduate Classroom, which he launched in August 2019.

The book I’m presently writing, Passing Resemblances: A Critical Inventory of Autobiography, is meant to appeal to readers interested not only in autobiographical writing but also in genre studies, identity studies, narratology, history and historiography, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. Indeed, it is a book for anyone who takes more than a passing interest in the stories we tell about our lives and about the selves that live them. My basic argument is that autobiographical writing can best be studied as a long history of narrative efforts to reconcile the question of the self (autós) with the problem of living (bíos). Passing Resemblances is no simple descriptive survey but a comparative, interrogative, and propositional work of criticism and theory, focused on the relational foundations of human subjectivity and experience. Mark Twain’s Autobiography is one of the key works to be discussed in my book—not least because of Twain’s canny and often confounding play with the very notion of selfhood. My time at Quarry Farm will be spent researching and writing the chapter-section devoted to this monumental work, which is of great importance to any exploration of the roles played by fame, publicity, mass media, and duplicity in autobiographical writing.


Ryan Heryford

Sponsor: Eileen Barrett, California State University, East Bay

Ryan Heryford is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Literature in the Department of English at California State University, East Bay, where he teaches courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, with a focus in ecocriticism and cultural narratives of environmental justice. He has published, or has forthcoming articles, on environmental thought in the works of William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Édouard Glissant, and M. NourbeSe Philip. His scholarship has been supported by the William Faulkner Society, the Emily Dickinson International Society, and the University of California Center for Global California Studies. His current book-length project, “The Snugness of Being:” Vitalism and Decay in Nineteenth Century American Literature, explores the influence of nineteenth-century environmental and biomedical philosophy on constructions of self and subjectivity within the works of Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville.

My project considers some of the more neglected writings from two radically distinct periods of Mark Twain’s life, considering his earliest travel correspondence in Nicaragua and Hawai’i alongside his late, unpublished manuscript “3000 Years Among the Microbes.” Reading the young journalist’s narrative meditations on a diversity of flora and fauna as entangled within his commentaries on settler-occupation in the Pacific and Central America, I trace out Twain’s alignment toward and departure from a tradition of writing about non-European ecologies as bearers of disease and decomposition, dangers to the legibility and coherence of a traveler’s bodily integrity. I go on to consider one of Twain’s final manuscripts, “3000 Years Among the Microbes,” which tells the unusual story of a human-turned-germ named Huck who infects the body of a Hungarian immigrant named Blitzowski. This unfinished book, I argue, represents a return to Twain’s earliest writings and their ambivalent meditations on US imperialism, revisiting scenes of corporeal boundary-crossing as well as radical imaginings of entwined human and nonhuman communities. Engaging Twain’s interest in the ever-transforming discourse of nineteenth century science with his shifting relations to anti-imperial activism, I hope to both better unearth the author’s radical visions of the human body and its surrounding ecologies, as well as acknowledge these under-considered early travel writings and late-unpublished manuscripts as essential bookends in Twain scholarship.


Hsuan Hsu

Sponsor: Henry B. Wonham, University of Oregon

Hsuan L. Hsu is a Professor of English at Concordia University in Montreal and the author of Geography and the Production of Space in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (2010) and Sitting in Darkness: Mark Twain’s Asia and Comparative Racialization (2015). He is currently completing a book entitled The Smell of Risk: Olfactory Aesthetics and Atmospheric Disparities (forthcoming with NYU Press). His research interests include American literature, critical race studies, the environmental humanities, cultural geography, and the sense of smell. He serves on the executive committee of the MLA’s 19th-century American forum and the editorial boards of American Literature, the Journal of Transnational American Studies, Literary Geographies, American Literary Realism, and The Broadview Anthology of American Literature.

