Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Diphtheria Killed Langdon, Mark Twain’s Baby Son

By Jahyra White

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     When Mark Twain’s baby son died of diphtheria, he blamed himself.

At 19 months, Langdon Clemens was in carriage, riding with his parents in 1872.

“The blanket that was covering Langdon fell away,” said Mark Twain House & Museum Chief Curator Patti Philippon, and the author took responsibility. “He really took it upon himself.”

The boy, who was born premature on Nov. 7, 1870,  had always been sickly. He caught diphtheria and died.

langdon_clemens

Langdon Clemens

But Dr. Dr. K. Patrick Ober, an endocrinologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who has studied Langdon’s death, said Twain wasn’t to blame.

The boy died of diphtheria but his father didn’t cause it, Ober said. If Langdon was living today, Ober said, he wouldn’t ever have had diphtheria.

Dr. Leonard Banco, a pediatrician and chief medical officer at Bristol Hospital, said that children today get four shots to prevent diphtheria by the age of 18 months.

“It would have been totally different,” said Banco, if Langdon had been born today.

Banco said diphtheria is caused by a bacteria and is spread person to person. He said it used to be very common, especially in small children and starts like a severe sore throat.

A yellow membrane develops in the thoat, Banco said, that cuts off the airway. Eventually the child suffocates, he said.

There wasn’t anything parents or doctors could do to stop it.

“There were big epidemics of it,” said Banco. “Parents used to worry about that a lot.”

A vaccine was developed and immunizations began in the 1940s, Banco said, and today, the vaccine is key to preventing diphtheria around the world.

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Clemens Girls Learned Many Languages

By  Indira Senderovic

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     Mark Twain’s three daughters grew up learning foreign languages, mostly at home.

Suzy, Clara and Jean Clemens all were homeschooled in the family’s Farmington Avenue mansion in Hartford, according to Mark Twain House & Museum tour guide Grace Belanger.

Their mother, Olivia Langdon Clemens, was an educated woman, having attended a women’s college in Elmira, New York, so she handled some of the lessons for her daughters.

They also had tutors and others who provided instruction.

Just like her father the famous author, Susy was a talented writer.

At the young age of 13, she secretly wrote a biography of her father that he published when he found out about it.

Clara, an accomplished musician, was only two years younger than Susy.

All the Clemens girls’ early years included a full social life‚ home schooling in language and music‚ and traveling.

The youngest daughter was Jean, who was born in 1880. Though she was also homeschooled, Jean took some classes in France. Jean was like her mother, kind-hearted and fond of animals.

According to Belanger, one of the family’s household staff was a German woman who spoke with the girls only in native language. She said this sometimes frustrated the girls.

German was one of four languages the Clemens girls learned. They also studied Latin, Italian and English.

Karen Demonte, who teaches Italian at Wethersfield High School, said it is hard to be motivated to learn a new language.

“Learning a new language can be frustrating, but if you keep trying you will succeed for sure,” she said.

Much like the German woman on the Twain household staff, Demonte doesn’t talk to anyone in English. In the classroom, it’s strictly Italian

“That’s what helped a lot of students pick up the language faster,” Demonte said.

Demonte said she believes that the Clemens were right to have their children learn multiple languages.

Mark Twain Sketch

Twain Sketch, Alan Burkholder

Mark Twain sketch by Alan Burkholder, Writing Apprentice

Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain

By Meaghan Szilagyi

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Who was Mark Twain? A novelist? A newspaper reporter? A famous author? A popular speaker?

Mark Twain was a “persona” in the eyes of Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum. He was a mask that was worn by a man named Samuel Clemens.

Samuel Clemens was a real person: family man, father, son, husband.

Philippon said that Clemens’ daughters disliked Mark Twain. The world saw their father as the humorist he presented himself to be, when he was really so much more than that. He was caring and loving. Clemens would do anything for his family but when people saw Mark Twain, they didn’t see the family man he truly was.

Sam made mistakes. Any real person makes mistakes. A few times, before his years as a husband, Clemens spent a few nights in jail for disruptive behavior and disorderly conduct, according to a Ken Burns documentary about Twain.

Clemens grew up as a rowdy young fellow and had no trouble seeking out adventure. He had many memories of his childhood friends that he later used in his stories.

