Perfect Pairings of Music & Literature: A Holiday Collaboration with The Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes

Want to learn more about how Mark Twain and his family celebrated Christmas, while also listening to holiday-themed music at the historic Clemens Center? Next Saturday, December 7th, Dr. Matt Seybold will be presenting selections from Twain’s holiday writings as part of the “Perfect Pairings” series created by the OSFL. Tickets are available now at

Discount tickets are available with a Student ID.

Interactive Map of 1901 Elmira Now Available

In collaboration with SmallTown 360, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has created an interactive map of 1901 Elmira. The map highlights the important people and places that shaped Mark Twain and the Langdon family during his summers in Elmira. Key points include Quarry Farm, the Langdon Mansion, and the Park Church. The map also points out lesser known places like the home of Darius Ford, friend of Twain and Elmira College professor who was offered to accompany Charley Langdon as a companion and tutor on a round the world tour; the home of John Slee, associate of Twain during his Buffalo days and the eventual manager of J. Langdon & Co.; the Lyceum Theater, where in 1868 Twain first performed in public in Elmira, with a young Olivia Langdon in the audience; and the Elmira Reformatory, a prison in which Twain performed for the “captivated” audience – Twain later wrote that he found the group extremely satisfactory.

The map is located under CMTS “Online Resources” and can be accessed HERE.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies hopes that this map is used by all teachers, students, and Twain enthusiasts with the goal of promoting Mark Twain’s important legacy in Elmira. At the same time, CMTS endeavors to celebrate its own local history as a vibrant, cosmopolitan upstate New York town in the latter half of the19th and early 20th century.

CMTS would like to thank the following people with their help on this project:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Steeple-Jumping: The Sesquicentennial of Mark Twain’s “Conditional” Engagement

On Thanksgiving Day, 1868, Olivia Langdon “yielded a conditional consent” to Sam Clemens’s third proposal of marriage. They had know each other for less than a year, having been introduced on the occasion of a Charles Dickens reading in New York City the previous New Year’s Eve. Sam had made himself a fixture in Elmira during the Summer and Fall of 1868, going out of his way to visit the Langdons whenever there was an interruption in his American Vandal lecture tour.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, following a sold-out show in Cleveland, Mark Twain scheduled a pro bono performance at the Elmira Opera House, donating the proceeds to a local fire department, and creating a convenient excuse for Livy to see him perform and for Sam to again impose upon her family for the holiday. Clemens told his friend Mary Fairbanks that, though Livy had been slowly falling for him during the preceding weeks, as he bombarded her with love letters, “the lecture Monday night brought the disease to the surface.”

He redoubled his efforts during Thanksgiving week, so frequently seeking time alone with her that her father made a joke of having the drawing-room measured while they were in it, to see if it was big enough to accommodate three people.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Elmira

The day before Sam was required to travel to his next booking, Livy “yielded,” sending the famously mercurial Clemens into fits of manic delight. In reporting their engagement to a few of his closest friends, he repeatedly joked, “If there were a church in town with a steeple high enough to make it an object, I would go out and jump over it!” (For those familiar with Elmira, a town with numerous steeples, this hyperbole was even richer.)

Writing to Livy after his lecture two days later, he said, “Never was a lecture so full of parentheses before. It was Livy, Livy, Livy, Livy, all the way through! It was one sentence of Vandal to ten sentences about you. The insignificant lecture was hidden, lost, overwhelmed, and buried under a boundless universe of Livy!”

But while Sam was driven to distraction by his eagerness to exclaim his love, the marriage was still far from assured. Its “conditions” being foremost the approval of Livy’s parents, Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon. Sam had announced his intentions on Thanksgiving, but they were not immediately agreed to. The Langdons were hesitant, perhaps understandably, to give their daughter away to a self-described vandal, cannibal, and wild man. The Elmira lecture, on this front, may not have worked to his advantage.

The Langdons asked Mr. Clemens to supply references (many of which, infamously, failed to testify on his behalf) and to demonstrate to their satisfaction that he was “a good, steady, reliable character” and “a Christian.” Sam consented to all these terms and, eager to please, volunteered to also quit drinking and only “seek the society of the good,” neither of which were asked of him and neither of which he followed through on, even temporarily.

When Livy’s mother wrote to Mary Fairbanks herself a few days later, asking for advice regarding Mr. Clemens, she admitted to being strongly prejudiced against him. “At first our parental hearts said no,” she wrote, “to the bare thought of such a stranger, mining in our hearts for the possession of one of the few jewels we have.” And the way she frames her request to Mrs. Fairbanks betrays the nature of her concern:

Olivia Lewis Langdon

“What I desire is your opinion of him as a man; what the kind of man he has been, and what the man he now is, or is to become. I have learned…that a great change has taken place in Mr. Clemens, that he seemed to have entered upon a new manner of life, with higher and better purposes actuating his conduct. The question…is – from what standard of conduct – from what habitual life, did this change, or improvement, or reformation commence? Does this change, so desirably commenced make of an immoral man a moral one, as the world looks at men? – or -does this change make of one, who has been entirely a man of the world, different in this regard, than he resolutely aims to enter upon a new, because a Christian life?”

I would be very hesitant to characterize the Langdons as prudish or risk adverse. To their credit, they would come to accept Sam’s proposal, after several months, and, despite his lack of character references, treated themselves as sympathetic witnesses to his mature temperament.

But the question that troubled them, the day after Thanksgiving, 1868, was whether a man who had not only made a habit, over his nearly 33 years, of committing vandalism, profanity, and heresy, but had recently risen, via his ironic promotion of such habits, to the status of “a somewhat celebrated personage,” had any incentive to change. If being the immoral Mark Twain had served him so well, why should anybody trust the sincerity of Sam Clemens’s pledges to be moral?

In the coming months, Sam would grow restless waiting for the Langdons to give their blessing. He would become defensive, presuming that the well-to-do family was shunning him for his humble origins and uncertain prospects. Writing directly to Livy’s mother the following February, he defiantly proclaimed, “I have paddled my own canoe since I was thirteen, wholly without encouragement or assistance from any one, and am fully competent to so paddle it the rest of the voyage, and take a passenger along, beside…we can make the canoe go, and we shall not care a straw for the world’s opinion about it if the world chooses to think otherwise.”

But what Olivia Lewis’s letter to Mary Fairbanks reveals is that the Langdons were not the least bit concerned about their daughter’s financial security. To the contrary, they seemed to take his increasing fame and fortune as a given, worrying rather that the wealth itself might be damaging to his character, reinforcing habits and values of a lower order by proving them profitable.

Relive Twain’s Summer of 1884 with the Final Lecture of the “Trouble Begins” 2018 Season

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, November 7 when presenter John Bird takes the audience through Twain’s summer of 1884 at Quarry Farm.  The final fall lecture begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture is free and open to the public.


Mark Twain working in the Study, circa 1880’s.