I propose to spend my time in residency conducting research for an essay entitled “Twain’s Olfactory Gags: Realism, Atmospherics, and Human Fermentation.” The project aims to better understand not only Twain’s olfactory humor throughout his career, but the ways in which olfaction stages a little-explored aspect of Twain’s realism: the materiality of socially and geographically stratified atmospheres.  The essay will begin by surveying Twain’s scattered comments on the smells of rotting fish (Huck Finn), the stench of Chinatowns (Roughing It), the ethical significance of working-class odors in a church congregation (“About Smells”), the smell of plague-ridden bodies (Connecticut Yankee) and the detective’s sensitive nose as a racially loaded “gift of the bloodhound” (“A Double-Barreled Detective Story”). In examples such as these, olfactory disjunctions establish a realist sense of atmosphere as a medium that intangibly structures social and economic life. The second half of the essay will offer an extensive reading of “The Invalid’s Story,” a humorous story in which Twain offers an extended gag associating the smell of Limburger cheese with a rotting corpse. The story complicates Twain’s realist treatments of smell by emphasizing its psychological determinants: Twain’s “invalid” narrator is sickened not by the miasmatic stench of a rotting corpse, but by his culturally constructed tendency to gag in horror at this putative smell. “The Invalid’s Story” demonstrates Twain’s attention to both the materiality of air and its inflection by culturally variable meanings. If the specter of “human fermentation”—in which the materiality of the human body becomes a site of bacterial “culture”—debilitates the narrator, this may be because human fermentation undercuts the central fiction of ableist embodiment, in which the individual is a self-reliant body sealed off from material exchanges with their environment. The essay concludes with a brief discussion of the contemporary Sissel Tolaas’s Human Cheese projects, in which she produces cheese using bacteria sourced from humans. A bit more explicitly than Twain, Tolaas resists the Enlightenment drive towards deodorization by reminding us that humans—and human “culture”—are constitutively entangled with microbes.


Ben Murphy

Sponsor: Matthew A. Taylor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Benjamin J. Murphy is a teacher and Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he specializes in American literature of the long nineteenth century (approximately 1830-1914) and the history of science. At UNC, he is also Maynard Adams Fellow for the Public Humanities and an editorial assistant for the journal American Literature. Ben’s dissertation focuses on crowd psychology, discourses of race and racism, and mob violence in the period between the end of Reconstruction and the turn of the century. Research on related topics has been published in Mississippi Quarterly and Configurations, and you can find other examples of Ben’s writing—including reviews, essays, and interviews—through outlets such as ASAP/J, boundary2, The Carolina Quarterly, The Chicago Review of Books Full Stop, The Millions Pedagogy and American Literary StudiesPopMatters, and symploke. For links to this work, visit benjamin-murphy.com.

My fellowship project contributes to an in-progress dissertation chapter. Provisionally titled “Lynching by the Numbers,” the chapter in question analyzes the role of quantitative representation and rhetoric in the transhistorical archive of anti-lynching discourse. Beginning with present-day lynching scholarship before turning back to assess Mark Twain alongside Ida B. Wells and W. E. B. Du Bois, I argue that numbers (and social scientific protocols of knowledge more broadly) have long played a vexed role in efforts to decry racial violence. My time at Quarry Farm will be dedicated to the Twain sections of this argument, which consider “The United States of Lyncherdom,” a complex essay drafted in 1901 but only published posthumously. Drawing from existing criticism and a restored version of the essay that corrects changes imposed by Twain’s editor, I argue that “Lyncherdom” is obsessed with linking the problem of lynching to numbers—to counts, rates, statistical laws, and even to meticulously calculated dimensions of planetary geometry. But even as lynching is yoked to numbers, Twain’s quantitative treatment has the adverse effect of making the mas violence seem insurmountable and overwhelming. I aim to show how Twain’s apparently doomed gravitation to scientific numeracy complements his elsewhere-expressed views on mob behavior and human cowardice. This broader understanding of Twain’s sense for the transits between numbers and lynching violence provides something of a foil to the other writers and discourses I plan to address in my chapter, many of whom articulate a more positive understanding of the activist potential of numbers.


