CMTS is awarded preservation grant by the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is honored to announce that it has been awarded a preservation grant from the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC). With the acceptance of this grant, CMTS will be enrolled in FAIC’s Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP) program. FAIC will allocate $3900 to hire a collections assessor for the physical artifacts at Quarry Farm, plus another $3900 to hire a building assessor to complete a general conservation assessment of the main house at Quarry Farm.

This grant is part of a multi-year CMTS project entitled Master Plan for Interior Environmental Improvements for Quarry Farm and Its Collections. With guidance from Johnson-Schmidt & Associates, an architectural firm specializing in the restoration, preservation, and revitalization of historic structures, CMTS has identified improvements in the climate and fire-suppression systems within the main house of Quarry Farm as a high-priority preservation project.

The Quarry Farm Parlor

As a retreat for Mark Twain scholars who spend weeks at a time doing their research, writing, and scholarly endeavors, it is not only important for Quarry Farm to have systems that will serve and protect the collections, it must also function as a living facility where Mark Twain’s presence is understood and its occupants can function in the manner in which the Langdons intended their gift to the Humanities to be utilized. This is a special environment for scholars of one of the most important American writers, and therefore challenges balancing these priorities.  Not only are the climate and fire-suppression systems involved in these two types of uses challenging to resolve, but equally important is the manner in which the systems are woven into Quarry Farm’s historic fabric. Limiting the impact of these systems on historic finishes will be a challenge, as will the routes the systems will need to take to get to their destinations in order to condition the space throughout the house and conserve its collections. For these reasons, preservation and collections assessment specialists need to be hired to help CMTS address these very important and difficult challenges

CMTS is in the middle of its Quarry Farm Legacy Preservation Campaign. This capital campaign is solely for the purpose addressing these specific preservation needs and is a part of the Master Plan for Interior Environmental Improvements for Quarry Farm and Its Collections. Groups and individuals who generously contribute will be honored with their names on a memorial plaque next to the one already gracing the entrance to Quarry Farm. This is truly a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity for community leaders to become a permanent part of the proud legacy of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, Quarry Farm, and Mark Twain. All interested participants should contact Dr. Joseph Lemak, Director of CMTS at [email protected]

For more information about the Quarry Farm Legacy Preservation Campaign, here is Dr. Matt Seybold’s lecture from the kickoff event and Dr. Joe Lemak’s campaign appeal.

Second Year Creative Writing Contest Focuses on Quarry Farm Fireplace

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is again sponsoring a creative writing contest for area students in grades 2-6, encouraging students to explore Mark Twain’s legacy in Elmira and the Southern Tier.  Submissions for the competition are due by April 19.

One of the winners of last year’s contest reading her story to her classmates in the exact same spot Mark Twain told stories to his daughters.

While staying at Quarry Farm, Mark Twain often encouraged his children to create and tell their own stories based off the tiles adorning the parlor fireplace.   The 24 tiles around the fireplace depict fables written by ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, who utilized animals, such as crows, snakes, mice, and foxes, to illustrate moral lessons.

Students from schools within a 25-mile radius of Quarry Farm are encouraged to access the fireplace tiles on the CMTS website,, and create their own stories based on the tile images.

Three winners from three different schools will be chosen by CMTS staff.  CMTS has received special permission to give the winners a personal tour inside Quarry Farm, normally only open to Twain Scholars.  The winning students will be able to read their story next to the Quarry Farm parlor fireplace, tour Quarry Farm, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.

Submissions for the contest should be submitted by Friday, April 19, to the Center for Mark Twain Studies, Elmira College, 1 Park Place, Elmira, NY 14901.  Additional information, including a virtual tour of Quarry Farm, can be found online at

All the contest information and high-resolution pictures of the Quarry Farm fireplace tiles can be found at

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies –The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain. –

Dispatches from Quarry Farm: The First Snow

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 first snow of the year brings a crystalline stillness to the world. Quarry Farm pauses in muted silence. The trees, newly naked stick figures fresh from the fall blaze of amber and gold, are highlighted in the angelic white from above and rescued from the wind whipped blandness of cold mud and dormant stubble. The sky, usually dominant with oppressive greyness, is pushed far off in the distance and serves the solitary purpose of background, lifting the purity of the snowy middle and giving it a tangible luminosity that you can breathe in and hear and taste.

I’m out the door and up into the woods. The snow emits a muffled squeak with every step as it compresses under my boots and my arms stick out to the side a little more than normal because of my fat winter coat. The cold air rushing in through my nose tingles and feels good.  I can imagine it traveling all the way into my lungs before it warms up and is processed in my complicated pulmonary system that, when x-rayed, has a remarkable resemblance to the trees that I walk in amongst right now. They also have the same function, they are the lungs of the earth.