Bird, emeritus professor of English at Winthrop University, will present “‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm.”  As he did for many summers, Mark Twain packed up his family (including dogs and cats, and in this case, a bicycle) and left Hartford for an extended stay at Elmira’s Quarry Farm. Part of his current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, Bird’s presentation will let audiences relive Twain and his family’s experience that summer. Even though Twain wrote his friend Joe Twichell near the end of the stay that he had not accomplished anything of value during the summer, he actually had an interesting and productive summer: he read a proof of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and made some important revisions; he began a sequel even before he published his novel, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn Among the Indians; he became fully engaged in national politics during the presidential campaign; and he sat for the bust Karl Gerhardt made (twice) at Quarry Farm for the frontispiece of Huck Finn. Just as importantly, he engaged with his family, writing a short but charming personal memoir, “At the Farm,” with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes about his daughters. Living with Mark Twain day-by-day for this summer brings him and his family back to life and gives the audience a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.


Bird is the author of Mark Twain and Metaphor, as well as a number of articles on Mark Twain. He is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America.


About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

150 Years of Mark Twain in Elmira: Dickens Holidays, The Gospel of Revolt, & The Quarry Farm Style

2018 marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of Mark Twain’s first visit to Elmira, the town where he would meet his wife, spend many of his summers over the remainder of his life, write several of his most acclaimed books, and finally be laid to rest. In the following essay, Dr. Seybold commemorates the occasion by offering his estimation of what Elmira meant to Mark Twain. 

January 26, 1905

Jervis Langdon (left), Samuel Clemens & Charles Langdon (right)

It was the 30th birthday of Mark Twain’s nephew, Jervis Langdon. His father, Charley Langdon, had met Samuel Clemens when they were both passengers on the world’s first pleasure cruise in 1867. Little did young Charley know that his new friend was fashioning their voyage into a series of humorous newspaper dispatches which would become the basis for one of the bestselling books of the 19th century, The Innocents Abroad.

By the time that book was published, Sam and Charley would both be engaged. Their marriages would take place within a few blocks of one another, officiated by the same famous minister, Thomas K. Beecher. A decade later, they would have seven children between them, who spent four months every summer frolicking together on the sloping lawns of Quarry Farm with a menagerie of cats, dogs, horses, cows, and goats belonging to their aunt, Susan Crane.

Charles Langdon & Ida Clark Marriage Certifican, Courtesy of Chemung County Historical Society

Samuel Clemens & Olivia Langdon Marriage Certificate, Courtesy of Chemung County Historical Society

30-year-old Jervis Langdon could remember those carefree summers. Susy Clemens, named for that aunt, showed him how he could send coded messages to his cousins at the hilltop farm from the windows of his family’s mansion in the town below by turning a hand mirror towards the full moon. On many a summer’s eve, he and his cousins sat huddled around Uncle Sam on the farmhouse’s open-air porch as he told fabulous stories or read from manuscripts of his works-in-progress before the ink was even dry.

If 30-year-old Jervis was nostalgic on this January evening in 1905, he could hardly be blamed. It wasn’t just his own milestone birthday. He was expecting the imminent birth of his own first child, a son, who would arrive just two days later. Were this not cause enough for sentiment, he found himself dressed as a character from one of the stories which had been routinely read aloud to him, as well as his sisters and cousins. He was preparing to attend, along with many other prominent residents of Elmira, NY, a “Dickens reception.” Each guest would be costumed as a character from one of the novelist’s works.

Jervis (left) & Ida (right) Langdon with Artist’s Rendering of Caleb & Bertha Plummer from 1905 Edition of THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH

Jervis had been cast in the part of Caleb Plummer from The Cricket On The Hearth. His sister, Ida Langdon, who had recently matriculated from Bryn Mawr and would later become a professor of English at Elmira College, chose the part of Caleb’s blind daughter, Bertha, while friends took auxiliary parts in the story, including Crystal Eastman, Ida’s best friend, as Tilly Slowboy, and Dorothy Mather as Mrs. Fielding. Within a few years all three recent graduates (Eastman from Vassar and Mather from Cornell) would be suffragettes and members of the American Association of University Women, an organization committed to increasing the representation of women in higher education.

An Account of the Dickens Reception Appeared in the Elmira Star-Gazette on January 27, 1905

Charles Dickens had a special significance for the Langdon siblings. Many years earlier, their father and Aunt Livy had gone to see Mr. Dickens read at sold-out Steinway Hall in New York City on New Years Eve. They were joined that night by Charley’s increasingly infamous new friend, whom they called Sam, but who signed his scathing review of the performance “Mark Twain.” This was Olivia Langdon’s chaperoned first date with the man who would become her husband. Twain was so smitten that in his review he couldn’t help mentioning, some might call it boasting, that he had attended Dickens’s reading with “a highly respectable” and “beautiful young lady.”

Thus began one of the most unexpectedly sweet seductions in American cultural history, as Samuel Clemens, initially ignored and then rebuffed by the devout and decorous Olivia Langdon, fell back upon what would prove his greatest talent, writing, over a hundred letters cascading into the Langdon home through the ensuing months, supplemented by occasional visits. The year was 1868.

When Sam visited the Langdons again for Thanksgiving, Livy finally yielded her conditional consent to his proposal. She sent her fiancé off on another leg of his “American Vandal” lecture tour. But while Mark Twain spent the next month joking, smoking, and drinking his way through the Midwest, Olivia faced the reality, alone, that this might be her last Christmas season in the only home she had ever known, surrounded by family she adored. She wrote to Sam, “To think of having them grow used to my being absent, so that at last they would cease to miss me, made me feel as if I wanted father to put his arms about me and keep me near him always.”

Sam contemplated this letter in a Central Michigan boarding house on Christmas Eve, with only the fading fire in an unfamiliar hearth and a series of holiday brandies to keep him warm. He reflected on his fiancé’s fears, her family, and his own, from whom he felt increasingly detached, and was inspired to make an extraordinary promise:

I just don’t wonder that it makes you sad to think of leaving such a home, Livy, and such household Gods—for there is no other home in all the world like it—no household gods so lovable as yours, anywhere. And I shall feel like a heartless highway robber when I take you away from there…

I’ll not read that passage again for an hour!—for it makes the tears come into my eyes every time, in spite of me. You shall visit them, Livy—and so often that they cannot well realize that you are absent. You shall never know the chill that comes upon me sometimes when I feel that long absence has made me a stranger in my own home…a dull, aching consciousness that long exile has lost to me that haven of rest, that pillow of weariness, that refuge from care, and trouble and pain, that type and symbol of heaven, Home—and then, away down in my heart of hearts I yearn for the days that are gone & the phantoms of the olden time!—for the faces that are vanished; for the forms I loved to see; for the voices that were music to my ear; for the restless feet that have gone out into the darkness, to return no more forever!

But you shall not know this great blank, this awful vacancy, this something missed, something lost, which is felt but cannot be described, this solemn, mysterious desolation. No, I with my experience, should dread to think of your old home growing strange to you.

(see the whole letter from the Mark Twain Project)

I have tried several times, and am trying again now, to articulate the consequences of this promise, which I think cannot be overestimated. But for this promise, made by a famously itinerant and oft-inebriated author in the wee hours of Christmas morning 150 years ago, the Center for Mark Twain Studies would not exist, nor would anybody be obligated to preserve Quarry Farm for posterity. For it was Sam’s dedication to this promise, more important perhaps even than his wedding vows, which ensured the Clemens family’s annual pilgrimage to Elmira.

