Friday, June 27, 2008

Mark Twain House

Today I decided to pay a visit to the Mark Twain House. I had heard a few weeks back that the foundation that maintains the house and its museum was running out of money, so I decided that I should visit before it possibly closed for good. Then yesterday, a friend told me that Governor Rell allocated $50,000 to the Mark Twain Foundation, assuring its continued operation for the time being.

Today, like yesterday, was a crappy day weather-wise on the eastern seaboard: overcast, humid, but not too hot. A perfect day for a museum visit.

I arrived in time for the 12:30 tour. I hadn't visited the Mark Twain House since I was in the second grade, and wasn't sure how much I would remember.

It turns out the only things I remembered were the exterior of the house, as well as the staircases. As a kid I thought they were so huge and twisty. That's the kid's perspective for you there.

I couldn't decide which pictures of the house itself I should use, so here are the best ones I took:

Museum rules prohibit any picture-taking inside the house. However, you can find pictures of the rooms and halls here, and take an interactive tour. The rooms are quite decadent and lovely, with hand stenciled designs all over the walls, and each room having a different theme. All of the rooms have been carefully restored with pieces of furniture that Mark Twain owned himself, and in the case that they couldn't find Twain's own furniture, they examined receipts, journal entries, and other primary sources to track down period pieces that he would have owned. For example, all of the books in the library were the editions that Twain would have owned, but they weren't his.

Additionally, some of the rooms were very dark, such as the main hall, library, and dining room. There was all sorts of dark wood carvings, dark wood beams on the ceiling, and dark furniture. The drawing room was a notable exception, with its pink carpeting, pink velvet upholstered furniture, and pink wall treatments.

We had an excellent tour guide. He never refered to Mark Twain as Mark Twain, but as his given name, Sam Clemens. He lovingly described the relationship among Sam and his three daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean, and how the girls would all play games and tell stories with their father. He led us to their nursery and school room, where the three girls were educated by their mother, Livy, their governess, and other private tutors. They were educated in such subjects as French, Italian, German, Latin, and sciences. Susy even attended college for a year, a rare thing for a woman of her era to do.

Even though we couldn't take pictures in the house, there were no rules prohibiting picture taking in other parts of the museum. I was able to capture the following images at other exhibits:

The top of Sam's writing desk, with copies of pages from the New York Herald.

Silver cups and plates that belonged to two of the children.

Tiles from the estate of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who helped Clemens decorate the house.

Jewelry that once belonged to Livy Clemens, Sam's wife.

This display of "kitty caboodle" was in the gift shop. Sam Clemens loved cats. Since I am the Bookkitten, I couldn't resist.

And here's the other half of the display:

All in all, it was a very enjoyable visit. You don't have to be a fan of Mark Twain's books, or be that familiar with his works, to appreciate the Mark Twain House. It's really interesting to see such a vibrant example of period architecture. Not only that, it's great to know that one of America's most classic authors once lived in my home state.

Not only that, Harriet Beecher Stowe's house is next door to Mark Twain's. I didn't get a chance to visit her residence, but if there's another crappy weather day like there was today, I'm there!

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