Way off in the distance I can hear a snowplow downshift and produce a familiar rumble that every northerner forgets that they remember and will recognize instantly upon its return.  For me the sound is tied to snow days and hot chocolate and the thawing of icy fingers after too many hours playing in a snowy school-free paradise. And presently, as of yesterday in fact, I have an even greater appreciation for the folks that charge out there when the weather is at its wildest to clear the streets for all the people trying to get back home.

I left my house yesterday to go pick up the lad from school as the very first flakes began to fall delicately from the sky. “Half-hour round trip,” I thought. “no problem.”  As I descended the hill and hit the highway, the situation went from Tom Sawyer to Mysterious Stranger—it got weird. Those fluffy little flakes became a blur of white streaks, like ludicrous speed in Spaceballs, and I thought, on this day in mid-November, about revising my yearly routine of mounting my snow tires in the first week of December.

I picked up the little fella and we headed back toward the Farm. As I hit the turn signal to go right on East Hill, I slid past the mark giving the shoulders raised, palms up “I’m sorry—what can I do?” gesture to the guy in the truck at the stop sign waiting for me to get my act together. I glided to a stop, did an awkward reverse in the middle of the intersection, and proceeded onward. The truck guy stared ahead with the look of an unhurried cow, but I’m sure he was wishing us well on the rest of our journey.

The beginning of East Hill is steep. I had almost zero confidence in our mission. We cleared the bridge section of the accent, which is still nothing compared to the grade we were about to hit. I got a little speed up, gripped the wheel tight at ten and two, and closed my eyes (kidding)—my eyes were close to bugging out of my head. One-tenth of a mile, two-tenths, then the wheels lost their grip and gravity took over. The transition from forward to backward was slow but full of potential. I was going to do a reverse swing to the right into the driveway I’d just passed on the way up—I’d seen the move on Nightrider when I was a kid. But as our speed increased I realized I wasn’t swinging anything anywhere. My son suggested, in a rather alarmed tone, that I try the brakes. There are several reasons why his suggestion was refutable but I didn’t have the time in that moment to list them. All I could do was try and keep the car in the center of the road, away from the deep ditches on both sides, and hope no cars were behind me as we careened down the hill backwards. I’m not sure the exact speed we were going but it was directly tied to my heart rate—unnaturally fast.

As the land leveled out and we didn’t end up in a ditch or a multicar pileup I grew to feel pretty darn good. A brief moment of stillness enveloped us as we came to a rest in the middle of the road like the cotton pillows of snow on our windshield. From above I could imagine our little white car quietly sleeping in the seemingly untouched white landscape where the difference between the road and the land is as mysterious as the indigo blue color of the snow filled sky at dusk.

I eased our chariot off to the side of the road and we started our hike. It was no more than a mile and a half up to the house—Twain did it all the time, of course that was in the summer—but really, as I told my boy at least forty-two times, there is nothing to complain about.

A whole evening and night of snow has delivered us a solid foot up on the hill. I pull my feet through as the powder parts around my legs giving me the sensation of walking through water—which is technically what I’m doing. Leftover hints of that mysterious indigo blend with the gray sky. The brilliant white powder and the wet black branches accentuate each other. The feeling of floating isolation makes me wonder if I’m still sleeping. There are only so many paths one can take out here in the woods and I’ve walked them all many times in the past five years. But there’s something so completely new and alive about this particular view. Maybe it’s that I can feel the whole world around me slow to a stop, even outside the seclusion of Quarry Farm. The weather is bigger than the plans everybody had and there’s no way around it. Except for the heroic snowplow operators, everyone allows himself or herself to take it a little slower than normal. Maybe they should let the clouds of white powder remain untouched for a while. Or maybe I’m just projecting because I think that’s what everyone should do with this opportunity. I dread the idea of walking down the hill to find my car. Not because it will be buried under a foot of snow and most definitely plowed in, but because when I get down there I might find out that it’s just another day.

There’s an open field at the top of the hill. It’s the highest point around. It’s the kind of place that you walk out into the middle of, spread your arms wide and fall on your back. When you float down to a gentle stop you might wonder if you’re still sleeping. You might wonder why you feel warm. You might let yourself pause in the blanket and watch nothing fall but the last few lingering snowflakes.

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.