And it was in Elmira that not only was Olivia spared the “dull, aching consciousness of long exile” which her husband felt, but Sam found, looking out across the Chemung River Valley, a new “symbol of heaven.” The vanished faces, musical voices, and “phantoms of the olden times” came floating through the windows on all sides of the study Susan Crane built for him, inspiring him to produce a series of novels in what I call The Quarry Farm Style: full of whimsical children and nostalgia for an American past, but also politically radical, like the community in which they were written.

Frontispiece to First Edition of Charles Dickens’s THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH

As Sam and Livy (as well as Charley and his new wife, Ida Clark) settled into domesticity and child-rearing in the 1870s, they would associate Dickens with that first date at Steinway Hall, that tear-stained letter from Lansing, and, as many do, with the holiday season. They read Dickens’s books aloud to their children, such that his characters intermingled with Twain’s, forming the premise for a range of allusions, inside jokes, and family folklore which passed through the generations. The novella which inspired Jervis and Ida Langdon’s costumes in 1905 was, as Dickens himself described it, a “fairy tale of home” dedicated to his own infant son.


The Quarry Farm Style

The Clemenses did not attend the Dickens reception in 1905, but those who did reflect both how Mark Twain brought out the best in Elmira, and why Elmira brought out the best in Mark Twain. The reception took place at the Elmira Industrial School. The 36-year-old school was one of several educational institutions, including Elmira College and Elmira Free Academy, which had been founded through the financial backing of another Jervis Langdon, grandfather to the Jervis who celebrated his birthday that night. Each of these groundbreaking educational institutions made possible by the Langdon fortune were sustained in the ensuing decades by other local financial benefactors, as well as by many Elmirans who volunteered as teachers, administrators, fundraisers, and advocates.

The mission of Elmira Industrial School was to provide a free trade school education to any young women willing to dedicate herself to establishing financial independence. The students came from “homes of poverty and vice” and were mentored by an entirely female faculty, including many of the affluent young women who were graduating from elite private colleges in the region, like Bryn Mawr, Vassar, Cornell, Smith, Oberlin, and Elmira. Several of ladies who attended the Dickens reception were faculty, volunteers, and/or alumna of the three local institutions all dedicated to counteracting the effects of social and economic oppression.

The elder Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon, the original owners of Quarry Farm, were the foundation stones upon which was built a remarkable tradition of generosity and community service which survived them and their famous son-in-law. In his eulogy for the first Jervis Langdon, Thomas K. Beecher made the outrageous claim that “Envy’s self was silenced at sight of his prosperity, so many were sharing in it.”

Beecher had learned repeatedly that the Langdons considered their millions only as valuable as the causes for which they could be put to work. When, in 1846, their church refused to condemn slavery, the started a new one, joined the Underground Railroad, and told the abolitionists who passed through their enormous mansion – including the likes of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison – that “the family house and purse were at the service of fugitives from slavery.”

Thomas K. Beecher

Eight years later, when they asked the most controversial memberof the most famous family of theologians in America to come lead their renegade church, he laid out terms which he though no congregation would accept, largely because of his exceptional emphasis on community service. The Langdons accepted his terms without negotiation. The progressive, inclusive congregation he imagined grew so large it could only meet in an opera house, drawing the ire of rival churches and the regional Ministerial Union.

Interior of Park Church

Mark Twain responded to their condemnation of Beecher as one might expect, joking in a local newspaper that “a little group of congregationless clergymen, of whom I have never heard before, have crushed the famous Beecher and reduced his audiences from 1500 to 1475.” The Langdons came to Beecher’s defense much more quietly and effectively, buying up shares in the opera house so that no amount of social pressure could compel the proprietors to bar the doors, then beginning the process of building Beecher a church as big as an opera house, one that would look like nothing else in the nation, complete with a maze of apartments and a billiard room where one could occasionally find one of the nation’s most recognizable preachers drinking beer with the nation’s most recognizable infidel.

The still youthful Mark Twain who came to Elmira in 1868 had argued across a series of burlesque tales, stand-up routines, and travelogues that mankind in general, and Americans in particular, were natural hypocrites, charlatans, and misers, and that those who dared to believe otherwise were doomed to continual poverty and despair. Then he met the Langdons and this airtight thesis got shot all to hell.

Young Twain believed that all his countrymen had been converted to the “Revised Catechism” of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould: “Get money. Get it quickly. Get it in abundance. Get it in prodigious abundance. Get it dishonestly if you can, honestly if you must.” But, as Twain put it, “Mr. Langdon was a man whose character and nature were made up exclusively of excellencies,” who could easily have gone “to Wall Street to become a Jay Gould and slaughter the innocents,” but instead endowed schools for girls, bought farms for fugitive slaves, and emboldened both his children and the people in his employ to test their most far-fetched idealisms on his dime. This confused Mark Twain.

Out of his confusion emerged the Quarry Farm Style, with its children who are not innocent, its cynics who are not hopeless, its free-thinking slaves and scientific magicians and heroes who decide to go to hell. It is a style which never lets you lose sight of your romantic idols, though whenever you reach for them it suffocates you under piles upon piles of corpses. So many corpses.


Those “Up-State” towns…

Clara Spaulding Stanchfield with 1911 Illustration of Mrs. Micawber from Charles Dickens’s DAVID COPPERFIELD

The Dickens reception in 1905 was hosted by Clara Spaulding Stanchfield, dressed as Mrs. Micawber from David Copperfield. Clara was Livy Clemens’s lifelong friend and fellow Elmira College alumna, after whom she named her second daughter. Clara’s husband, John B. Stanchfield, came as Mr. Dombey. He could call himself “Mark Twain’s lawyer” and only be mildly stretching the truth. The world-famous author retained counsel on a wide variety of matters in numerous jurisdictions, but he had been regularly consulting Stanchfield, both officially and unofficially, for decades, and their friendship reached back even further. Before the Stanchfields married, John and Sam had frequented the same billiard parlors, both using aliases. It is, indeed, reasonable to suspect that Sam may have played some role in matchmaking his amiable drinking buddy with his wife’s best friend.

John B. Stanchfield with Illustration of Mr. Dombey from 1867 Edition of Charles Dickens’s DOMBEY & SON

John rose rapidly in the ensuing years. He became a partner in the firm which is now Sayles & Evans, was a Democratic candidate for both Senator and Governor, and tried a series of prominent cases. He was also one of several Elmirans who aided the Clemenses during their time of greatest need, when Twain’s publishing house was plunged into bankruptcy following the Panic of 1893. With much of the nation descending into a credit crisis, the most affluent families in Elmira offered free consulting, low-interest loans, and other aid to their neighbors.

Flora Shoemaker with artist’s rendering of Ada Clare from Charles Dickens’s BLEAK HOUSE.

The young woman dressed as Ada Clare from Bleak Houseanother Elmira College graduate, suffragette, and member of the American Association of University Women, belonged to a family that purchased what they knew were likely worthless shares in the Paige Typesetter, thus helping increase the Clemens liquidity during a period of desperation: a charity made all the more charitable because it protected Sam and Livy’s pride by pretending it was not simply charity.

