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The following review appeared 7 February 2020 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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Can anyone honestly say they have stood for a moment at a historic site and not imagined the past coming alive? This blending of time and place, past with the present, may be a uniquely human strength, or perhaps a childish weakness. But it is human, and few of us could stand below the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and not hear the echo of Martin Luther King's immortal aspiration, or walk in the pastoral greenery of Gettysburg and not think the quietude ironic, or stand in any Nazi death camp and not be stricken with anger and grief.
Shakespeare said the past is prologue; Faulkner said the past is not only not dead--that it's not even past; and, Mark Twain wrote in one of his letters that the one thing we must remember about the past is that we can't restore it. But none of this wisdom ever discouraged a Twainian, and when a Twainian finds himself in a place where Twain once breathed the air, time and place begin to blur and the present recedes as the tidal past rolls in.
Twainians are not alone: This has long been true for all readers who find themselves at literary shrines, as evidenced by the dozens of books about such shrines that have found eager buyers for more than a century, beginning with several during Twain's lifetime, including Charles F. Briggs's Homes of American Authors (1853), J. L. and Joseph Gilder's Authors at Home (1888), and Theodore Wolfe's Literary Shrines: Some Haunts of Famous American Authors (1895), Literary Homes and Haunts (1899), and Literary Rambles at Home and Abroad (1901). Twain's homes were included in the Gilder and Wolfe volumes, and the Langdon family library included a copy of the Briggs book that may have caught Twain's eye.
The literature about literary shrines grew during the twentieth century, and a glance through the bibliographies and indices of more recent books like Ehrlich and Carruth's The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States (1982), John Eastman's Who Lived Where (1983), Geri and Eben Bass's U. S. Guide to Literary Landmarks (1984), Irvin Haas's Historic Homes of American Authors (1991), and Francesca Premoli-Droulers's Writers' Houses (1995), gives a hint of the extensive literature on the subject.
Twain is included in virtually every such guide, with the focus nearly always on his grand Hartford home or his humble boyhood home in Hannibal. The other places where he lived are sometimes mentioned, but the places where significant events in his life took place are usually ignored or overlooked. Hilary Irish Lowe's candid assessment of Twain's major homes, Mark Twain's Homes and Literary Tourism (2012), was a welcome and much-needed addition to this literature, focusing on Florida and Hannibal, Missouri, Hartford, and Quarry Farm. Steve Courtney's "The Loveliest Home That Ever Was": The Story of the Mark Twain House in Hartford (2011) is a model for such guides focusing on a single location.
The newest addition to this shelf is Laura DeMarco with Mark Twain's America, Then and Now, a delightful travelogue of Twain's American meanderings. Sixty-eight places are pictorially documented, then and now, with nearly 200 old and new images, drawings, and photographs, many in color. As the title of this book makes clear, this tour of Twain's haunts and homes is American, and no attempt is made to capture every single spot of ground where Twain spent his time. There are a few minor omissions--the home of the Gilders were Twain stayed after his wife's death, the home of Laurence Hutton where he spent time with some fellow authors, or the homes of friends like Henry Rogers or William Dean Howells where his visits were usually brief. Some Twainians might wish that the Hooker home where Twain and Livy stayed in Hartford while their mansion was being built (and where their son Langdon died) could have been included; it still stands, subdivided into apartments, just a short stroll down the street from the Hartford Memorial. Also not included, but still standing, is Orion's home in Carson City, Nevada (it's now a law office). Orion's last home in Keokuk, where Jane Clemens lived out her last years, also still stands. Other places that were not included have changed completely, like the grassy street corner in Keokuk where the Ivins House survived until the 1950s when it was razed to make room for nearby public housing; Twain gave his first public speech to a group of printers there. Also omitted is the block where the magnificent Lick House hotel stood in San Francisco before it was levelled in the 1906 earthquake, where Twain sometimes stayed, and once hosted a dinner. But the Occidental Hotel, where he also stayed, is included. It too was destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake, but not before its bar was credited with being the place where the martini was created.
Thinking of this very readable and reliable book as a sort of virtual Mark Twain vacation, it is important to remember that no vacation can include a stop at every possible place of interest. Time, space, and budget intrude. Therefore, calling these absent locations omissions is too strong a word; they are noted here merely for the benefit of Twainians who might have time to seek them out if they find themselves in those locales. More concerning, but still not a major objection, are two colorized images in the book that might unintentionally mislead. Frederick Waddy's famous 1872 cartoon of Twain riding a jumping frog has been attractively colorized at page 57; the original cartoon was not in color. A photograph of Twain at page 142 has also been colorized and shows him with dark eyes and a clean white mustache that matches his snowy white hair. A genuine color photograph of Twain taken in December 1908 shows that his eyes were quite blue, and his mustache was heavily stained yellow from his habit of smoking cigars; these details about his appearance have also been confirmed by reliable eye-witnesses. The colorizing process is easier than ever these days, and for that reason it is tempting, but it can innocently distort the historical record.
