CMTS Announces the 2024 Park Church Summer Lectures Line-Up

The 2024 Trouble Begins Lecture Series and Park Church Summer Lecture Series are supported by the generous support of The Mark Twain Foundation.

Wednesday July 10 at The Park Church

“Langdon’s Pencil: The Infant Voice in Mark Twain’s Letters”

Charline Jao, Cornell University

Portrait of Langdon Clemens, the only son of Samuel and Olivia Clemens. Langdon was born in 1870 in Buffalo New York and died 19 months later in 1872 in Hartford Connecticut. Death was attributed to diphtheria.
Portrait of Langdon Clemens.  Photo taken in Elmira, New York, 1871. Courtesy of the Mark Twain Archives, Elmira College.

Between November 7, 1870 and June 2, 1872, Samuel and Olivia Clemens’s letters became absorbed with reports on the condition of their firstborn son Langdon, whose premature birth and constant sickness filled both parents with constant anxiety. The couple’s worry would eventually prove true, as Langdon died of diathermia at nineteen-months old – a death made even more tragic for the Clemens’s inability to travel to Elmira for Langdon’s burial. Following Barbara E. Snedecor’s work on this period, Joseph Csicsila points out that Langdon has often been a “curious gap” in Twain scholarship, especially when the deaths of Clemens’s brother Henry, his daughters, and his wife have been given a comparatively large amount of critical attention. Clemens’s struggle with Langdon’s uncertain health over this two-year period oscillates between hope, happiness, and anxiety. These feelings are especially prominent in the handful of letters where, curiously, Clemens ventriloquizes his son in written correspondences to friends and family. These invented scenes of infant writing and speech comically undermine the etymology of infant – the enfans which literally means “without speech.” The tone of these messages ranges from informative (“At birth I only weighed 4 ½ pounds with my clothes on—&; the clothes were the chief feature of the weight, too, I am obliged to confess”), silly (“I am as red as a lobster”), and defiant (“I do not wish to have any words with you, old man, father”). Narrative and the imitation of infant “language” function as literary and social experiments in these letters. Thus, Clemens’s first experience with parenthood provide a less-explored archive and insights into studies of Twain and childhood.

Charline Jao is a PhD candidate in the Department of Literatures in English at Cornell University. Her dissertation “Early Lost” examines scenes of child death and separation in nineteenth-century American women’s writing. She is the creator of two digital humanities projects: Periodical Poets, which examines poetry in nineteenth-century Black-edited periodicals, and No Stain of Tears and Blood, which compiles material from the free produce movement. She was previously a Brown Family Collection Short Term Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society and a Trouble Begins lecturer at Quarry Farm. Her work has been published in American Periodicals and the Cornell Rural Humanities Pamphlet Collection.

Wednesday, July 17 at The Park Church

“‘Making of a Woman Minister’: Rev. Annis Ford Eastman and Elmira, New York”

Mary Lemak, University at Albany

Portrait of Annis Ford Eastman. Courtesy of the Chemung County Historical Society.

This talk explores the life and career of one of the United States’ first female ministers, the Reverend Annis Ford Eastman (1852-1910). Mostly remembered today as the author of Mark Twain’s eulogy and as the mother of two famous children: Max Eastman, famous author and liberal activist, and Crystal Eastman, co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union.  R, Annis Eastman, however, had a career that was exceptional in its own right. Eastman was ordained when it was practically unheard of for a woman to preach. Not only did she become a minister but she was invited to speak at national conferences and was frequently published in religious and civic journals. Despite her skills as an orator, author, and theologian, her career was actualized, in part, because of her relationship with her husband, Reverend Samuel Eastman. A further contributing factor to her ordination was the unique religious and social environment of Upstate New York during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Eastmans moved around New York’s Burned-Over District before settling down in Elmira, New York. While the Burned-Over District had a rightful reputation for militant progressivism, Elmira was almost unique in its political and socioeconomic situation. Elmira at this time was a hotbed for radical religious and political thought under the control of a politically progressive railroad tycoon, Jervis Langdon, the father-in-law of Mark Twain. Annis Eastman’s career reached its peak in the 1890s as the United States transitioned between the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. Her position as a woman minister and the politics that she espoused given her platform are emblematic of that shift.

Mary Lemak recently graduated from the University at Albany’s undergraduate history program. Her honors thesis “‘Making of a Woman Minister’” focused on the Reverend Annis Ford Eastman and her tenure at the Park Church. She is an Elmira native and worked for the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies from 2018 to 2023. In the Fall 2024, she will attend the University at Buffalo School of Law.