Sarah Nance

Sponsor: Brian Kim Stefans, University of California, Los Angeles

Sarah Nance is an Assistant Professor of English at the United States Air Force Academy. Her work examines late 19th, 20th, and 21st-century literature and art through the lens of the medical humanities, and her current scholarly book project explores the intersections of illness, violence, and scale in contemporary literature. She is also at work on a collection of poems about the strange temporality of grief and the physical locations associated with loss. Her critical and creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in venues such as Literature and MedicineArizona QuarterlyThe Los Angeles Review of BooksASAP/JBelletristParenthesesMuse/A, and elsewhere.

During my fellowship at Quarry Farm, I will be finishing the manuscript for my first collection of poetry, Ghost Traveler, which explores the physical locations and situational manifestations of grief, particularly through the lens of late 19th and early 20th century traditions, customs, and writings on grief and loss. Ghost Traveler is orientated around the changing geographical spaces and altered temporalities of grief. Although much of my original framing of my manuscript included figures central to my current location in Colorado Springs—such as the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown, infamous survivor of the Titanic’s sinking and major Denver philanthropist, and Nikola Tesla, called the “Wizard of Electricity” by the Colorado Springs Evening Telegraph when he arrived in town to set up a laboratory—I was surprised by the ways that the national renown of these figures meant that they had also crossed paths with Twain.

Perhaps more importantly, however, I am interested in Twain’s own relationship to grief and loss. As a writer known colloquially for his sense of humor, I have been struck by Twain’s own intimate kinship with pain and sorrow, a contrast that he acknowledges in a conversation with a friend who was examining an early draft of Roughing It: “I knew it! … I am writing nothing but rot. … I have been trying to write a funny book, with dead people and sickness everywhere. Mr. Langdon died first, then a young lady in our house [in Buffalo], and now Mrs. Clemens and the baby have been at the point of death all winter!” That ill child was Twain’s son Langdon, who later died at 19 months of age. As Twain scholarship has already suggested, Twain’s later life was also rife with tragedy, including the death of his daughter Susy, his wife Olivia, and various close friends. In examining Twain’s marginalia in his daughter Jean’s edition of The Poetical Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, I found that Twain’s only textual marks in the entire book appear on Tennyson’s long poem of grief and loss, “In Memoriam A.H.H.,” including marking one passage that reads, “That loss is common would not make / My own less bitter, rather more.”  Twain’s own biography suggests that this shared commonality of loss has an intensifying—rather than ameliorating—effect.


Stephen Pasqualina

Sponsor: John Carlos Rowe, University of Southern California, Dornsife

Stephen Pasqualina is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Core Humanities program at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses primarily on American modernism and critical theory. His current book project, Mechanical Failure: Modernism, Technology, and the Mediation of History, examines the role of speed and visual media technologies in the US modernist historical imaginary. Work related to this project has recently appeared in Modernism/modernityJ19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century AmericanistsPublic Books, and MarkTwainStudies.org.

My current book project examines how US modernist writers re-imagined historical consciousness through four anti-historicist modes of visual experience: spectacle, speed, space, and fetishism. At Quarry Farm, I will complete revisions on this project’s first chapter, which focuses on Twain’s use of spectacle as a means of negating and then mediating the long history of industrial capitalism, particularly in terms of automation and European and US imperialism. Beginning with Twain’s investment in the Paige Compositor, I trace the turns in Twain’s historical imaginary alongside parallel shifts in his relationship to modern technology and in his political and economic identities, from a manual typesetter to a venture capitalist to a bankrupted anti-imperialist. The chapter focuses especially on Twain’s efforts to mediate between the apparently incommensurate durations of mechanistic historiography and the instantaneity of technological spectacle, a mediation that produces what I call Twain’s “spectacular history.” I locate examples in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, “Mark Twain’s Memory Builder” board game, a roadway game Twain invented at Quarry Farm for his daughters (documented in “How to Make History Dates Stick”), and his late critiques of imperialism. The chapter argues that Twain’s recovery of spectacle as a medium for historical consciousness registers the necessity—and the difficulties—of using the tools of industrial capitalism to visualize the postbellum US within its disavowed networks of historical time and global space.