Crystal Eastman as Tilly Slowboy from Charles Dickens’s THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH

This generation of Elmira women – Ida Langdon, Dorothy Mather, Flora Shoemaker, and Ruth Pickering among them – would be remarkably successful in promoting women’s rights both within the city and region, and throughout the nation. While all were devoted activists, their ringleader was clearly Crystal Eastman, who by this time had already discovered her talent for political organizing by leading a protest against rules requiring women wear skirts and stockings while swimming. Within a decade Crystal would become one of the most prominent and effective advocates for women’s suffrage, and this was hardly her most revolutionary position. Looking back upon the community in which she was raised, she wrote, “In this environment I grew up confidently expecting to have a profession and earn my own living, and also confidently expecting to be married and have children.”

Max Eastman

Crystal’s younger brother, Max Eastman, who would graduate from Williams College later in 1905, was not as cripplingly shy as he had been a few years earlier, but still struggled to converse with his sister’s outgoing friends, several for whom he would harbor lifelong crushes. It was hard to imagine that this skinny young man would, in ten years time, be one of the most controversial political voices in the country, founder of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and editor of censored antiwar publications.

Max and Crystal would live for much of the teens and twenties in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and Max would make an extended visit to the Soviet Union to study with Leon Trotsky, and yet, he would always characterize Elmira as the most radical community in which he had ever lived. Many years later, in an essay titled “Mark Twain’s Elmira,” he would chastise a famous literary critic, Van Wyck Brooks, who ignorantly described Elmira as one of  “those ‘up-State’ towns…without the traditions of moral freedom and intellectual culture.” Eastman argued convincingly that the “social and political attitudes” which prevailed in Elmira “were far more radical than Mark Twain was when he arrived here.” Mark Twain and Elmira worked upon one another in “general rebellion” such that by the time Max came of age in the 1890s, he found himself “in the exact center of one of the most interesting clusters of people and ideas that American churchdom ever produced or found room to contain.”

Annis Ford Eastman and Illustration of Mrs. Blimber from 1867 Edition of Charles Dickens’s DOMBEY & SON

Adolescent Max met Mark Twain during the installation of an organ at Park Church. Max and Crystal’s mother, Annis Ford Eastman, who disguised herself as Mrs. Blimber from Dombey & Son for the Dickens gala in 1905,was the first women ordained in the state of New York. Beecher called her the best preacher he’d ever heard and, befitting both Beecher’s rebellious nature and Elmira’s emerging feminist culture, he chose her as his successor at the vaunted Park Church. His friend Mark Twain must have shared his high estimation of her character and talents, directing that she should handle his funeral rites.

Like Beecher, Annis Eastman’s unconventional approach to the pastorate went far beyond the happenstance of her gender. Max fondly remembers his mother reading the risqué Calamus poems from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass aloud to her friend Julia Beecher and setting the hymn “Onward Christian Soldier” to the ragtime tune “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight,” The esteemed place of the Eastmans seems evidence enough that Elmira was not, as that literary critic had guessed, a “symbol…of all that vast and intricate system of privilege and convention.”

Mark Twain’s Study at its original Quarry Farm site, perched above Elmira.

Max Eastman wrote of Twain, “My admiration for the man was and still is as firm and emotional as though he were the saint of a faith to which I adhere.” This from a man whose parents were both pastors and who lived much of his youth in the apartments within the Park Church. The “gospel” written in Elmira, Max claims, “was one of self-reliant revolt against forms and conventions,” and it was authored not only by Mark Twain, but by the Langdons, Clemenses, Beechers, Stanchfields, Shoemakers, and Eastmans, by the students and faculty of the first degree-granting college for women and the secondary and trade schools those students helped to charter, by the thousands of parishioners who attended the largest and most progressive non-denominational church in 19th-century America, by the members of the city’s flourishing women’s rights organizations, and by the stalwart station-masters of the Underground Railroad, who not only sheltered fugitive slaves but persuaded former slaves, like Mary Ann Cord, the beloved cook at Quarry Farm, to settle here. It is no wonder, with such collaborators, Twain was able, in that octagonal study overlooking it all, to give birth to the Quarry Farm Style from which, according to Ernest Hemingway, all modern literature descends.

Max and Crystal Eastman were both at Sam’s funeral in 1910, as were the Stanchfields, his only surviving daughter, Clara, his nieces, Ida and Julia, and the brother-in-law, Charley, who first brought Sam Clemens into the circle of Elmira 43 years earlier. Mark Twain’s nephew, now 35 years of age, rode with the coffin from New York City, along the same rails which had taken his father to see Charles Dickens speak on New Years Eve in 1867, rails which had been laid when his grandfather was, at least according to Twain, the country’s only respectable railroad magnate.

Jervis Langdon Jr.

Jervis Langdon Jr., born two days after the Dickens ball, would also, like his great-grandfather, become a successful railroad executive. He likewise inherited that radical generosity which mesmerized Sam Clemens and inspired him to pay yearly homage to his wife’s “household Gods.” On December 31st, 1982, 115 years to the day after Charles Dickens read to Charley and Olivia Langdon (and a dumbstruck and unappreciative Mark Twain), Jervis Jr. signed the agreement which bequeathed Quarry Farm to Elmira College and founded the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Perhaps, though he was just five years old at the time, Jervis Jr. remembered something of what Annis Eastman had written in her eulogy for Samuel Clemens:

We are not here at this time to speak of the great man whose going hence the whole world mourns, nor to claim for him that place in the halls of fame which time can give him. We are not here to try to estimate his worth to the world, the service he has rendered to civilization and the moral progress of mankind, nor yet to eulogize him for the integrity, justice and magnanimity of his character. There will be time enough for all this in the days to come and many a voice more competent than mine to set forth the lessons of his life.

Though I suspect none of us would dare to claim more competence than Annis Eastman, Jervis Jr. has bequeathed to us the task which she deferred. The mission of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, made possible by the gift of Quarry Farm, is to create that “time enough” to “set forth the lessons of Twain’s life.” And the scholars who reside here “estimate the worth to the world” not only of Mark Twain, but of the too often forgotten and misremembered Elmira which made Mark Twain possible.


There are many ways you can help sustain the mission of the Center for Mark Twain Studies. You can become a Friend of CMTS by making a donation here or learn more by emailing us at [email protected] As part of our celebration of sesquicentennial of Mark Twain’s first visit to Elmira we are also launching a Quarry Farm Legacy Preservation Campaign. If you or your organization would like to participate, please contact Director Joe Lemak (information provided in link).


CMTS Launches the Quarry Farm Preservation Campaign – and Needs You!

My name is Joe Lemak and I am the Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies. I’d like to welcome all of you, not only the familiar faces who are already part of the CMTS community – You know who you are! – but also all the people who are new to CMTS and Quarry Farm. We hope that you will join us as we grow our services for the local, national, and international constituencies we serve.

Quarry Farm is one of America’s most important literary landmarks and a true cornerstone of the historical and cultural legacy of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region. This fall we are celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Mark Twain’s first visits to Elmira. It’s here that he would go on to write Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Prince and The Pauper, A Tramp Aboard, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and many others!

A big part of the CMTS mission is the preservation and maintenance of the historical infrastructure that we are in charge of, namely Quarry Farm, the Mark Twain Study and Exhibit at Elmira College, and the Mark Twain Archive in the Gannett-Tripp Library.