Updated Virtual Tour of Mark Twain’s and Family’s Gravesite Now Available

CMTS has updated its virtual tours of both Quarry Farm and the Langdon/Clemens plot on Woodlawn Cemetery (Elmira, New York).  The virtual tours now include a number of Points of Interests.  These “POI” include images and text that will help viewers explore and learn about the house where wrote a number of his iconic works and his final resting place.


(On the upper left menu, click on “Off Site”, then “Gravesite”)


This is the beginning of a larger project for CMTS, specifically the creation of an interactive map of Woodlawn Cemetery and an interactive map of the city of Elmira from 1870 – 1910, roughly the time span when Mark Twain would visit and reside in Elmira.

Created by David Coleman of Small Town 360, the virtual tour allows a glimpse of Quarry Farm and a step back in time by offering 360-degree views of both inside and outside the home, including the parlor, library kitchen and pantry; at the same time the Langdon/Cemetery plot features all of Samuel Clemens’s and Olivia Langdon Clemens’s children and descendants, along with important members of the Langdon family who were essential to Twain’s time in Elmira, including Jervis Langdon, Charley Langdon, and Susan Crane.

We hope that teachers and enthusiasts will use the resources and show the tour to their students, friends, and anyone who is interested in Mark Twain and his literature.  As with all resources provided by CMTS, these virtual tours are open to the public at no cost.


2018 Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium Recap

Last weekend (October 5-7. 2018) CMTS hosted the 2018 Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium “American Literary History and Economics in the New Gilded Age.”

The economic expansion of the U.S. during Mark Twain’s lifetime was unprecedented, in this country or any other. Twain was fascinated by the technological innovations that transformed commerce and industry, the volatile financial markets that strained to keep up with the demands of entrepreneurs and investors, the infamous magnates that accumulated private fortunes unimaginable to previous generations, the corrosive symbiosis of private wealth and public servants, the precarious plight of consumers and laborers who both drove the economy and were periodically driven over by it, and the fledgling field of philosophical inquiry, political economy, aimed at understanding the organizing principles of capitalist society.

Before anybody suspected he would become the literary figure who defined this era, Twain gave it its lasting nickname, the Gilded Age, recognizing that the luxurious lifestyles of America’s nouveau riche celebrities and the bedazzling technologies advertised by American entrepreneurs disguised deep disparities of wealth, exploitative employment practices, systemic corruption, and widespread financial fraud. As we find ourselves in what is now frequently called “The New Gilded Age,” characterized by many of the same phenomena, CMTS’s Fifth Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium featured scholars who explore the intersections of economic history, economic theory, mass media, and literature.

The symposium was organized by Henry B. Wonham (University of Oregon), Lawrence Howe (Roosevelt University), and Matt Seybold (Elmira College). Wonham and Howe’s collection, Mark Twain & Money, was published in 2017, while Seybold’s Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (coedited with Michelle Chihara) was just published this year.

The official symposium program with full abstracts of all the talks can be found here.

The festivities began with an opening reception on the Elmira College campus.  After a welcome address from Dr. Charles Lindsay, President of Elmira College, Professor Matt Seybold (Elmira College) kicked off the talks with an introductory address.  Dr. Seybold’s talk can be found here.  The opening reception was highlighted by David Sloan Wilson (Distinguished Professor of Biology & Anthropology at Binghamton University) delivering the keynote address “Mark Twain, Cultural Multilevel Selection, and the New Gilded Age.”  This provocative talk challenged literary scholars to theorize the multilevel selection of systems of meaning and maladaptive economic systems.  An audio-recording of Professor Wilson’s talk can be found here.

The majority of the symposium took place at beautiful Quarry Farm, where 11 papers were delivered in an intimate section.  A number of the talks were recorded.  All of the recorded talks can be found in the Trouble Begins Archives. After all the papers were delivered, all attendees enjoyed a cocktail hour on the Porch at Quarry Farm, followed by a dinner in the Barn.

They symposium concluded with a farewell breakfast at Quarry Farm where attendees conversed and said their good-byes to old and new colleagues.

CMTS is pleased to announce that we are already working on the 2019 Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium, tentatively titled “Mark Twain and the Natural World.”   This gathering will explore the relation between human beings and the natural world. This broad scope allows for critical examinations of Twain’s writing about the natural world in any number of ways: as nature writing; as a form of environmentalism; as commentary on animal welfare, technology and science, and travel; and as a forerunner to mid-20th to early 21st century writers (Krutch, Abbey, Kingsolver, Quammen, and Gessner) who offer comic responses to nature as well as recognize the comic in the natural world and in our relationship to that world. The conference organizer is Ben Click (St. Mary’s College of Maryland).  Professor Click is the current editor of Mark Twain Annual and plans to publish a special issue of MTA in conjunction with the symposium.