Alan Rankin

Sponsor: John Bird, Winthrop University

Alan Rankin is a writer and independent researcher with an abiding interest in the unexplored corners of history. Since 1992, he has been studying the life of Nina Gabrilowitsch, Mark Twain’s granddaughter. His presentation “Nina: The Lost Diary of Nina Gabrilowitsch” was received with acclaim at the 2019 Clemens Conference in Hannibal, Missouri. The companion piece, “Finding the Lost Diary of Mark Twain’s Granddaughter,” appears on the website for the Center for Mark Twain Studies. His work-in-progress chronicles the lives of Nina and her parents, Ossip Gabrilowitsch and Clara Clemens, in Europe and America during the Roaring ’20s. He also writes a biographical column for Renaissance Magazine.

While Nina never met her grandfather Samuel Clemens, her life was profoundly affected by her connection to him all the same. Nina’s later life has been well documented, but there is little material available about her early life, particularly the 1920s. My book focuses on this overlooked and generally happy period in the lives of the surviving Clemens family. It also presents Nina Gabrilowitsch as a figure worthy of study in her own right. Her charming, literate teen diaries reveal the lasting impact of Samuel Clemens on the daily lives of those who survived him. In addition to my book, I am developing presentations and articles to share other aspects of my research with the Twain scholarship community. I look forward to further interacting with the members of that community during my time at Quarry Farm.


Laura Rice

Sponsor: Tracy Daugherty, Oregon State University

Laura Rice is Professor Emerita in the School of Writing, Literature and Film at Oregon State University. Specializing in comparative literature, literary translation, and sustainable development, she has written widely on Colonial and Postcolonial literatures, Cultural Studies, and Gender in international context. Her books include Revolutions in Tunisian Poetry, co-edited and co-translated with Karim Hamdy, and Of Irony and Empire: Islam, the West, and the Transcultural Invention of Africa. As Principal Investigator, she designed and conducted federally-funded research and development and academic exchange projects on the MENA region, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, US Department of Education, and the US Department of State. Her current book project, focusing on Elmira in the last two decades of Twain’s life, brings her research back to the U.S. and to archives concerning her own family.

Twain’s Elmira: the Next Generation traces the social and cultural changes Elmira experienced during the last two decades of Mark Twain’s life when sports pages rivaled politics in popularity, a new century focused on “manly behavior,” and Roosevelt progressives advocated anti- corruption policies and imperial expansion. In Elmira, sports became the touchstone of character. Twain dubbed baseball “the outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century,” but football, he explained, was “the grandest game ever invented for boys,” building up “the mind as well as the body.” “This beats croquet,” Twain crowed, “There’s more go about it.”

This book project began with clippings in a family scrapbook about a nationally-reported 1905- 06 conflict between coach “Pop” Warner of Cornell and Elmira’s Lawrence “Cooney” Rice. “Cooney,” even Warner admitted, was “something of a hero in the minds of many.” This enmity over “fair play,” while deeply personal, dated back a decade to conflicts between Warner and older Elmirans at Cornell. The tutelary spirits of Twain, Beecher, the Langdons, and exiled Fenian T. McCarthy Fennell inspired the values of Elmira’s Cornell graduates of the 1890s: Railroad executive Jervis Langdon, Jr., Attorney Thomas Fennell, NY Senator John Murtaugh, and Businessman Clint Wyckoff. Through sports, they mentored the stars of the new century: “Cooney” Rice, Joe “Dode” Birmingham, Matty “Ironsides” Fennell and Harry “Deacon” Costello, Irish kids from Elmira’s “Frog Hollow.” Young sports reporters Frank Tripp, Frank Gannett, and Grantland Rice captured these events. Tripp would celebrate Elmira’s Father Mathew semi-pro team half a century later: “it was the greatest baseball I have ever seen.” For Cornell, Tripp wrote, “the triumvirate from Frog Hollow [Costello, “Cooney,” Birmingham] well nigh carried the [football] works on their shoulders for the red and white.” By 1910, Feeney’s Corner tobacco shop, the Mecca of Elmira sports and news for a decade, was gone, Elmira’s semi-pro baseball team had moved into legend, and Twain had been laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery. It was the end of an era. But, as Cornell’s Rym Berry reminisced in 1956: “Rejoice that we were present in the flesh.”