To this end, CMTS has sought out professional help, enlisting the services of Johnson-Schmidt & Associates (Corning, NY), architects specializing in historical preservation. Elise Johnson-Schmidt and her team are currently in the process of preparing historic structures reports for both Quarry Farm and the Mark Twain Study. These documents have been funded by a number of grants we have applied for and received in the last year, a testament to how deserving these structures are of special attention. These grants include funding from the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation; Preservation League of New York; and the Mark Twain Foundation.

Johnson-Schmidt & Associates has already given us some preliminary feedback. They have prioritized a large-scale project for Quarry Farm: namely, the installation of a comprehensive heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, or “HVAC.”

A properly designed HVAC system addresses some of the most critical issues for the long-term stability of the Quarry Farm property, namely, the potentially corrosive impact of moisture and temperature changes on the historical furnishings and fabrics contained within, as well as upon the structure itself.

Properly designed humidity control will monitor and protect the building and its contents from the ill-effects of long-term moisture, which is a constant threat to historic buildings, and especially those with significant quantities of paper and textile resources. As Quarry Farm is home to a world-class library of Twain-related sources, many pieces of 19th-century furniture and artwork, and a recently-refurbished pre-Civil War rug, we must be vigilant on this front.

Furthermore, climate conditions within Quarry Farm are such that the broad fluctuation in temperature and humidity lead to deterioration of the building materials. Temperature fluctuations enhance the opportunity for insect decay, dry and wet rot, as well as mold, all of which need to be prevented.

It is important to consider the type and installation of the HVAC system so as to minimize its visual and structural impact to the house. Although no perfect system exists to control these aspects of the building for both resource and occupants, a system can be designed to significantly improve the climate controls to meet the needs of both constituents for the long-term preservation of Quarry Farm and the goals of the Langdon family gift.

Jervis Langdon, Jr.

Jervis Langdon Jr. gave Quarry Farm to Elmira College. Undoubtedly, it is a wonderful, unique gift. But Quarry Farm has no endowment, no extra monetary resources. As a result, all the former directors of CMTS have had to be extremely creative and resourceful in funding preservation/maintenance projects.

As you might have guessed, that’s where you all come in!

We are continuing this tradition of resourcefulness by launching the Quarry Farm Legacy Preservation Campaign!

This campaign will help fund the HVAC system necessary for the continued sustainability of the Quarry Farm property. Needless to say, this will not be an inexpensive project. One of the best ways to win big grants is to demonstrate community support, and the support that speaks the loudest is monetary support!

A current plaque outside the kitchen at Quarry Farm recognizes the generosity of local donors to our last preservation campaign, in 1986!

CMTS offers you the opportunity to be a part of Quarry Farm.  As part of the Quarry Farm legacy Preservation Campaign we will be honoring groups and individuals who make large donations by including their names on a memorial plaque, next to the plaque already gracing the entrance to Quarry Farm from our last preservations campaign…in 1986.

As that plaque suggests, this opportunity will not come again any time soon.  In fact, the next time we will do this will most likely be during the 200th anniversary, by which point I will be 96 years old (if I make it).  This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you, community leaders, to forever be a direct part of the proud legacy of Quarry Farm and Mark Twain Studies.

On this sesquicentennial of Mark Twain’s arrival in Elmira, we are also celebrating the community leaders of this region, both past and present. My colleague, Matt Seybold, discusses Elmirans’ long, proud tradition of generosity and community service in his commemoration of the anniversary, but here are just a few examples:

Thomas K. Beecher was the founding pastor of the Park Church. He made the congregation’s emphasis on community service a qualification for his accepting the pastorate in 1854. Beecher helped organize Elmira’ first public library and stood, along with those in his congregation, for the rights of all individuals, regardless of race or gender. He lived less than a mile from Quarry Farm and was a close friend of the Langdons, Cranes, and Clemenses.

Drs. Rachel and Silas Gleason

Drs. Rachel and Silas Gleason were founders of the Gleason Water Cure Health Resort, another structure that stood about a mile from Quarry Farm. The Gleasons were dedicated to our region’s health and wellness. I can’t think of a more noble pursuit than administering care to another human being. Samuel Clemens was particularly impressed with Rachel Gleason, who prided herself as an excellent midwife. He insisted that she deliver all of his daughters.

Matthias Arnot

Matthias Arnot was another major contributor to the industrial and civic growth of this region. He served on the Board and was President of numerous organizations including Elmira Lumber Company, Chemung Gas Company, Arnot Realty Company, the Board of Managers of the Elmira Reformatory and the Elmira Board of Education. He built an impressive art collection which became the foundation for Elmira’s Arnot Art Gallery.

Someone a bit closer to my racket is Augustus Cowles, the President of Elmira Female College. It is because of his efforts that we now have Elmira College, one of the pillars of our community, which recently joined forces with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine to build a new medical school campus in downtown Elmira, a potentially revitalizing development for the neighborhood.

Charles Jervis Langdon

And to bring it back home, if you will, we have Charley Langdon, who first attracted Mark Twain to Elmira after they became friends on the Quaker City cruise in 1867. Charley was another successful business and civic leader, who was a patron to the educational and artistic institutions in his city and served on the city’s common council, as a member of its volunteer fire department, and as police commissioner. He was also instrumental in erecting Sullivan’s monument.

Last I’d like to point out is Jervis Langdon, Jr. As I mentioned before, it was his vision, that created the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Because of Jervis Lagndon, Jr. and his gift, Quarry Farm is not a roadside museum, but an internationally recognized academic center dedicated to one of the most celebrated authors of the world. One of the stipulations of this gift is that Quarry Farm can never be open to the public. Quarry Farm’s sole purpose is as a writing retreat for Mark Twain scholars. From this stipulation emerged the Center for Mark Twain Studies. More than 30 years later, Quarry Farm is an internationally recognized academic retreat for the most well-known and well-respected scholars who work in the field.

These civic leaders – doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, and patron of the arts – are our mirror. It is a cloudy mirror, but a mirror nonetheless. In these figures who belonged to our community, in some ways, we should try to see ourselves. You are all their cultural descendants, you are the leaders of our community in your own way, you are the people who ensure that their economic, artistic, cultural and political  legacy is sustained in a way that continues to benefit Elmira, the Southern Tier, and the international state of Mark Twain Studies.

All of these people were giving of their time and resources, and because of that they did great good, a good that reached past them and affected future generations.

If you are interested in joining our Quarry Farm Legacy Preservation Campaign, I encourage you to let me know. If you know someone who wants to take advantage of this opportunity, let me know.  I will be more than happy to talk with you, them, anybody! I look forward to working with you all. Thank you.


Joe Lemak’s Contact Information:

Dr. Joseph Lemak, Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies

[email protected]

(607) 735-1941

Elmira College, 1 Park Place, Elmira, New York 14901

Dispatches From Quarry Farm: Autumn Arrives

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

The turning of the seasons, the first little taste of Fall, begins at night. Suddenly you can sleep. The humidity, those dog days—and nights—make for a wide open, coverless, sleepless state from July to September.  Then suddenly your slumber is deep and dreaming. The perfect nighttime temperature—somewhere in the upper fifties—takes you flying over blue-green cities or eating a Beignet with a wildflower beauty in New Orleans (she’s laughing at you; there’s powdered sugar in your ear.)The dreams are a line of soft satisfaction that float your eyelids up to start the day and gently dissipate when you’re ready to stand on your own.

