Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Mark Twain House”

Twain Studios 2013 Anthology

Anthology cover

This is the cover of the 48-page anthology of work by the Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios. You can see the whole thing by following the link below.

For six weeks in July and August, 2013, a dozen teenagers from diverse backgrounds, different schools and towns, came together as a group at The Mark Twain House & Museum.

This group, the newest of the Neighborhood Studios of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, originated with a great conversation between the arts council and Julia Pistell, who is part of the Mark Twain House communications team.

Led by Master Teaching Artist Jackie Majerus, the teens practiced reporting, interviewing and writing creative non-fiction. They learned about Mark Twain, his Nook Farm neighborhood and neighbors past and present and about each other. Lasting friendships formed. They explored Nook Farm and the state Capitol and learned from an array of guest speakers.

The program was called Write to the Point! and the students, who were writing apprentices, called themselves The Jakes, their shorthand for “Journalism Kids.”

The teens, who ranged from age 14 to 18, worked individually and cooperatively on all sorts of non-fiction writing. They wrote a lot. Most of it is on this blog. Much of their best work was printed in a 48-page anthology – their crowning achievement distributed at their showcase last month, where the youth read their work aloud to an audience of family, friends and others interested in the arts.

Besides the written work, and some artwork of the youth in the studio, the anthology also includes many photographs of these wonderful young people throughout their summer adventure. It is impossible to fully capture a lively group of creative young people on a blog or on a printed page, but this blog, and the anthology, should offer a glimpse into an amazing summer experience.

Thank you for taking time to explore this blog and the anthology.  Comments are welcome, too!

To see the anthology in PDF form, follow this link:

 Twain Studios 2013 Anthology

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Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Hartford House is a Real Home

Apprentices at Stowe

The Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios visiting the Harriet Beecher Stowe House next door.

Lina Allam

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     Upon entering the home of the famous author and wonderful mother Harriet Beecher Stowe, viewers can see the difference between a home and a house.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe home is nothing like the Mark Twain House. It depicts the nature of a woman who is both working on becoming one of the most elite authors of all time, and the typical wife and mother of her time.

Stowe had seven children, and only three outlived her. After the loss of her son Samuel Charles Stowe, who died at the age of two, she began understanding the feeling and emotion a mother felt when they saw their child sold into slavery.

Her son’s death became the inspiration for one of the most famous novels of all time: Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was widely read, becoming the second best seller of the time, second only to the Bible.

This novel portrayed slavery in its truest form instead of portraying the political and economic side of the inhumane act. Stowe portrays slavery as an inhuman, horrific act that must end.

She describes events in the novel as she saw them in real life. Because this novel received worldwide attention, it helped strengthen the abolitionist movement.

The Duchess of Southerland was so inspired by this novel that she traveled all over Europe gathering over millions of signatures from women who agreed with abolitionists and encouraged them to continue their work.

Stowe wrote 30 books in 30 years, and completed multiple paintings, including some of magnolias, since she said this flower was like her: strong in the roots.

Today the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, where Stowe retired, is a museum dedicated to the works of this acclaimed author.

Mark Twain’s House Has Always Had a Certain Ring To It

Mark Twain House, July 2013

The Mark Twain House, July 2013

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

    Hearing the ring of a telephone has become a regular sound in the American household, something easily taken for granted.

However, in Mark Twain’s time, the Gilded Age, this harsh ring was out of the ordinary. Only the wealthiest of households had these new-age communication devices installed in their homes.

Fascinated with modern technology, Twain himself had a telephone in his Farmington Avenue mansion. He didn’t use the phone much, though he complained about the quality of the phone calls endlessly.

The member of the household who used the phone most was the family butler, George Griffin.

The 25-room home built for Samuel Clemens, his wife and daughters – Mark Twain was Clemens’ pen name – was a showcase.

“They were an up-to-date, sophisticated family,” said Steve Courtney, author of The Loveliest Home That Ever Was: The Story of the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

The Victorian Gothic Revival house features a breathtaking grand hall with decorative arts by designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, a glass walled conservatory overflowing with green plants, a cozy library, and a third floor billiard room where Clemens wrote his world-famous novels.

Tiffany supervised the interior decoration of the house and designed most of the glasswork.