Images from Friday’s Opening Reception and Saturday’s Paper Sessions

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

CMTS’ Fall 2018 Trouble Begins Lectures Series Set

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for Wednesday, October 10 in The Barn at Quarry Farm.  All four lectures begin at 7:00 p.m., and are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 10 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Getting to Know Mark Twain through the Eyes of Grace King, a Southern Woman of Letters” Miki Pfeffer, Nicholls State University

Grace King

New Orleans writer, Grace King, enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Sam and Livy Clemens and their daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean. King visited the family in Hartford in 1887 and 1888 and in Florence in 1892. She wrote to her family about the Twain homes, meals, dress, and habits. From New Orleans, she exchanged letters with each Clemens, especially Livy, with whom she became a confidante. As each family member died, she kept in touch with the living, right through Clara’s brief messages around 1918. Miki Pfeffer will read from some of King’s captivating letters that offer a fresh view of the Clemenses and of Mark Twain as loving homebody, father, and generous friend to this ambitious southern woman.

Miki Pfeffer holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Urban History from the University of New Orleans. She is a visiting scholar at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Louisiana. Her book, Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women’s Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair, was awarded the 2015 Eudora Welty Prize for scholarship in Women’s Studies and Southern Studies from the Mississippi University for Women.Her current mission is to see Grace King’s letters published and appreciated, and she offers the collection of the family of Twain in a book to be published in 2019.



Wednesday, October 17 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7p.m.

“Mark Twain, TV Star” David Bianculli, Rowan University and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Woody Harrelson as Mark Twain

The real Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens, appeared in only one film in his lifetime, shortly before his death: a short silent movie of him walking around his Stormfield home, photographed by Thomas Edison’s Edison film company in 1909. But since then, Mark Twain has been on television dozens of times – immortalized, and impersonated, by a frankly startling array of actors on the small screen. The
best of them, Hal Holbrook in his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!, you know, and should. But the rest of them? Other actors portraying Mark Twain, in various programs over the 70-year-history of television, have ranged from Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby to Woody Harrelson and William Shatner. The character and image of Mark Twain have been kept alive by shows ranging from Bonanza and The Rifleman to Touched by an Angel and Star Trek: The Next Generation. David Bianculli will discuss and show clips from all these and more.

David Bianculli has been the TV critic for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, where he also appears as occasional guest host, since 1987. Beginning in 1975, he’s worked as a TV critic for newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, most recently for the New York Daily News from 1993-2007. Currently, he is a full-time professor of TV and film history at Rowan University, and editor of the website TV Worth Watching ( which he launched in 2007. Bianculli has written four books – The Platinum Age of Television: From ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘The Walking Dead,’ How TV Became Terrific; Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’; Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously; and Dictionary of Teleliteracy – and has written chapters for and co-edited, with Douglas Howard, Television Finales: From ‘Howdy Doody’ to ‘Girls,’ to be published by Syracuse University Press in November. Bianculli has a B. S. in Journalism and an M. A. in Journalism and Communications, both from the University of Florida.


Wednesday, October 24 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Writing from Roots in ‘America’s Hometown’: Flood, a Novel” Melissa Scholes Young, American University

Literature and life often claim you can’t go home again, but what happens if you have to? In this book talk and author reading, Melissa Scholes Young will chronicle how Mark Twain’s own exodus from Hannibal parallels Laura Brooks’, the protagonist of her debut novel, Flood, who like the Mississippi River, once ran in the wrong direction in order to recalibrate. She’ll share her historical research and creative writing process as well as explore whyTwain’s origin in rural America is more relevant than ever.

“Filled with pithy dialogue and cultural references, Scholes Young’s writing ties Laura’s journey of self-discovery squarely to Hannibal and its famous young troublemakers. As Laura reckons with her past, Scholes Young reckons with Twain’s influence on the region. This debut is a wonderful story of home, hope, and the ties that bind us to family.” – Publishers Weekly

Melissa Scholes Young is an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. and a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, and Poets & Writers. She’s a Contributing Editor for Fiction Writers Review and Editor of the anthology Grace in Darkness. Her debut novel, Flood, set in Hannibal, Missouri, the hometown she shares with Mark Twain, was the winner in Literary Fiction for the 2017 Best Book Award.


Wednesday, November 7 in the Barn at Quarry Farm

“‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm” John Bird, Winthrop University

Quarry Farm in the 1880s

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 my current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, my presentation will let audiences relive his 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 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 us a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.

John Bird is Emeritus Professor of English at Winthrop University. He 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.

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!”