The early morning crickets on Quarry Farm drone on as one organism—like those fading dreams. There are little birds in the bushes near my window chirping away: Buntings, Chickadees, and the Tufted Titmouse. I have no idea what bird makes which noise but I’m glad they’re all there.

On some lucky mornings I can hear my favorite call, the Pileated Woodpecker, which to me sounds like some animal I’ve never seen in a rainforest somewhere I’ve never been. And on everylucky summer morning I can hear the sound of a ten-year-old boy downstairs screaming at his online friends while playing video games. Dissonance is important.

This has been the wettest summer in Quarry Farm history. At this rate we will be waterfront property by October. In anticipation for this I’ve purchased two Kayaks. My son and I will mourn the loss of Elmira with some recreational paddling in the new Lake Chemung.

I’ve also contacted the Mark Twain Foundation about funding for an official Mississippi riverboat replica, just like the one Twain would’ve piloted during his years on the river. We’d dock it at the front porch and charge admission for evening cruises. Hosted and Piloted by yours truly, of course. I’ve read Life on the Mississippi, how hard could it be, really? The foundation has yet to return my emails, but I’m optimistic.

I’m also considering a rope swing off of one of the big Maple Trees out front. Nothing exemplifies Tom Sawyer-esque American childhooed like swinging from a tree into a flooded river valley due to the catastrophic effects of mankind upon the Earth’s climate. Sometimes serious problems have simple answers: more rope swings.

Other than a better nights sleep I don’t care for Fall all that much. I’m optimistic that since it was Spring all Summer it will be Summer all Fall and maybe we can just skip Winter all together. The colors that the Autumn leaf-peepers get emotional about just signify impending death to me.

The ceiling at Quarry Farm has not collapsed despite the record rainfall. Yes, we’ve lost some plaster over the back stairs, we’ve used some pots and pans for things other than cooking, and some otherwise perfectly good bath towels have been retired. Thankfully, the repairs are scheduled. The contractors have a full calendar so we don’t know the exact date the repairs will take place but I’m excited to see the synergy of hardworking people coming together to get things done. Imagine the inspiration: you’re a scholar in residence reading, researching and focusing on a big project and you get to look up from your solitary studying to see a section of roof being torn off and replaced. I can’t imagine anything more inspiring than the synchronicity of hammers pounding overhead to the methodical typing of your perfect sentences. I’m excited to see which already scheduled Quarry Farm Fellow will win this lucky lottery.

On a sadder note, we’ve lost a great member of the Quarry Farm family. Bosco Trotsky Webb passed away in early May. He was a good man, for a dog, that lived a long blessed life well into his thirteenth year.

Born in the Redwood forests of Northern California he spent his first few years running wild amongst the giant trees and rugged coastline, swimming in the Pacific and avoiding garden hoses and vacuum cleaners. When he was three he moved to Southern California to try out the Hollywood life. He took to it immediately. Sprinting along the shoreline after distant ocean birds, plunging through the whitewater out past the break and gracefully riding the waves back into all the beaches from Malibu to Santa Barbra. It seemed possible that he’d never leave but the traffic and crowds and materialistic Hollywood culture—the pressure to bathe more often—wore him down. Rural life was calling.

After four years in Southern California he took a job as the assistant to the Caretaker here at Quarry Farm in Upstate New York. His skill at chasing deer away from the flowerbeds was sublime and the gardens flourished under his supervision, although the caretaker took most of the credit. With his guarding skills solely focused on deer, he welcomed all others to the farm and was loved and admired by scholars, students and even trespassers that I wished he chased off. There was more than one occasion where I had to suspiciously eye a departing scholar for fear that he or she was going to kidnap him. I could hardly blame them.

Bosco, my friend, we covered a lot of ground together. You will be deeply missed. Why do parrots live like seventy-five years while dogs, who are way cooler, only live thirteen if you’re lucky? What’re all the genetic engineers doing!?!

Anyway, I’ve spent way to long writing this and have missed my window of opportunity to mow the lawn. It’s storming: which reminds me of that quote from the boss-man himself, looking out over Elmira and the Chemung River from his octagonal study: “…and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightning flashes above the hills beyond, and the rain beats on the roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it!”

CMTS announces the Spring 2018 “Trouble Begins” Lineup

The Spring 2018 Trouble Begins” Lecture Series

Previous “Trouble Begins” lectures can be found and downloaded in the “Trouble Begins Archives” or by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 21 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

“Mark Twain: Travelin’ Man”  Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, media critic, and New York Times best selling author

Mark Twain’s prodigious travels around his region, then the nation, and then the world, have provided pleasure and scholarly thought for more than a century. Somewhat less appreciated has been the transformative effect his lifelong appetite for exploration (“move–move–Move!”, he wrote in a letter to his family–) produced upon American literature, the legitimacy of common vernacular, and even the nation’s final psychic break with Old Europe. Speaking (mostly) in sentences even shorter than the preceding, I will examine this divine compulsion that hastened America’s literary Declaration of Independence.

Ron Powers is a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic.  He is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including Flags of Our Fathers (2000), a New York Times #1 bestseller.  He has written extensively on Mark Twain and his literature, including a biography, Mark Twain: A Life (2005), also a New York Times bestseller.  His current book, No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America (2017), has been named a finalist for the PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.  It has also been named “Notable Book of the Year” by the Washington Post and one of the Top Ten books of the year by People magazine.

Wednesday, May 9 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“High Style in Mid-Nineteenth Century Elmira: The Architecture and Interiors of the Jervis Langdon Mansion” Walter G. Ritchie, Jr., Independent Scholar

Jervis Langdon

By the 1860s, Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, was ready to create a home that announced his status as one of Elmira’s most successful and influential businessmen.  After purchasing a house built in the 1850s, he immediately arranged to have it enlarged and remodeled in the fashionable Italianate style. The result was an imposing three-story brownstone mansion that was counted among the largest and most elegant residences in the city.  Langdon then commissioned Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York City, to decorate and furnish a number of the principal rooms on the first floor of the house.  After her husband’s death in 1870, Olivia Lewis Langdon continued to patronize the firm, purchasing bedroom suites and other furniture.  This lecture will explore the architecture, interiors, and furnishings of the Langdon mansion, sadly destroyed in the 1930s, but well documented by period photographs showing both the exterior and interior.  Surviving pieces of furniture made by Pottier & Stymus, now preserved in various museum and university collections, will be discussed to illustrate how the Langdons, through the guidance of the firm, demonstrated their good taste and familiarity with the latest modes in household decoration and furnishing.

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American architecture, interiors, and furniture.  He has written, lectured, and taught courses on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to having served as director and curator of a number of historic house museums.  He is currently researching and writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier & Stymus.

