Two Virginia Yankees at CMTS’ Quarry Farm (A Quarry Farm Testimonial)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows and Residents, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information HERE.

Stephen Cushman is Robert C. Taylor Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Generals’ Civil War: What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today (University of North Carolina Press, 2021), Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), and Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle (University Press of Virginia, 1999). Cushman has been a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies and a Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Greece. He has been honored as UVA Cavalier Distinguished Professor and recipient of a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award.

The Quarry Farm testimonial is a genre of its own.  Reading what others have written enriches our recollections of our stay, and we’re grateful to those who have shared their experiences.  What follows is a series of edited journal entries made in October 2023.  They retain some local information that may be of use to future residents.  Although we’ve lived in central Virginia for more than forty years, we’re both from the North, Sandra from Buffalo, I from Connecticut.  Having met in Ithaca, we brought to our stay at Quarry Farm a sense of upstate New York homecoming.  As the entries show, having arrived with certain expectations about what I had come to do, I left with an unanticipated line of new inquiry to pursue.  That surprise provides one more testimony about the value of what the Center for Mark Twain Studies is doing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023. 9:15 a.m. 41 degrees and fair at Quarry Farm, 131 Crane Road, Elmira, NY.  38 degrees this morning. 

Arrived here shortly before 4 p.m. yesterday, having driven from Ithaca to Watkins Glen State Park, where we hiked the Gorge Trail from the South Entrance to Jacob’s Ladder and back, returning along the North Rim and crossing to the South Rim at Mile Post Bridge.  Spectacular day and only another week until the Gorge Trail will be closed.  Blue sky, crisp air, and fall foliage galore, especially the yellows, backlit by the sun. 

When we arrived at Quarry Farm, caretaker Steve Webb showed us where to stash our gear, in a small, unused room down the hall from Susan Crane’s bedroom, which will be ours.  Across the hall from Twain and Livy’s.  At 5 p.m. or shortly after, we joined a fundraising gathering in the Barn.  After some refreshment and talk, Steve Webb and Joe Lemak, Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, gave us a good tour of this house, which Sandra and I have to ourselves until late morning Friday, when we depart for greater Gettysburg.  Saw the small desk at which Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn.  I’m now sitting at his table in the kitchen.  Heading out soon to meet Joe Lemak to visit Twain’s octagonal study, moved from behind this house to the grounds of Elmira College.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023.  9:10 a.m. 50 and cloudy, going to 74. 

Sitting in the upstairs study, lined with books by and about Twain.  Going to work here this morning, then head downtown to walk along the Chemung River.  Full day yesterday.  Left here shortly after 10 a.m. and parked behind Cowles Hall at Elmira College.  Glorious, clear, bright autumn day, the maples on the campus in full flush.  Walked around and looked at statues of Livy and Twain, the fountains, the buildings, and then met Joe Lemak at Twain’s octagonal study, which he opened for us. 

Then into Cowles Hall, where Joe left us to read through the small but excellent exhibit there.  Especially moving was the account of Twain’s granddaughter, Nina Gabrilowitsch.  Sad, sad, sad.  From there we drove to Woodlawn Cemetery and spent quite a while at the Twain-Langdon plot.  On Livy’s stone: Gott sei bei dir gnädig, meine wonne.  God be merciful to you, my sweetheart.  Then we spent a long, long time finding both Mary Ann Cord, buried under the name Washington, and John T. Lewis.  They lie in adjacent sections, M and N, about a hundred yards apart.  Also, looked across at the National Cemetery but did not go into it.  From there to Upstate Brewing Company, 3028 Lake Road, where we sat outdoors and ate good fare from a Mexican food truck.  Then back here for a long, slow evening of reading the day’s work aloud on the western porch as the sun set and, after dinner, the moon rose.  (Hunter’s Moon will be full on October 28; Saturn near it.)  Walked all around the perimeter of the property.  View of the house from the bottom of the southern lawn especially fine, as it’s now flanked by bright scarlet firebushes.

When I saw Joe Lemak yesterday, I asked him the question I’ve been turning over for a while: Why did Twain say nothing in writing about the Elmira Prison Camp, Camp Rathburn, or the National Cemetery, established in 1877?  Joe said good question; he didn’t know.  The hush is a bit uncanny.  Somebody who had something to say, informed or not, on almost any topic stayed mum on this one. 

Did Jervis Langdon’s business operations connect him with the building of Camp Rathburn and the subsequent transportation of prisoners there?

Congregationalist minister Thomas K. Beecher, a friend of Twain’s, led religious services for Confederate prisoners at Camp Rathburn.  Didn’t he ever talk with Twain about his experiences?