Samuel Clemens traveled the world during Mark Twain’s great lectures. Samuel Clemens fell in love with and married Olivia Langdon. And Samuel Clemens became the mastermind behind Mark Twain.

While leading a tour of the Mark Twain House, Grace Belanger, assistant manager of visitor services at the museum, said that when the Clemens’ had guests over, Mark Twain was present.

Samuel Clemens treated Mark Twain as his job, nothing more.

Mark Twain was a one-dimensional character. Sure, you could go to the theater and watch him in 3D but it wouldn’t really be him, would it?

Twain presented himself as a humorist – that much is clear.

Twain House publicist Steve Courtney even goes as far to call him a “stand-up comedian.” But was he anything more than that?

Could Samuel Clemens have had multiple personality disorder?

Philippon and Courtney think not. Since it was common for people to have pen names in the Gilded Age, they believe that Clemens was a person with a pen name and that’s it.

So who was Mark Twain, really?

Now that he is long gone, I guess we’ll never know the real story. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? Mystery adds intrigue and who was Mark Twain, if not a man of mystery?

The Life of Labor in Hartford

By Molly Miller

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Although Mark Twain’s neighbors in Nook Farm may have represented the late 19th century Hartford aristocracy, many of them, especially former abolitionists, supported workers’ rights.

Opposition came from captains of industry, said Hartford labor historian and former union organizer Steve Thornton. In Hartford, this meant people like Albert Pope of the Pope Manufacturing Company.

In a speech given at his Monday Evening Club, Twain called the Knights of Labor “The New Dynasty.” The Knights had more than 30 people elected to the state legislature to represent the workers’ interests, said Thornton, including safety and child labor laws. They encouraged everyone to join, and were certainly powerful, but they had    no legal protection.

Workers didn’t have the right to organize into unions until 1935, and workers who would try to organize were often fired, blacklisted, or jailed for conspiracy.

In 1883, telegraph operators in the Hartford branch of the Western Union Company participated in a nationwide strike, according to Thornton.

Operators worked for 12 to 16 hours at a time. They pushed for an eight-hour day, overtime pay on Sundays, a raise to compensate for the increasing hours and profits, and equal pay for both genders.

The telegraph operators’ strike lasted for about a month, and yielded no results for the Western Union workers. Most strikers were fired, and those who weren’t were forced to sign “yellow dog contracts,” Thornton said, which prohibited them from joining a union.

According to Thornton, many workers’ issues stemmed from the transfer from farms to factories after the Civil War.

“People weren’t working for themselves anymore,” said Thornton.

Workers would commonly fight for better working hours.

“That was something everyone could fight for,” said Thornton. The slogan, Thornton said, was “eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for what we will.”

The business mantra at the time was “make more stuff more cheaply,” said Andrew Walsh, who is associate director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College. The health and living conditions of the workers weren’t taken into consideration.

“They wanted to take advantage of mechanization,” said Walsh. “They wanted less skilled work.”

If the Paige Compositor – an invention Twain poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into – had been successful, Twain would have helped management take as much skill as possible out of the printing process.

The biggest issue facing workers, in Thornton’s view, is the right for unions to exist. This is somewhat similar to the concern that faced workers while Mark Twain lived in Hartford.

“There’s this all-out assault on … unions,” said Thornton, referring to recent collisions between workers and legislators around the country. “The right to exist is the first big issue.”

With Detroit hoping to cut workers’ pensions in order to aid the city’s economic recovery, and fast food employees across the country striking for higher wages and the right to unionize, the issues facing workers today are somewhat similar to those workers faced in Twain’s day.

“The people who thought that unions should never have any benefits are now in power,” said Thornton, making retirement funds “an easy scapegoat.”

However, there are many who believe that unions just aren’t as pertinent in a world where workers already have the rights they need.

Wallace Barnes, former CEO and chairman of Barnes Group Inc. and former chairman of the Connecticut Employment and Training Commission, doesn’t deny the importance of unions in the late 19th and early 20th century.

“They were very, very necessary,” said Barnes. “There was an imbalance of power between workers and management.”

But Barnes doesn’t think they are as necessary today.

“There’s still some need,” Barnes said, “but the balance has shifted. Workers have recourse now through the law that they didn’t have then.”