Wednesday, May 16 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Raising the Bar: Satirizing Law in Puddn’head Wilson and The Sellout” Rebecca Nisetich, University of Southern Maine

From the Harper & Brothers edition (1889) of Puddn’Head Wilson

This lecture explores how American writers use satire to expose the ways that “race” operates in our political institutions, social practices, and cultural discourses. In Puddn’head Wilson, Twain shows what happens when legal discourse is taken to its logical extreme. Contemporary novelist Paul Beatty similarly satirizes America’s racial structure and—like Twain—he takes aim at the legal system that support it. Twain’s novel is produced in the legal wrangling leading up to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision; Beatty’s novel responds to the present-day nadir of African American jurisprudence: the 2013 Supreme Court ruling which overturned critical aspects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the effect of the subprime lending crisis on African American homeowners, and the spate of “Not Guilty” verdicts in the deaths of African American men. As Twain, Beatty, and others demonstrate, we cannot escape these fundamentally racist legal and social structures until we have created other viable options. As racial satirist Patrice Evans writes, “When we laugh…we are making light, but [we are] also setting the groundwork for raising the bar.” For these American writers, satire becomes a powerful means for undermining racist narratives.

Rebecca Nisetich directs the Honors Program at the University of Southern Maine, where she teaches inter-disciplinary courses on race and identity in the U.S. Her manuscript, Contested Identities, explores characters whose identities are not clearly articulated, defined, or knowable. The project underscores indeterminacy—as opposed to ambiguity or “mixture”—as enabling writers to undermine the “one-drop” conceptions of race that dominated the discourse on race in early twentieth century America. Her essays have appeared in African American Review, Studies in American Naturalism, and elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 23 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

“An American Cannibal at Home: Comic Diplomacy in Mark Twain’s Hawai’i” Todd Nathan Thompson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Image from Chapter 73 of the first edition (1872) of Roughing It

During and after his 1866 visit to Hawai’i, Mark Twain wrote about the place, its people, and their relationship to the United States in several different genres: newspaper articles, first as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union (1866) and then for other papers, including the New York Herald; a popular lecture titled “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands” (1866-1873); two travelogues, Roughing It (1872) and A Tramp Abroad (1880), and an unfinished novel (1884). In my talk I will investigate the comic strategies he employs in these works—particularly self-effacement, satiric levelling, comic foils, physical comedy, and sarcastic irony—to show how Twain leveraged the ambivalence of social humor’s to stoke Americans’ interest in Hawai’i while simultaneously defending Hawaiians from “other”-ing stereotypes that—even as early as 1866—he saw as intimately tied to Americans’ imperialist urges.

Todd Nathan Thompson is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Assistant Chair of the English Department. He is author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). Thompson’s work on political satire and pre-1900 American literature has also appeared in Scholarly Editing, Early American Literature, ESQ, Nineteenth-Century Prose, Journal of American Culture, Studies in American Humor, Teaching American Literature, the Blackwell Companion to Poetic Genre, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on a new book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the South Seas.

Wednesday, May 30 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

Image from Chapter 31 of the first edition (1885) of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“’My penchant for silence’: Mark Twain’s Rhetorical Art of the Unspoken” Ben Click, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

There is no shortage of commentary on Twain’s penchant for talk, how he transliterated and employed it.  He perfected the mock oral narrative, precisely rendered of frontier and river vernacular, created the stunning narrative method of Huck Finn’s voice, and crafted countless, repeatable maxims (Ironically, one being:  “I talk until I have my audience cowed”).  Yet, silence permeates the writings of Mark Twain–for example, there are over 150 references to silence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone!  Examining its functions is an overlooked, yet integral, aspect of his writing for silence mediates and influences the discourses of his fictive and personal worlds. Rhetorical theorist Cheryl Glenn argues, “silence—the unspoken—is a rhetorical art that can be as powerful as the spoken or written word” (9).  Twain too understood that power:  “The unspoken word is capital.  We can invest it or we can squander it.”  Indeed, Twain crafted the full measure of that art on the page throughout his writing life.  This talk examines representative (and powerful) rhetorical uses of silence in the arc of Twain’s fictive writing.

Ben Click is a Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Director of the Writing & Speaking Center, Director of the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor Culture, and the Associate Editor of The Mark Twain Annual.  With Larry Howe and Jim Caron, he published Refocusing Chaplin:  A Screen Icon in Critical Contexts (Scarecrow, 2013). He has given numerous lectures and scholarly papers on Mark Twain, published articles and book chapters on the teaching of writing and writing assessment. He is also working on a book that examines humor as a rhetorical strategy in environmental writing, a genre that is sometimes seen as taking itself too seriously.

For a PDF copy of the Spring 2018 “Trouble Begins” flyer, click here.

About The Trouble Begins at Eight Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985.

The lectures are now held annually in the fall and spring of each year. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the Barn at Quarry Farm or in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus in Elmira, NY. Each lecture is digitally recorded after the event and can be downloaded.  This ever-growing digital archive can be found in the “Trouble Begins Archives” or by clicking here.

Mark Twain’s Father-in-Law’s Monopoly: A Brief History of The J. Langdon Coal Company

EDITOR”S NOTE: What follows is a revised version of a talk delivered by Dr. Reigstad at the 8th Quadrennial Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. It draws upon materials from both the CMTS archives and the Chemung County Historical Society

Mark Twain officially joined the Langdon family and became associated with its vast coal enterprises when he became engaged to Olivia on February 4, 1869. Three weeks later Twain found himself hanging out in New York City with his future father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, invited to sit in on the J. Langdon Coal Company annual meeting.

Although he described the experience in humorous terms, Twain was dazzled by his intimate view of naked capitalism. Twain listened to Jervis Langdon and his managers discuss ways to increase the coal company’s profit margin. Twain comically described the scene to Olivia. His letter began with a pun: “I could not get much of Mr. Langdon’s company (except his Coal company).” He then satirized the cutthroat nature of the big business world, referring to the attendees as “two or three suspicious looking pirates from other districts,” “that dissolute Mr. Frisbie from Elmira and a notorious character by the name of Slee, from Buffalo.” Twain’s fascination with inside business machinations seems evident, as he confessed to Olivia: “The subject of coal is very thrilling. I listened to it for an hour—till my blood curdled in my veins.”

The Langdon coal business was well underway by the time Twain tagged along. But its history is yet to be fully written. Here is a truncated version.

Jervis Langdon came to Elmira in 1845 and decided to specialize in Pennsylvania coal: hard coal, or stone coal, also known as anthracite, which was clean and smokeless, the preferred fuel in American cities. Most of the early Langdon Company collieries (the technical term for mines and their associated processing facilities) were in the Shamokin district of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal belt, located along the Great Shamokin Path, an old Native American trail. The Shamokin coal region, in east central Pennsylvania was at first serviced by the Reading Railroad to ship coal to market. This rich coal area was situated conveniently less than 130 miles due south of Langdon’s Elmira headquarters. Jervis Langdon became one of the first coal dealers in the United States to engage in the mining, handling and forwarding of coal. An unfortunate legacy of J. Langdon’s presence in Shamokin is that to this day the area is still listed by the state of Pennsylvania as an asbestos exposure site.

In 1857 J. Langdon & Co. (known initially as Audenreied, Langdon & Co.) was one of just three coal dealers in Elmira. From 1860-1864 they operated as J. Langdon & Company in partnership with Samuel W. Branard as coal and iron dealers with an office at 44 Fifth Street at the corner of Hatch in Elmira.


Corner of E. 5th St. & Hatch, original site of J. Langdon & Co.