Shirley Samuels

Sponsor: Susan K. Harris, University of Kansas

Shirley Samuels teaches at Cornell University in several departments and programs, including American Studies, English, History of Art and Visual Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Most of her books focus on the nineteenth century United States. These books are Reading the American Novel 1780-1865,Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War and Romances of the Republic: Women, the Family, and Violence in the Literature of the Early American Nation. Her edited works include the Cambridge Companion to Abraham Lincoln, Companion to American Fiction, 1780-1865, and The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in 19th Century America. She has a new edited book on race and visuality in the nineteenth century United States, Race and Vision in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Lexington, 2019).

Her project for the residency at Quarry Farm includes work on a chapter on Twain in her monograph, currently titled “Democratic Witness,” on witnessing, testimony, and culture in the United States. In that chapter, the residue of the Civil War that shows up in Life on the Mississippi is placed in the context of Twain’s ambivalence about the war. A paragraph from that chapter follows:

The confusion of references that Twain includes suggests the unreliable narrator aboard the Mississippi in Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man. Both works provide a way to think about the relation between a fantasy of poor boys emerging toward middle class life and this sequence of events of men on the unstable location of water as a foundational element of success as a founding father, however much the crossing of water involves deception. And that time of crossing water, a water crossing that changes affiliation and introduces violence, returns us to Black Hawk as it includes that troubling matter of bodies on the water being carried as property. The autobiography that has become known as the story of Black Hawk contains many crossings of the Mississippi for violent raids or in retreat from violence. To read the face of the river is to read the faces of men on the river, in his account as in others, to anticipate whether they bring violence. To note what effect travel on the river has on the observation of human nature is to note what the stories Herman Melville tells of life on the river might have in common with the nostalgia and the peril on the river visited by Mark Twain.”


Edward Shannon

Sponsor: John Gruesser, Sam Houston State University

Ed Shannon is Professor of Literature and former Literature Convener at Ramapo College of NJ; he teaches courses in Humanities, American Studies, and American literature, including Author Studies: Mark Twain. His “’Our clothes are a lie’: Disguise and Christian Typology in Pudd’nhead Wilson” appeared in the 2009 Mark Twain Annual.  He also writes and teaches about comics and graphic novels. He’s written about cartoonists Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Charles Schulz, George Herriman, and Winsor McCay. He most frequently writes about Woody Guthrie. His most recent work on Guthrie includes “Illegal, Not Wanted, Unnamed: Woody Guthrie’s Exploration of Media, Immigration, and Identity in ‘Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)’” (forthcoming, Theory in Action) and “‘Good Grief, Comrade Brown! Woody Guthrie, Charles Schulz and the Little Cartoon Book that was a Big Lie’” (Studies in Comics, 2019). He was named a 2005 Woody Guthrie Fellow by the Woody Guthrie Foundation.

In simplest terms, his project asks, “Why does Tom Sawyer have a girlfriend while Huck does not?” Both boys are about fourteen, and Tom avidly pursues romance. In fact, Tom seems headed for one clear destination and, as Twain writes, “that is . . .  marriage” (Twain, Sawyer 241). Huck has no such inclinations.

In the popular imagination, Tom, Huck, and Becky are all prominent and very much linked cultural figures. Becky, in particular, has captured the imagination not only of readers, but also creative writers and filmmakers. Bob Dylan, Vachel Lindsay, Will Vinton, Robert Coover, Lenore Hart, and Jessica Lawson all see in Becky an essential character for consideration of sex, gender, and power. Scholars seem less interested, as was Twain. Becky mostly vanishes from Twain’s fiction after Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She is mentioned briefly (albeit misnamed) in Huck Finn. Becky’s absence underscores a void in Huckleberry Finn: any indication that Huck has a burgeoning sexual consciousness of any kind.