As a lawyer, Barnes negotiated contracts with unions. Since workers can sue, he said, there’s less of a need for organized labor.

Barnes sees Detroit’s bankruptcy as “a wake up call to all cities that they’ve got to adequately fund these pension programs,” but he says that unions needn’t be involved.

Meet The Jakes of Twain Studios

Jakes on the Clemens porch

The Jakes, on the porch of The Mark Twain House, July 2013. From left: Indira Senderovic, Ashaya Nelson, June Tran, Nick Sherman, Meaghan Szilagyi, Molly Miller, Alan Burkholder, Cecilia Gigliotti, Rae Martin, Lina Allam, Ambriel Johnson, Grant Henry, Jahyra White

Editors’ note: The work published in August 2013 in a printed anthology that was not previously published on this blog follows in this and subsequent entries on the Twain Studios blog.

By Molly Miller and the Jakes

Writing Apprentices

Twain Studios

Five and a half weeks ago, we were just a bunch of crazy teens staring at blank Microsoft Word pages, unsure of what to say to each other, let alone to the world. But through our shared love of the written word, we quickly became best friends, dubbing ourselves the “Jakes” (short for J.K.s, which is short for Journalism Kids.)

The Jakes went on all kinds of wonderful adventures together, through haunted houses, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting recording studios, and the basement of the Immanuel Congregational Church. All of these places inspired our writing.

We honed our interrogation skills by hammering the governor of Bermuda, the world’s strongest librarian, and a photojournalist from Uganda with all the tough questions. We learned to avoid passive tense like the plague by listening to and meeting Stephen King. Journalists from The Hartford Courant and CT News Junkie told us what it was like to work professionally as writers, and taught us tips for acing interviews. We received expert advice on the art of writing resumes and managing money.

In no time, our blank Microsoft Word pages became saturated with our thoughts and research on everything from the mysterious allure of bad boys to Victorian fashion, from One Direction to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and we shared our work with the world through our blog, TwainStudios.com.

We now present an anthology of our finest works in this literary journal. We’d like to thank our teacher Jackie Majerus, who worked hard to put this booklet together, and everyone at The Mark Twain House who taught us about Mark Twain and let us use their space. We’d also like to thank the Greater Hartford Arts Council, and all of the sponsors who made this program possible. We hope you enjoy reading our work!

Writer Rae Martin, A Young Man of Many Words

Profile interview, Rae and Cecilia

Writing Apprentices Rae Martin, left, and Cecilia Gigliotti, in a peer profile interview.

By Cecilia Gigliotti

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Rae Martin isn’t your average 15-year-old.

I was shocked from the start to learn his age. The description that crossed my mind as I sat down with him is “mature beyond his years.”

He is precocious, well-read, and a realist. In telling me about his school – the Metropolitan Learning Center, a magnet school in Bloomfield – he termed his classmates “not my kind of people.”

But then, it seems, it’s tough to find people who are.

Martin is a writer – a serious writer, banging out one short story and several poems a week. While his subjects have thus far been based in reality, his newfound fascination with George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire has inspired him to write with a slightly fantastical slant.

He has never really been a fan of the obvious – the Harry Potter series – but he believes today’s consumers might find fantasy more attractive and “entertaining.”

His familial relationships contribute largely to his work. His parents are no longer together, and while his ties are closer to his maternal relatives than to his paternal, they have both played a pivotal role in his development.

Rae Martin 2013

Rae Martin

They taught him common sense, he says. Through their lessons and his own convictions, Martin has come to believe that “while [people] have sympathy for fellow man, what they do … is self-serving.”

He is not religious, but quite philosophical: he often marvels at the way some people float through life without pondering the “deeper things.”

Then again, he acknowledges, in a world of squalor and injustice, some people can’t afford the room in their day to sit and “marinate on the world” for even a few minutes.

Who has spurred him to do some marinating of his own? What literary figures drive this aspiring novelist forward?

“I take a lot of inspiration from Charles Bukowski,” said Martin. In the style of Bukowski – whose 1982 novel Ham on Rye is one of Martin’s favorites – Martin endeavors in his own writing to “keep it real, keep it raw.”

Martin has a creative attitude toward his craft.

“If a poem is a feeling, then a short story should be a scene,” he said. “And a novel should be a whole movie.”

