Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mark Twain in Elmira

Yesterday was Mark Twain's 175th birthday. In celebration, NPR did a story about the place in Elmira, New York, where he wrote all of his novels. It was a small, free-standing, octagonal study built for him by his sister-in-law on her farm, overlooking a scenic river. He spent every summer there for 20 years, writing from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. each day, smoking cigars and communing with the cats that wandered in and out.

Brown Victorian gazebo on green grass with autumn leaves
Travel writer Catherine Watson also recently wrote about Twain and her visit to Elmira on She took this picture of Twain's study, which is now located on the campus of Elmira College.

I spent 18 years of my life (from age 4 to 22) less than an hour from Elmira, but never knew about the Twain connection until I was in at least high school, maybe college. And then I only had the vague idea that he had spent summers there -- never the fact that he wrote his most important works there.

I still haven't visited Elmira's Twain sites. No field trips, no family outings, no day trips while visiting my folks over the last few decades. Until today, I wasn't aware of his study, the farm, or his and his family's graves, so if you'd asked me about it, I would have said Elmira's claim on Twain was an example of small town boosterism. That Elmira was grasping for a central place that didn't compare with Twain's obvious connections to Hannibal, Missouri, and the Mississippi River generally.

Why is it that I didn't see or value something like this that was close by when I was young? Is just part of being young and lacking perspective, or does it extend beyond youth?

And I wonder, what am I not seeing about the place I live now?

After note: Elmira has had a full year of Mark Twain celebrations in 2010, including performances by Hal Holbrook, a Huck Finn model raft race, numerous scholarly lectures on Twain topics, and the grand opening of the Mark Twin Mini Golf Course. Most notable of all was the reenactment of Twain's burial at Woodlawn Cemetery. (The first 75 "mourners" to arrive received a Twain 2010 commemorative black umbrella.)

1 comment:

Carmella said...

What an adorable little house! I think I would be a very prolific writer in such a place ... except for the cats wandering in part...that would be distracting.