Wherever Huck’s narrative brushes against an episode where a reader might expect a Realist writer to follow a young man’s interest in sexuality (gay, straight or otherwise), the text pulls back. For example, in the final draft of Huckleberry Finn, Huck praises Mary Jane Wilks, saying “there weren’t no back-down to her” (Twain, Huck 316). Originally, Twain had added, “if I know a girl by the rake of her stern; and I reckon I do” (Hearn 316 n 12).  This, he cut. Ultimately, Mary Jane becomes another sexless mother figure, who “echo[es] the widow’s morality” (quoted in Fishkin 60). This instance is not unique.

Huck’s sex life has been a subject of interest since Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel, inspiring many responses, including rejections of Fiedler’s (and the critical world’s) homophobia. At the same time, many see Huck as so young, so innocent, that it seems misguided to look for any sexual signals from such a boy. For many, Huck’s lack of sexuality seems “natural.”

But why should Huck seem naturally sexless when Tom Sawyer is so thoroughly interested in sex and romance? Perhaps because Tom is a middle-class boy poised for greatness, and Huck is “poor white trash,” and depicted as such in Huckleberry Finn and its sequels. The thrust of my argument is that Twain’s novel reveals a potent and pervasive anxiety not so much about sexuality per se but about procreation among “the common sort” (Twain, Huck 378) Huck represents

Works Consulted:

  • Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Mark Twain and Women.” The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain. Ed. Forrest G. Robinson. Cambridge, 1995.
  • Hearn, Michael Patrick ed. The Annotated Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Edward  Winsor Kemble, Illustrator. Norton. 2001.
  • Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Broadview Editions. 2006.

An Interview With Virgie Hoban About Six Degrees of Mark Twain

Virgie Hoban, in collaboration with the Mark Twain Project and it’s General Editor and Curator, Robert H. Hirst, has created a unique introduction to Twain’s social network. 6 Degrees of Mark Twain combines images and primary sources from the Mark Twain Papers with video interviews with Dr. Hirst and Hoban’s explanatory narrative to explore Twain’s relationships with a diverse sextet of his contemporaries, all of whom were celebrities in their own right. In addition to being a welcome resource for Twainiacs of all stripes, this interactive, multimedia experience would make a great resource for classrooms.

Virgie Hoban is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley (where the Mark Twain Project resides) and now works as a writer for the communications office at the Berkeley library, covering exhibits, collections, events, and the library’s digitization and open access initiatives. She kindly took time to answer a few questions about how 6 Degrees of Mark Twain came together.

1.) How did you become interested in Twain? Have you worked with the Mark Twain Project before?

My father gave me Tom Sawyer to read as a kid, and I loved it. When I was an undergrad at Berkeley, studying English, I read Huck Finn for a class and was blown away by its heart and humor. At some point, I took a tour of the Library for an English class and saw treasures from the Mark Twain Project. This “6 degrees” project was my first time working with or writing about the Mark Twain Project — a dream of mine since I applied for this position. 

2.) What surprised you most as you pursued this research? Was there a particular relationship that you found most intriguing? Why?

I have been endlessly amazed at how infinite Twain seems, in his relationships with people and in his opinions on everything in the world. He speaks in such great hyperbole, too, with so much conviction that it feels almost impossible. I loved exploring those sides of him with this very tangible guide: the people he called friends.

There were a couple favorite moments. P.T. Barnum was a quirky one that was weirdly enlightening. I loved the bit about Twain collecting strange letters from Barnum just to learn more about humankind. That was a sort of light-bulb moment that made me feel like I was starting to get to know Twain a bit more. I was also intrigued by Twain’s fascination with Barnum. The guy is this shameless showman — I read articles comparing Barnum to Trump — and yet Twain can’t help but admire him, because he’s got that love for theatrics too. But Twain does sort of keep Barnum at a distance, declining to write ads for the circus, etc. As Bob Hirst told me, it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly is going on between them.

I think my favorite relationship was probably Twain and Helen Keller. It was astounding to see this larger-than-life person shrink in comparison to this woman, in the way Twain praises her. Like I said, I think Twain likes to exaggerate, but when he calls Keller the “8th wonder of the world,” you believe it. Also, I was floored by the way Keller sees right through Twain’s cynicism and old-man griping. There was love and understanding and encouragement in that friendship, which was very sweet to witness.