Wednesday, July 24 at The Park Church (7:00pm)

“The Cosmic Mark Twain”

Edward Guimont, Bristol Community College

Mark Twain was born on 30 November 1835, only a few weeks after the appearance of Halley’s Comet. Throughout his life he believed he was destined to die when the comet next returned. His prediction was born out, as he died at his Stormfield, Connecticut residence on 21 April 1910, a day after Halley’s closest approach. Twain named his mansion after the last story published in his lifetime, “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven,” in which comets are depicted as the spirits of the dead. In between, comets prominently feature in two of Twain’s less well-known stories, “A Curious Pleasure Excursion” (1874) and “A Letter from the Comet” (c. 1880s).

1985 US stamp commemorating Twain’s life and Halley’s return

Twain was far from the only author interested in comets during his lifetime. In 1877, Jules Verne wrote Off on a Comet (with several parallels to “A Curious Pleasure Excursion”), in which several people are swept up onto the fictional comet Gallia; this has been identified as the “first vision of a human community surviving in a small, self-sustaining Earth-like environment far from the Earth itself.” In 1883, Ignatius L. Donnelly published the ostensibly-nonfiction Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel, where he proposed that a comet impact had destroyed Atlantis and caused mass extinction. While a direct influence on modern conspiracy theorist Graham Hancock, Donnelly’s proposal also anticipated the 1980 Alvarez hypothesis of cometary dinosaur extinction. Twain himself died in the midst of a mass panic caused by the Earth’s passage through the tail of Halley’s Comet. Thousands believed traces of cyanogen detected in its gasses would kill all life on Earth, with some committing suicide as a result, anticipating the Heaven’s Gate cult’s response to the Hale-Bopp comet at the century’s close.

During Twain’s lifetime, therefore, writing about comets originated modern scientific notions of celestial mass extinction and space colonization, as well as modern pseudoscientific notions of imminent apocalypse and ancient fallen super-civilizations, developments which the well-read Twain was familiar with, and in some cases contributed to. “The Cosmic Mark Twain” will explore those issues, along with other space-related concepts that Twain was interested in—such as the search for a ninth planet beyond Pluto—and ideas that were popular during his lifetime with resonance for the present, such early UFO sightings.

Edward Guimont received his PhD in history from the University of Connecticut, and is currently Associate Professor of World History at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts. His first monograph, When the Stars Are Right: H. P. Lovecraft and Astronomy (coauthored with Horace A. Smith) was published by Hippocampus Press in 2023; he is working on his second book, The Power of the Flat Earth Idea, for Palgrave Macmillan. He participated in the 2023 Quarry Farm Symposium and is a 2024 Quarry Farm Fellow, researching Twain’s interest in astronomy for a forthcoming publication. His work has appeared in Contingent MagazineThe Lovecraft AnnualQuest: The History of Spaceflight, and Interdisciplinary Science Reviews.

Wednesday, July 31 at The Park Church (7:00pm)

“‘the dearest little woman in the world’: Letters of Olivia Clemens to her Sister, Susan Crane”

Barbara Snedecor, Former Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies

“‘the dearest little woman in the world’: Letters of Olivia Clemens to her Sister, Susan Crane”

While Susan Crane’s relationship with her famous brother-in-law, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is known, exploring the bond between Olivia and her older sister creates a new perspective. Drawing from Olivia’s letters to Susan, we experience her emotions as a parent of four children, enjoy descriptions of summers at Quarry Farm and of family travels, and view glimpses of her intimate thoughts. Selected excerpts illuminate the warm relationship between the two sisters, both members of Elmira’s Park Church, and reveal Olivia’s feelings at ordinary and defining moments in the Clemens family biography.

Barbara E. Snedecor served as director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies and as Assistant Professor of American Literature at Elmira College. In addition to editing the second edition of Mark Twain in Elmira, she has contributed pieces to the Mark Twain Annual and American Literary Realism. She is the editor of Gravity: Selected Letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens (University of Missouri Press, 2023).

About the Trouble Begins and Park Church Lecture Series

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco.

The lectures are now held 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.  

In 2016, CMTS expanded the series, creating the Park Church Summer Lectures Series, located in the Park Church.  Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community.

The Trouble Begins and Park Church lectures are free and open to the public.