“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” – Mark Twain
When I was in fourth grade we were given a biography assignment. We had to read a biography on some famous person from history and then give a presentation to the class while dressed up as that person. That was when I first learned that Mark Twain was just the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens—Sam as known to his family and friends. It is the way they continue to refer to one of the most famous—and beloved—writers in American history at his family home in Hartford, Connecticut.
The tour guides of the Mark Twain House and Museum are very adamant in distinguishing between the man and the pseudonym, emphasizing that it was the Clemens’ home, not just where the man who called himself Mark Twain lived. Surprisingly lavish in style and size, the house was built and decorated using money his wife, Olivia “Livy” Langdon Clemens, inherited. They moved into the property a few years into their marriage and shortly after the death of their only son and firstborn child, Langdon, at a year and a half old. The guides also emphasize the distinction between the Hartford house and the family’s summer home in Elmira, New York home—Mark Twain wrote and published seven novels while the family lived in the Hartford house; while the majority of the writing was done in Elmira, they’re confident that the majority of the ideas and planning for the books—which include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Prince and the Pauper—was done at the home in Hartford.
The grandeur of the house is surprising for many—or at least it was for me. Despite the little bits about his life that I retained from that fourth grade presentation and absorbed in a few college classes where we studied Twain’s works, I didn’t quite understand just how wealthy the family was—or that most all of it came from his wife and her family. The family was unfortunately forced to leave—believing they would return in time—following money issues. Tragedy struck when one of the Clemens’ three daughters, Susy, returned to the home to prepare for reinhabiting it, only to fall ill and die in the home. The rest of the family couldn’t bring themselves to live there again and sold the home.
The house and accompanying museum celebrate the life and legacy of Twain while working simultaneously to preserve and restore it. They’re currently collecting donations in an effort to complete restoration on the “Mahogany Room.” The interior furnishings of the house are a combination of pieces from the Clemenses and recreations based on photographs of the family at their home—including the gorgeous bookcases in the library. Some of these efforts are supported through the fees to take the tour or to explore the galleries in the museum. It is nearly $20 for the tour of the house, $6 for entrance to the galleries. There is a café in the museum but the food is on the expensive side. Given the house’s proximity to the Hartford home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the two houses do have a deal by which you can gain admission to the Stowe house at a reduced rate of $7. There is no photography (or touching) allowed within the house or the museum’s galleries (so I don’t have many photos from this particular trip).