These quibbles duly noted, they should cause no reader to hesitate embarking on this beckoning itinerary that traces Twain's journey through life. The roster of the places included is impressive, and DeMarco begins at the beginning, in Florida, Missouri with the "birthplace" cabin. Next comes Hannibal, with an 1869 color birds-eye view lithograph that shows steamboats steaming along the Mississippi River as the white town drowses. On the opposite page is a recent aerial color photograph that shows a town that has not substantially expanded its boundaries. This general layout is followed throughout the book. Next come scenes, then and now, from New York (where young Sam Clemens set type in 1852), Philadelphia (where he set type in 1853), and Washington, D. C. (where he first visited in 1854 and would return more than once). Locations in Keokuk, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Memphis bring the reader up to the Civil War, and then follow Sam Clemens's journey west to Nevada, stopping at the Pony Express station in Hollenberg, Kansas along the way, and then Salt Lake City, before reaching the stage depot in Carson City, Nevada. All are pictured, then and now, and DeMarco's brisk and informed narrative carries the reader right along.
Twain's pictorial life continues to unfold with haunting images of ghost-towns in Nevada, striking street scenes in San Francisco, and scenes from Hawaii and New York City revealing that little evidence survives from Twain's Hawaiian days, but more survives than one would expect in New York City, including the Cooper Institute where Twain and Lincoln both spoke (now the Cooper Union, where President Obama spoke) and the Plymouth Congregational Church, which still serves local parishioners. In Elmira, Quarry Farm and the opera house survive, as most Twainians know, but the lovely grounds of the stately Langdon mansion, where Twain and Livy were married and where their funeral services were held, are now occupied by a strip center that carries the Langdon family name. In Boston, the famous Old Corner Bookstore, where Twain first met Howells, has survived, thanks to the Boston Globe using it as a subscription office for many years; it's now a Chipolte Mexican Grill, but retains its original appearance.
Twain and Livy's first home in Buffalo was razed in 1963, but the carriage house survived, for some years as an eatery, now as apartments. DeMarco's tour, while American, is not strictly American. The Langham Hotel in London puts in an appearance, reflecting Twain's first visits to England in 1872 and 1873. Vicksburg, Mississippi and Minneapolis, Minnesota are featured, documenting Twain's 1882 trip on the Mississippi River to gather information and evoke memories. New York City appears again, this time with the building that headquartered Standard Oil, where Twain visited Henry Rogers at his office, as well as the Players Club at Grammercy Park, and the building on West 10th Street where Twain and his family lived after their return to America in 1900--later subdivided into apartments where Joel Steinberg would gruesomely murder his illegally adopted six year old daughter Lisa in 1987. On a happier note, Wave Hill (Twain's home, known as Riverdale) still stands, somewhat expanded in size, but still surrounded by beautiful grounds. Like other places associated with Twain, his home on Fifth Avenue survived into the 1950s before being torn down, and the block is unrecognizable today. The Brevoort Hotel in that same block, where Twain spent a lot of time, was also razed in the 1950s, and on that block now stands the Brevoort Apartments, where Buddy Holly once lived. The tour nears its end about an hour or so by rail out of New York City, at Twain's last home, Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut, which burned in the 1920s and was replaced with a similar home in the 1930s that stands today on grounds that have shrunken from the original acreage Twain enjoyed the last two years of his life.
Laura DeMarco's lavishly illustrated travelogue traces the entire
arc of Mark Twain's busy life and constant movements. She tracks down every
place where Twain paused long enough to raise his family in the city, write,
give an after-dinner speech, drink, write some more, deliver a lecture, hide
out from the authorities, write some more, raise his family in the country,
have another drink, try his hand at mining, write some more, set type, watch
a football game, or simply be born, or die. Unlike this reviewer, DeMarco
presents these places in chronological order, and she accurately describes
the relevant details from Twain's life that attach to each place, and provides
unexpected and interesting details about those places. The journey concludes
with a handy index. Although too big to fit in a pocket, this book will serve
vacationing Twainians just as the venerable Baedeker travel guides served
Twain's generation, so get some bigger pockets. For those who cannot visit
every place Twain visited, this book is the next best thing--a fun and informative
way to feel the past and present converge.