Next Trouble Begins Lecture Deals With “The Wickedest Man in New York”

The 2023 Fall Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) continues with its second lecture at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, October 18 at Quarry Farm (131 Crane Road, Elmira). The lectures are free and open to the public and recordings of the lectures will be posted to the CMTS website. 

“John Allen, ‘the wickedest man’ and his son Chester” Harper’s Weekly (August 8, 1868)

The second lecture, “‘The Wickedest Man in New York?:’ Mark Twain and the 1868 Water Street Sham Revival”, will be presented by Robert E. Cray.

1868 Water Street in lower Manhattan featured raucous dance halls and sailors seeking entertainment, alcohol, and sex. John Allen’s No. 304 Water Street establishment ranked among the most notorious.  In fact, journalist Oliver Dyer, an ally of the nearby Howard Mission, described Allen as the “Wickedest Man in New York,” launching a stellar instance of journalistic and religious sensationalism. Prayer meetings commenced in Allen’s closed establishment by August and September. The curious, the cynical, and the faithful converged; roughs, prostitutes, and sailors mingled with or stared at uptown Christians. Howard Mission evangelicals displayed John Allen as a religious trophy, his upcoming redemption seemingly at hand.  But was this a real work of faith? Mark Twain had something to say about this.  So, too, did many other journalists.  But what Twain said illuminates both his brand of humor and insights regarding religion and sensationalism, underscoring his ability to burlesque (and parody) sensationalized events.  He would not disappoint.

Robert E. Cray is a Professor of History at Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ.  His published works include A Notable Bully: Colonel Billy Wilson, Masculinity, and the Pursuit of Violence in the Civil War Era, (Kent State University Press, 2021); Lovewell’s Fight: War, Death, and Memory in Borderland New England (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014) and Paupers and Poor Relief: New York City and its Rural Environs, 1700-1830 (Temple University Press, 1988). Cray’s article “Major John Andre and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831,” which appeared in the Journal of the Early Republic, 1997, won the journal’s best article award. He is currently working on religious sensationalism in early Gilded Age New York City.

The 2023 Fall Trouble Begins Lecture Series:

  • October 18 – Robert E. Cray, “‘The Wickedest Man in New York?’: Mark Twain and the 1868 Water Street Sham Revival”
  • October 25 – Stephen Cushman – “Mark Twain and the Civil War Boom Memoir Boom”
  • November 30 Mark Twain’s Birthday – Barbara Snedecor, “Gravity: A Conversation – The Letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens”

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins 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 in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. In the Summer the lectures are held at the Park Church. All lectures are free and open to the public.

The Trouble Begins and Park Church Lecture Series are made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation, Katherine Roehlke, and generous gifts from individual donors.