Fellowship, Friendship, and Felines…Oh My!: A Quarry Farm Testimonial
EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows and Residents, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information HERE.
The Mark Twain House & Museum’s Assistant Curator Mallory Howard shares the responsibility for the care, exhibition, and interpretation of the Mark Twain House and the museum’s collection of more than 20,000 artifacts and documents. Howard has aided countless researchers, done important work herself on Twainian subjects, and has spoken on aspects of Twain’s life and work in venues ranging from scholarly conferences to Mississippi riverboats. She earned her B.A.in American History at Central Connecticut State University and was inducted into the national history honor society Phi Alpha Theta. She holds a certification from the Modern Archives Institute in Washington, D.C.
She and her colleague at the Mark Twain House and Museum, Jodi DeBruyne, contributed to the 2021 Spring Trouble Begins Lecture Series. You can watch their online lecture entitled “Twain’s Hartford” HERE:
My first thought on receiving the fellowship was how honored and excited I was to experience two weeks at Quarry Farm: pouring through the bookshelves, rummaging through Mark Twain journals, sitting the regal space of the Twain archive at Elmira College. My second thought was how much I was looking forward to the cookie bar at Wegman’s. It really is the best.
Jodi and I are working on The Mark Twain House & Museum’s (Hartford, CT) 2023 exhibition on the Clemens family’s summers and the places where they spent them. We have narrowed these down to specific sites that are meaningful and important to them. Elmira is a no-brainer. They spent so many summers at Quarry Farm, enjoying the peaceful respite on top of the glorious East Hill.
As soon as we arrived, we dumped our luggage and ran out to the famous porch to take in that spectacular view. It’s hard to pull away from it, and even harder now that the Wi-Fi access extends that far. We know the master of description, Samuel Clemens, had the right words to describe the experience of watching day drift into evening:
Close by…we saw the intense blue of the skies, through rents in the cloud-rack, and away off in another quarter were drifting clouds of a delicate pink color. In one place hung a pall of dense black clouds, like compacted pitch-smoke. And the stupendous wagon wheel was still in the supremacy of its unspeakable grandeur. So you see, the colors present in the sky at once and the same time were blue, green, pink, black, and the vari-colored splendors of the rainbow.
Like Sam, we had fled the city of Hartford for quiet solace among nature: a place where we could escape the hectic buzz of life at the museum in order to focus and get to work. Unlike Sam, we weren’t lucky enough to sit perched atop the hill, a short walk from the Crane home, to work in an octagonal study covered with ivy. We were still able to find perfectly suited spots to set up shop and dig into our research. On warm days, we propped up our laptops and made the porch our outdoor office. On cold and rainy ones, I holed up in the beautiful library, surrounded on all sides by various tomes and paintings. Jodi set up in the kitchen with a cup of hot tea, sun streaming through the windows, on the lookout for our new furry friends Weezy, Greg, and Dr. Carmichael. I would be lying if I didn’t hope to hear Jodi alert me to a sighting, so I could drop what I was doing and take a much-needed cat break. I think Sam would have approved of this.
When we weren’t busy using the rich resources in the Crane home, we were off on research excursions to see what more we could find. We trekked to Ithaca to visit the archive at Cornell, looking over Ida Langdon’s papers, and letters from Frederick Douglass. We spent hours at the Park Church immersed in the importance of what the Langdons and Beechers accomplished there. We left feeling inspired and more connected to those families than ever before. We were engrossed by the archive at the Gannett-Trip Library and the Chemung Historical Society. Every place we went during our fellowship we gained knowledge, insight, and inspiration, all key to the research and planning of an exhibition.
But it was more than that. It was delving into the history of this place and these people and letting them seep into us. I have been to Elmira many times; my first visit was in 2013 for the State of Mark Twain Studies conference. I remember being in complete awe of Quarry Farm, Woodlawn Cemetery, the octagonal study. They gave me chills.
Our Mark Twain House colleague Michael Campbell joined us for the weekend, an Elmira first-timer. Nine years after my first visit I watched him experience the same things I once did. We gently cleaned the lichen from Katy Leary’s grave, we trudged through Woodlawn for a seemingly interminable amount of time until we succeeded in locating John Lewis and Mary Ann Cord. We placed flowers at the graves of the Langdon and Clemens families. We stared up at the crooked, yet beautiful stone steps leading up to the original study site, and we climbed them. We stood at the top and we silently took in what standing there meant to us. We then cracked a few jokes, told a few stories, and took refuge back in the warmth of the home.
We knew before we arrived that the summers in Elmira meant to the Clemens family. But we learned so much more about the history of the town, the Park Church, John Lewis, Mary Ann Cord, the Langdons, the Cranes, the Beechers, and in our upcoming exhibition we want to tell those stories too. After two weeks of research, we left feeling fulfilled. We escaped our frenetic lives in Hartford in order to enjoy the tranquility and recreation Quarry Farm provided us. We also buckled down and got some damn work done. And isn’t that as it should be?
“What work I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn’t have done it.”Samuel Clemens
P.S. Please give Dr. Carmichael our warmest regards, and a scratch or two