Then there’s John W. Jones, whom Twain apparently met.  Jones had the job of burying Confederate dead.

What happened to the Confederate dead between burial by John W. Jones and the opening of the National Cemetery?

Mark Twain is to the Civil War as I am to Vietnam.  Each of us missed his respective war.  His near-miss came at the beginning of his war, mine at the end.  His came about through his own choice and doing, mine came about because of the date of my birth.  But what we share is that each of us missed a war.

From chapter 2 of Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa:

“It was very hot climbing back up the sandy ravine and I was glad to lean my back against the tree trunk and read in Tolstoy’s Sevastopol. It was a very young book and had one fine description of fighting in it, where the French take the redoubt, and I thought about Tolstoy and about what a great advantage an experience of war was to a writer. It was one of the major subjects and certainly one of the hardest to write truly of, and those writers who had not seen it were always very jealous and tried to make it seem unimportant, or abnormal, or a disease as a subject, while, really, it was just something quite irreplaceable that they had missed.”

Neither Twain nor I would say that the respective war was unimportant or a disease as a subject.  Each of us had or has a fascination with the respective war.

But why was Twain silent on a part of the war so close to where he worked and lived?

Did he think it unimportant?

Did he think it uncomfortable because of his father-in-law’s war-profiteering or because of his own evaded service?

Meant to say: in Harrisburg, the night of October 21, I dreamt that I was hosting Twain and Dickens at the same dinner table, calling them the two greatest writers of the nineteenth century.  Dickens was being a little difficult.  Seems he wanted something that hadn’t been served.  Pickles, I think.

Thursday, October 26, 2023. 8:25 a.m.  49 degrees and fair; going to 77 today.

After writing time yesterday morning, I hiked solo up the trail behind Quarry Farm along the East Hill ridge toward the first radio tower.  Saw a lone chimney in the woods along the way.  Left the farm about 11 a.m. with Sandra and drove to Pirozollo Park to walk the Riverfront Levee Trail east along the Chemung River.  Beautiful fall foliage reflected in the still water.  Saw an eagle across the water in a tree and then heard it chittering back and forth with its mate, which we didn’t see at first.  Eventually the eagle we saw on the outbound trip lifted up and sailed off.  On the return trip we saw the white head of its mate poking up from an evergreen.  Four birders we passed were all out looking for a limpkin that had been reported.  Neither of us had ever heard of a limpkin.

From the riverfront we drove to the site of Camp Rathburn on Winsor Ave.  Read the sign and the monument and looked at the reconstructed barracks building.  Also found one of the two stones marking the camp boundary in the front yard of 641 Water Street.  The other is in 811 water street.

Back to the farm for rest hour, followed by preparation for giving my talk in the Barn.  “Mark Twain and the Civil War Memoir Boom.” 

Quarry Farm – October 2023 ((Photo Courtesy of Sandra Bain Cushman)

Friday, October 27, 2023. 7:30 a.m.  49 degrees and fair.  Going to 79 in Elmira.

Packing up now for 11 a.m. departure.  Yesterday worked here in the morning, then took the East Hill ridge walk to the radio tower field.  Back to pick up Sandra and then to the National Cemetery, where we spent some time on a warm fall day, reading signs and walking among the graves.  Found several USCT graves.  Apparently, there are ten such graves but only four are those of Black soldiers, the others misidentified.  The two men at the National Cemetery were very helpful, the first of many helpful people during the day.  We also stopped briefly at the John W. Jones House and Museum across the street, but it was closed.  Then back to Quarry Farm for lunch.

About 3 p.m. I headed back downtown by myself to meet Franc Laux at the Chemung Country Historical Museum, 415 East Water Street.  By the time I emerged about 4:30 p.m., I had received help, either by phone or in person, from Franc, Jim Hare, Terri Olszowy, and Rachel Smith (archivist at the museum), all of them with suggestions or thoughts about Twain and the prison camp.

Epilogue: We went to Quarry Farm for a talk in the “Trouble Begins” series, and we came away with several new friends and a fresh research project, having logged many productive hours reading, writing, and touring Elmira.  If anyone reads this testimonial and has ideas or suggestions about Twain and the Elmira Prison Camp, I would be grateful to hear them. (Email address: [email protected].)  Sandra is rereading Huckleberry Finn.  When I returned home, I reread Connecticut Yankee, which turned out to be much timelier and more topical than I had remembered to expect.  Our warm and continuing thanks to Joe, Steve, and all those named above.