Wherever the Twain Shall Meet
Mark Twain Library, Redding
What a life this Mark Twain guy had, huh? Being a Connecticut resident, it’s hard for me to assume which former home of his most people associate with the legendary author, traveler, critic, and raconteur but I’ve always felt it’s his childhood home of Hannibal, Missouri.
Am I crazy? Do random people in, say, New Mexico associate TWain’s beloved Hartford house with him more? I have no idea.
I do know that not many people outside of Redding, Connecticut associate him with Redding too much. But Redding was where he died in 1910, in his house he called Stormfield.
Stormfield itself is long gone, but another Twain building still stands in Redding: The Mark Twain Library. Damian and I visited on one of our random day trips to to random CTMQ-driven things around the state. This little library has cool sculptures, an awesome annual fundraiser/festival, and a fascinating history.
The Mark Twain Library was founded in 1908, two years before the author’s death. And it truly was Mark Twain’s library, not a library named after the man – it is one-of-a-kind. And, from what I gather, it was borne (mostly) out of kindness and charity, despite Twain’s precarious financial situation at the end of his life.
Mark Twain left his house in Hartford in 1891 when he essentially went bankrupt after investing heavily in promising technology that ultimately failed. He and his family traveled throughout Europe, where he raised money lecturing and lived more cheaply. He never returned to live in Hartford after his 24-year-old daughter Susy died because he said he couldn’t bear to live amongst all the reminders of her.
In addition to his financial difficulties and Suzy’s death, Twain’s last decade was filled with sadness and depression as many of his close friends and other relatives died. As Twain reached his seventies he began to reflect more on his life and the need to document it. He chose a Redding resident, Albert Bigelow Paine, to write his biography. Paine had a significant impact on Twain’s final years. In 1906, on Paine’s recommendation, Twain purchased a total of 240 acres in Redding, and arranged to have an Italianate Villa built and named it Stormfield. Twain had made a good amount of money in Europe and had even paid back his creditors – something he didn’t need to do after his bankruptcy filing.
In June 1908, Twain moved to his new home, where he lived until he died in 1910. (Side note: the house was called Stormfield because the proceeds from the writer’s book Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven, which I’ve never even heard of, helped finance it.) His daughter Jean loved the new house, as there was a little farm and farmhouse with animals that came with it.
Within five months of moving to Redding, Twain joined with his new neighbors to form the Mark Twain Library Association, which still governs the library to this day. The first iteration filled a little unused chapel nearby and held books donated by the writer and his many friends. Could you imagine how cool that must have been to the locals?
But Twain knew he needed a real library building which meant he needed real money and real land. The land was handled in typical Twain fashion: he announced that a local farmer, Theodore Adams, would donate the land for the Mark Twain Library. Theodore Adams hadn’t actually agreed to donate the land yet, but after Twain’s pronouncement, what could he do?
Twain’s daughter Clara, an opera singer, held fund-raising concerts. Twain would invite his friends to Stormfield and then charge them to get their hats and coats back upon leaving. He was really into this library – as if he wasn’t going leave enough of a legacy!
He was having fun raising library money, but it was a tragedy that provided the final funds needed to complete the building project. On Christmas Eve, 1909, Twain’s daughter Jean died suddenly. Twain sold the land her little farm was on and the $6,000 proceeds from this sale was directed to the erection of the Jean L. Clemens Memorial Building – the original Mark Twain Library.
unfortunately, Twain never saw the completion of the new library building, as he died in 1910. His daughter Clara donated several thousand more books from the family library after he died and the new libary opened with some fanfare. It served Redding for 60 years and today’s Mark Twain Library still retains the original building after many expansions and renovations.
The original 200 books Twain donated are still retained here; many with scribbled over with comments, praise, criticism and corrections written by Twain himself. He even hated some of the books he donated. Twain mocked a book called Saratoga 1901 by Melville Landon. Calling it ‘The Droolings of an Idiot,’ he noted the stolen jokes throughout and on page 104 wrote, “Hear this humbug, this sham, deliver himself.”
I love Twain. In the margins of another book still retained by the library, Twain carried on a running debate with a woman named Mary Somerville throughout her memoirs. On page 125, the author described how she smuggled some antiquities out of Pompeii. Twain wrote, “Evidently Mrs. S. thinks there are kinds of immorality which are not immoral.”
He even corrected some grammar in Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson books. He criticizes an author for writing, “A long procession of angelic beings move in procession” by noting sarcastically, “of course a procession moves in procession.” (This reminds me Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” song that drives my wife crazy:
You must not know ’bout me
You must not know ’bout me
I could have another you in a minute
Matter of fact, he’ll be here in a minute
That song is a banger, but man does Hoang hate this rhyming a word with the same word.
Just as Twain himself “had fun” raising money to build the library, something called the Pudd’nhead Prize is awarded annually these days. (And this time, I’m not only aware of Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, I’ve read it!) The Pudd’nhead Festival was founded in 2014 through collaboration between the library and actor-comedian author Michael Ian Black – a (now former) Redding resident. Basically, famous funny people gather and non-famous wealthy people would pay a lot of money to have dinner with them. The point, of course, is to raise money for the library’s operations.
Some past winners include Ben Stiller, Jim Gaffigan, Seth Meyers, Paul Rudd , Jon Hamm, Laura Linney and Samantha Bee. The winners get a giant spoon, one of which hangs on the library’s wall.
This little library hidden along the windy backroads of Redding is unique and worth a visit from any Twain and/or library fan – though I’d guess the Venn diagram of those groups is a nearly perfect circle. I don’t know if they allow regular schlubs like us to view any of Twain’s original donations, but maybe? I didn’t ask.
Information and words above from the New England Historical Society’s and the library’s websites.