3.) As you point out, Twain’s life intersected with lots of public figures. How did you narrow it down to this particular half dozen? Were there particular demographics, issues, events, etc. that you wanted to highlight?

Haha, well I joke with my colleagues that I will do a sequel featuring Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Edison, Charles Dickens, Teddy Roosevelt, and hopefully more women. I picked these people with the guidance of Bob Hirst, who brainstormed with me about all the possible candidates. I chose Harriet Beecher Stowe over Dickens because I wanted another woman. Tesla seemed a little wonkier than Edison, and Twain was closer to Grant than Roosevelt. The other relationships were just who I found most interesting, I suppose. 


Please check out 6 Degrees of Mark Twain, as well as all the great digital resources available from the Mark Twain Project.

2019: The Year In Review

By any measure, this was the most active year yet at MarkTwainStudies.org, as well as an extremely productive year for the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies. In January, we relaunched the site with a full redesign from Paul Stonier and two significant new archives, the Beta version of David Fears’s Mark Twain Day By Day and David Bianculli’s Mark Twain: Television Star. These were not the only fresh resources for scholars and Twainiacs we added in 2019. In April, CMTS archivist Nathanial Ball released a digital archive of our collection of Twain’s marginalia. In June we launched an interactive map of Elmira from 1901, created by Director Joe Lemak and David Coleman’s SmallTown360. And, in September, resident scholar Matt Seybold contextualized the rare manuscript, Drinking With Twain, which we digitized for the first time. Over the course of the year, there were also substantive updates to the existing Virtual Tours of Quarry Farm and Woodlawn Cemetery (also in collaboration with SmallTown360).

The Center For Mark Twain Studies also hosted its 6th Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium in October, organized by Ben Click, Editor of Mark Twain Annual, with a keynote address from Michael Branch (University of Nevada – Reno). The topic was “Mark Twain & Nature” and you can read all about it, as well as listen to the ten speakers who participated in the event. You can also find an extensive recap of the 2019 Summer Teachers Institute hosted at Quarry Farm, led by Jocelyn Chadwick (Harvard School of Education) and Matt Seybold (Elmira College). We also added twelve new lectures to our Trouble Begins archives from 2019 series hosted at the Chemung Valley Museum, Elmira College, Quarry Farm, and The Park Church.

In July, the staff took a road trip to Hannibal for the 2019 Clemens Conference, the last to be organized by retiring Director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, Henry Sweets. We were proud to host tributes to Henry from Cindy Lovell and other grateful Twain scholars. Finally, we produced an episode of the C19: America in the Nineteenth Century podcast, released earlier this month, and featuring performances by Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated actor, Hal Holbrook, and his grandson, Will Holbrook. The episode, “The Gospel of Revolt: Mark Twain in Elmira,” can be streamed or downloaded from iTunes or SoundCloud.

In the meantime, “The Study” blog at MarkTwainStudies.org published over a hundred posts from more than thirty scholars. Here are some highlights:

Many thanks to the many Friends of the Center For Mark Twain Studies, including you, for visiting MarkTwainStudies.org, coming to CMTS lectures and performances (or giving them!), and supporting our ongoing mission. We’ve got more in store for 2020. Happy New Year!

2020 Mark Twain Writing Contest and Art Competition Open to Elmira College Students

Have you written an excellent paper, taken a fantastic photograph, or painted an outstanding picture inspired by Mark Twain or his literature? If so, then all Elmira College students, both undergraduate and graduate, should consider submitting their works to CMTS’ two annual contests.

2020 Portraying Mark Twain Art Competition

All Elmira College students are encouraged to upload digital files of artwork they have created that portrays Mark Twain, Mark Twain in Elmira or some aspect of Mark Twain’s literature.Up to $350 in prize money will be distributed among winning entries. Winning entries will be featured in publications of Elmira College and the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Deadline: March 30, 2020. You can find more information here.