By 1865 J. Langdon had severed ties with Branard and rented space at 6 Baldwin Street. In 1873, J. Langdon bought the building, and the address was renumbered as 110 Baldwin. That building was occupied by J. Langdon & Company or their later iteration, Chemung Coal Company, until it closed in November of 1946, at which time the Elmira Sunday Telegram described the office as “the quaintest place of business in Elmira, a Dickensian establishment that has the atmosphere of 19th century London, an office unchanged since the Langdons equipped it in 1873.”

The Elmira headquarters of J. Langdon at 110 Baldwin Street featured a well-appointed interior of black walnut trim, a fireplace, lovely walnut desks and chairs, and Langdon family portraits adorning the office walls. On the left side, there were additional desks, and dark woodwork framed a long, high counter that required three-foot stools for the clerks. To the right of the main office was an executive inner sanctum with a large round wooden table surrounded by grill-work. Toward the rear were bank-sized vaults. One wall was lined with six ornately carved customer service “cages.”

In 1861 Theodore W. Crane, who had married Jervis’s adopted daughter Susan, joined the company in Elmira as a partner. Also in 1861 Langdon formed the Anthracite Coal Association to market coal to Buffalo at less expense. It consisted of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Co.; the Pittston & Elmira Coal Company; and the J. Langdon Coal Company.

Despite J. Langdon’s overall success, there were risks and downturns that may have caused Twain to question his allegiance to the family business. During the summer of 1869 Buffalonians kept a wary eye on the increasing coal rates charged by the Anthracite Coal Association, which had reached an exorbitant $10.50 per ton. All three major newspapers – The Express, The Daily Courier, and The Commercial Advertiser – united in joint outrage at the monopoly’s stranglehold. The Express was the most stridently anti-monopoly. Amid this furor, Sam Clemens became a co-owner and managing editor of The Express. Within four days he engineered an abrupt editorial about-face.

Ad for J. Langdon’s Anthracite Coal Co. in Buffalo Express (November 27, 1869)

Perhaps the story that motivated him to act was from the August 18th Niagara Falls Gazette. It harshly criticized the Anthracite Coal Association and Jervis Langdon: “The cause of the trouble was not a combination of companies, but a control of the avenues to Buffalo by Mr. Langdon of Elmira, so that the Queen City of the Lakes is under control of an inferior city on the banks of the Chemung. No one but Mr. Langdon can get coal over the roads to Elmira.” The story closes by pointing a finger at “the criminal rapacity of the forestaller of the market, Mr. Langdon.” Twain wasted no time in using his editorial bully pulpit to reverse The Express’s editorial coal monopoly stance and to shield Jervis Langdon. Two days after the Gazette ripped into Langdon’s iron hand on coal prices, Twain wrote an unsigned editorial, “The Monopoly Speaks,” and printed a letter by Slee, both pieces promoting the benevolent intentions of the Anthracite Coal Association.

Ten years later, in 1879, as J. Langdon was dissolving the Anthracite Coal Association, it was still publicly disputing charges of monopolism. This time the accusations were of collusion with the Northern Central Railroad to ensure high prices. Over the decades, J. Langdon managed to survive the taint of monopoly and other hazards – financial panics, mine flood, fires and explosions, railroad worker and miner strikes – that faced the disaster-prone coal industry.

In the summer of 1863 production halted for a few weeks due to the Confederate Army invasion of Pennsylvania. But by 1867, the demand for coal was surging, and J. Langdon purchased the lease of the Big Mountain colliery from the Bird Coal and Iron Co., made many improvements, and continued buying out competitors.

In 1870 J. Langdon & Company first handled coal by chutes in Buffalo with a trestle at their strategically located coal yard at the Lake Erie Basin. This key 210 ft. by 207 ft. waterfront property at the foot of Genesee Street, had a bordering slip that connected Buffalo’s Lake Erie harbor on its southside to the Erie Canal on its northside. The J. Langdon coal yard also boasted a spur of the New York Central Railroad with four sets of tracks, one with a switcher, running through it. For many years, J. Langdon brought an annual average of 200,000 tons of coal to Buffalo for delivery by canal or rail, or westward by freighter over the Great Lakes to Chicago and beyond.

Another J. Langdon corporate move in 1870 included opening the McIntyre Coal Company in the Lycoming County coal basin of northeastern Pennsylvania at Ralston, a few miles north of Williamsport. Coal mining had taken place there on a small scale, but J. Langdon was the first to open a major operation, built on a steep (45 degree angle), long (2,300 feet) inclined plane to transport the coal from the mine to the waiting railroad cars. For eight years, the McIntyre mine supplied 200,00 tons of coal per year for consumption as fuel coal in New York and Canada. Also in 1870, Langdon started a partnership with Cornelius Vanderbilt to provide fuel coal for his New York Central Railroad steam locomotives.

On May 1, 1870, with Jervis Langdon gravely ill, the company was restructured into four partners: Jervis still as principal, his young son Charles “Charley” Jervis Langdon, his son-in-law Crane, and Slee. After Jervis Langdon died in August of 1870, the partnership was expanded to include his widow and his daughter Olivia.

After the McIntyre mine was exhausted and shut down, the J. Langdon mine and company town of 300 households, a church, store and school were abandoned. Soon thereafter, Charley Langdon, under J. Langdon, opened another coal mine 100 miles west at Clearfield, Pennsylvania, again with the Vanderbilts supplying rail shipment. Charley became president of the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Co. and it became the largest coal producer in western Pennsylvania, with 58 individual mines.

Intersection of Water & Baldwin (J. Langdon & Co. offices located in second building with awning on right side of street.) Photo courtesy of Chemung County Historical Society.

In 1885 J. Langdon reached its zenith with Charley Langdon when it incorporated. During its twenty years of incorporation, from 1885-1905, it put in the market over nearly 9 million tons of anthracite coal, and its sales reached $3 million per year. When J. Langdon & Co., Inc. dissolved on January 1, 1905, all of its assets were distributed to stockholders.

However, J. Langdon & Co. continued, in conjunction with Chemung Coal Co., at the 110 Baldwin office, with Charley as president, his son Jervis as vice president, W.L. Sampson as treasurer, and H.K. Fuhrman as secretary, until Charley retired around 1911. He had sold the invaluable Buffalo waterfront coal yard in 1910, one month after Twain died.

Under Jervis Langdon’s leadership, J. Langdon and Chemung Coal carried on, specializing in blue coal, limestone and wood. J. Langdon & Co. was listed in the Elmira City Directory for the last time in 1937, after which only the Chemung Coal Co., under Jervis and Eleanor Langdon, was entered at the 110 Baldwin address.

110 Baldwin St. Today

After a 73-year run there, Jervis Langdon moved what was left of the corporate offices in 1946 to the Realty Building in Elmira. All iterations of Chemung Coal Co. and J. Langdon & Co. seem to have ceased around 1952.


Thomas Reigstad is Professor Emeritus of English at SUNY-Buffalo State and author of Scribblin’ for a Living’: Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period in Buffalo (Prometheus, 2013).


Two vital sources for this brief history are ““Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s Father-in-Law,” by Jervis Langdon, Jr. (unpublished and undated manuscript at the Chemung County Historical Society) and “Jervis Langdon: Christian Businessman” by Herbert A, Wisbey, Jr., a lecture delivered as part of CMTS’s Trouble Begins series at Quarry Farm (March 22, 1989). The latter lecture is streamable and downloadable from the [email protected] archives