Whatever activities Martin pursues, he always returns to writing.

“I tried very hard to be good at [sports],” he admitted, but those odds always seemed to be against him. Besides, the school is only a decade old: many of its teams are fledglings, and there is no newspaper or literary magazine. I asked him if he has considered starting one.

“Maybe for senior project,” he said.

Martin doesn’t mind all this – he plans to build a life for himself just writing books. He hopes to get a jump start on this path in a couple of years by attending a small liberal arts school – out-of-state would be ideal – but he won’t be surprised if financial conditions keep him in Connecticut.

In any case, wherever he winds up, I am convinced of his imminent success.

The world might just have another Charles Bukowski on its hands in the very near future.

Grant Henry’s ABCs: Anime, Breaking Bad, Clark University

Jakes at work on news story

The Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios worked together and on their own. For a story about the governor of Bermuda visiting the Mark Twain House & Museum, they collaborated. Grant Henry, seated in the center, typed as his colleagues chimed in with additions and changes. From left, Ambriel Johnson, Rae Martin, June Tran, Molly Miller, Nick Sherman, Meaghan Szilagyi and Ashaya Nelson.

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Hoping to spread his passion for Hayao Miyazaki, the visionary director of well-known animations such as Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky, Grant Henry spends his evenings online, scouring Facebook for a new person to chat up about anime.

This is one of his favorite pastimes, aside from working on his latest project, Breaking Bad the Musical … soon to be on Broadway.

Grant reading at showcase

Grant Henry reads from his work at the Twain Studios Showcase.

“I’ll show people things,” Henry said, when asked how he shares his love for animation. “If they’re looking for a good movie, I’ll send a clip to someone.”

Henry’s strong passion for animation comes from someone very dear to his heart, his grandfather, Paul Kelley.

His grandfather used to give him copies of Herge’s Tintin.

“We would get together and discuss the art,” Henry said, his fondness for his grandfather readily apparent.

Henry’s favorite movie is Akira, an anime film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.

“It’s one of my recent favorites,” said Henry. “It’s about this teenage biker gang. One of the boys gets mixed up in government experiments and gains extraordinary powers.”

He speaks excitedly about his favorite film, as if it were better than the comic it is based on.

“I’m also a big fan of comics. They go hand-in-hand with animation,” he said, following up his statement on the film Akira.

His enjoyment of animation is obvious, as is the influence it’s had on his life.

When asked about his all-time favorite comic, Henry talked enthusiastically about a French one called The Rabbi’s Cat.

“This is a really fun one,” he said with a smile. “It’s about a jealous cat that eats a talking parrot so that he can communicate with his owner, The Rabbi. They have discussions about religion.”

Henry, 18, is a philosophical person, always looking for a metaphor.

This recent Watkinson graduate,  now a freshman at Clark University, said his grandfather helped shape him into the anime lover he is today.

“Animation is under appreciated,” said Henry. “It’s a very challenging and time-consuming process.  People don’t consider this.”

One of the many reasons why Henry tries to spread his appreciation for animation online is because not many people do.

But what about that Breaking Bad musical?

Begun recently, the project is a rap musical he has entitled Breaking Bad the Musical.

“It started as a conceptual joke, and then got serious,” said Henry, who said he loves the television show because it is so suspenseful.

“I thought it would be very fun to write a musical on it. Embarrassingly enough I found out I couldn’t write music, so I decided to make it a rap musical.”

Henry is also currently working on his own graphic novel.

Don’t forget to keep a lookout for this aspiring artist’s many projects, coming to theaters and bookstores near you soon.

Oh, and be sure to check out a few films by the director Miyazaki, too.

Molly Miller: Journalist, Actor, Singer, and New UConn Student

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Molly Miller, center, spent her summer as a Writing Apprentice at Twain Studios. Behind Miller are, from left, Ambriel Johnson, Lina Allam and Rae Martin. Photo courtesy of the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

By Ashaya Nelson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Molly Miller, a new freshman at UConn this fall, was still deciding over the summer what to study other than journalism.

Does she want to also study environmental science or history?

Miller has been interested in history since a young age.  She was “weirdly obsessed” with World War II and Hitler, and her dream is to become a writer for a magazine or newspaper.