2020 Mark Twain Writing Contest

Rebecca Heagy ’19 receives a cash prize from Dr. Joseph Lemak as winner of the 2019 Mark Twain Writing Contest

Elmira College students are encourage to submit their best creative or scholarly writing projects inspired by Mark Twain or his literature. Scholarly and literary essays should develop an explicit theme or thesis and should have a clear sense of analysis or bibliographical material. Creative essays or works should focus on Mark Twain’s writing or life. Winners will receive a cash prize and have their name added to the list of past winners on the Mark Twain Statue located in the entrance to McGraw Hall. Deadline: April 27, 2020. You can find more information here.



Art Exhibit Inspired by the View from the Quarry Farm Porch Coming Soon

View from the Quarry Farm Porch (Photo by Jan Kather)

While thousands of people every year visit the Mark Twain Study, located in the heart of the Elmira College campus, few people have had the opportunity to visit Quarry Farm, the original location of the Study. Quarry Farm, on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, remains today much as it did at the time when the Langdon family bequeathed it to Elmira College in 1982. The Langdon family insisted that Quarry Farm remain a living home and asked that the main house be used as a writer’s retreat for scholars and artists working in the field of Mark Twain Studies. In essence, in the same place where Mark Twain wrote his most iconic works, a national and international group of scholars now write about Mark Twain.

Since Quarry Farm is not open to the general public, CMTS created a virtual tour so that the public could see the nineteenth century collections, the writing and research workspaces, and overall interior of the house. The virtual tour can be found here.

Samuel Clemens seated in a rocking chair on the porch at Quarry Farm, East Hill, Elmira New York.
Mark Twain on the Quarry Farm Porch (1903)

The main house contains original 19th century furnishings, artwork, textiles, books, wall finishes, and architectural features and objects that continue to be unraveled by scholarship.  At the time of the Langdon gift, Quarry Farm had been owned by four generations of the Langdon family, starting in 1868.  As a result, most of the current collection was present when Mark Twain resided at Quarry Farm. The books on the shelves in the library contain marginal notes and markings from Mark Twain with bookplates and inscriptions of the Langdon family, the Crane family, and Ida Langdon, Mark Twain’s niece, who was a longtime professor at Elmira College. 

The collection also contains a number of reference works, first editions, and other rare books which are hard to find outside university libraries and special collections. For many scholars-in-residence, this may be the first time they have had access to such resources. Few scholars at any career stage have the opportunity to peruse such materials at their leisure over the course of several weeks, all without leaving the quiet, private, and picturesque domestic space in which many, starting with Twain himself, have found the ideal conditions for writing.  Current residents share the same spectacular view of the Chemung River Valley as the famous author, his family, and his in-laws.  Many scholars believe that contemplating this view and watching his young daughters play and grow up at Quarry Farm inspired Twain to write about parts of his childhood on the Mississippi River that resulted in the creation Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, America’s most iconic characters of childhood.

It is this view that has inspired an upcoming art exhibit at the Community Arts of Elmira.

The Community Art of Elmira presents Clemens and The Pen – Perspectives from The Porch at Quarry Farm

Exhibit Opening is Saturday, December 14, 2019 at Community Arts of Elmira (413 Lake Street, Elmira)
Exhibit Artists and Community Arts of Elmira Staff on the Quarry Farm Porch
  • Saturday, December 14, 2019
  • 6:00-8:00pm
  • Free & Open to the Public
  • Community Arts of Elmira – 413 Lake Street – Elmira, New York – 14901
  • www.communityartsofelmira.com

Clemens and The Pen – Perspectives from The Porch at Quarry Farm is an exhibition of visual art, fashion and poetry created by artists who participated in the inaugural “Clemens and The Pen – Studio Session on The Porch at Quarry Farm” (June 29, 2019). Regional artists, designers and poets include Satyavani Akula, Bridget Bossart van Otterloo, Joe Caparulo, Christopher Eldred, Matt Guagliardo, Lynne Rusinko, Laura Jaen Smith, Brent Stermer, Sam Somostrada, and Shannah Warwick! 

Lynne Rusinko stated that “Community Arts of Elmira is most grateful to the participating artists who applied through application and the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies.”

For more information on future artist opportunities for Clemens and The Penemail [email protected]