Senior year of high school Miller wrote for her school’s newspaper. It was stressful being in charge of the newspaper, but she continues to be determined to write for a major magazine in the future.

When Miller isn’t writing, she’s singing. But you won’t catch her singing solo.

“Hate singing alone,” said Miller.

She isn’t as shy as she used to be.

Last year, she worked at a theatrical camp for children, where a 12- year-old girl motivated her. The girl was shy at the beginning of the camp, but became confident.

Asked if she helped the girl gain self-confidence, Miller said, “She helped me.”

When in the cast of Annie, the adults involved also helped Miller come out of her shell. When she needed someone to talk to, they were there for her, something she appreciated.

An obsession of Miller’s is the panda bear.

It all began when her brother brought her a panda hat. She refused to take off the hat when teachers asked her to do so, saying that wearing it was part of her religion.

A friend gave her a pillow pet for her 17th birthday, naming it “Shipanda.”

In an interview over the summer, Miller said she might bring Shipanda with her to college, but said her roommate will think it’s creepy.

Pillow pet or not, the summer found Miller ready for college.

“Looking forward to it,” she said.

But there could be one hitch: Is her father looking forward to it?

Miller is daddy’s little girl, and enjoys a good relationship with her father.

America Offered Opportunities, But First Lessons Were Tough

Bad boy players, Cecilia, Ambriel, June, Meaghan

June Tran is one of several Twain Studios Writing Apprentices who performed a skit based on a piece that their peer, Meaghan Szilagyi wrote about “bad boys.” The skit was part of the Twain Studios Showcase, a celebratory night to recognize their work. In this photo are, from left, Cecilia Gigliotti, Ambriel Johnson, Tran and Szilagyi. Rae Martin also performed in the skit but is not shown in the photo.

By Meaghan Szilagyi

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

At the tender age of eight, June Tran moved with her family from her native home in Vietnam to Connecticut.

Looking for better opportunities in America, her parents moved the family into the Colonial-style South Windsor home of her aunt. They lived there until Tran was 11.

“She’s a cranky old lady,” Tran said.

At first, it wasn’t easy living in America.

During elementary school, Tran said she always felt “incompetent.”

She didn’t grow up speaking English, so she was in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, which made her feel stupid. Her third grade teacher even let June copy answers from the student next to her during spelling tests. The student didn’t seem to like it, Tran said.

Despite the fact that June lived in South Windsor, she went to Two Ricers Magnet Middle School in East Hartford.

She had a hard time adjusting to American culture.

In Vietnam, people are very “blunt,” Tran said. So when Tran, in her first year in the United States, met her chubby new friend Sara, she said what came to mind and called her friend fat.

Tran was not expecting the lecture that followed from her teacher about how her words could hurt. She had to write an apology letter.

After this incident, Tran tried hard not to get in trouble for offending someone.

Unfortunately, other kids did not feel the same way.

Tran’s first name was originally “Doung.” Because of this, she was constantly tormented. Since it was similar to the spelling of her name, one boy even suggested they call her “dung.”

“I didn’t know kids would be that mean to me,” said Tran.

She started going by the name June ever since, because it sounded like “Doung” anyway. Last year, June began the process of legally changing her name.

Tran is grateful that her parents moved to the United States because it gave her more opportunities as a female.

In Vietnam, women aren’t allowed in their family cemeteries and also aren’t allowed to take possession of their family shrine, Tran said. June said she would like to move back to Vietnam in the future, but doesn’t regret having a life here.

As a woman, there would be fewer chances for her to get a respectable education in Vietnam, she said.

June had her first real exposure to science in high school. Growing up around her father, a physics professor, science had always been a part of her life. When she started taking biology, she was sure it would be a part of her career.

Next, she took chemistry and decided maybe she would do something with biochemistry and pharmaceuticals.

Then while talking to a family friend, June realized that maxillofacial prosthetics was the right field for her. This family friend, a specialist who does dental reconstruction, told June that it was a “torturing career.”

Although you make people happy, he told Tran, the possibility of your patient dying is a horrifying thought, especially because you can get attached to them.

In Vietnamese, “Duong” is the name of a tree that, against all odds, can survive a monsoon. Its resilience is symbolic. Tran hopes to keep up the legacy of her name by staying strong through the toughest of situations.

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