Legend says the home was designed to look like a riverboat to mimic the theme in Twain’s masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Designed by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, construction began in 1873. The house rested on a large parcel of land when Twain owned it, even more than the museum owns today.

“There was a much more rural landscape then,” Courtney said.

The family moved into the house in 1874, three years after Twain decided to build a home in Hartford.

The house in Hartford’s Nook Farm neighborhood had hot and cold running water, central heat, gas lighting and other modern conveniences common in the day.

“Any middle class home had indoor plumbing by 1874,” Courtney said, adding that gas lighting wasn’t new, either.

The Clemens family had all these things.

“In general, it was a time of tremendous change, a very dynamic time,” Courtney said.

Gas lighting, which eliminated the problem of smelly whale oil and weak lights that would damage the eyes, was popular.

“Central heating was pretty new,” said Courtney, as were the speaking tubes the Clemens had in their walls.

Family members used the speaking tubes to communicate with household staff in different parts of the house.

The telephone made communication with those outside the house easier.

Twain’s house was one of the first in Hartford to have a phone, Courtney said, and the listing for Samuel Clemens was one of the first in the local phone book.

Before people had phones, Courtney said, “To talk to someone, they would have to ride their horse downtown.”

Courtney said there were odd noises coming over the phone line, possibly because people didn’t know how to install the wiring.

Twain kept score, Courtney said, of the various noises he heard on the phone. He tallied them as “cannon fire” or “thunder” and subtracted the number of times he heard them from the balance of his phone bill.

“There were definitely things that went wrong,” Courtney said.

Courtney said Twain was always interested in inventing and once invented a game for his daughters so they could learn about British royalty.

Twain also invented a self-pasting scrapbook, Courtney said, that proved quite popular in his time.

Twain invested in items that were familiar to him, Courtney said, such as the typesetter and the Paige Compositor. Courtney said Twain lost $300,000 on the Paige Compositor.

Despite his interest in technological gadgets, Twain remained old fashioned when it came to his work.

Twain had a typewriter, Courtney said, and it made writing faster. But Twain didn’t like using it. He did have other people type his stories for him, Courtney said, but preferred writing in longhand himself.

“It was fashionable to have new and updated technology,” said Courtney, and Twain loved to keep up with the latest trends. “He was interested in fads.”

The Clemens family lived happily in their home until 1891, when mounting debt forced them to leave. In order to pay off his debt, Twain was forced to go on a lecture circuit.

Some of the family went with Twain on his circuit and others stayed elsewhere. They never lived there again.

In the 1920s, the home was sold to real-estate investor J.J. Wall and survived a number of different owners, including a boarding school for boys.

Katharine Seymour Day’s Friends of Hartford campaign ultimately saved it from demolition, restored it, and made it the popular museum that it is today.

In 1963, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

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.

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?

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!

Librarian With The Strength to Cope with Tourette Syndrome

By Ashaya Nelson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

“Twitch! Twitch! Twitch!” the crowd screamed when high school freshman Josh Hanagarne stood at the free throw line.

The game depended on him making the shot.

Hanagarne, who had physical and vocal tics that would later be identified as Tourette Syndrome, stood in front of the basket with tears running down his face.

The ball made it into the basket and his team went home with a win. But he didn’t leave without flipping off the crowd.

Hanagarne shares his story with people all around the world.

He visited the Mark Twain House & Museum Thursday to talk about his book, The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family.

Hanagarne, a bodybuilder, said he learned a lot about himself by writing a memoir.

“Wasn’t trying to be a writer, this never was supposed to happen,” said Hanagarne.

Now a librarian in Salt Lake City, Hanagarne always was engrossed in books, and as a kid, tried to find the largest book to read.

He read his first Stephen King book in fifth grade and though his mother banned King’s book from their home, he continued to sneak them in.

Now, Hanagarne said, he barely sleeps, reading a book each day.

The night of that basketball game, Hanagarne asked his parents what was wrong with him, and he got the diagnosis of Tourette’s.

During his childhood, it wasn’t a big deal, he said. In eighth grade it became vocal, and he began to get bullied. As he got older, his condition worsened, and even became violent.

Trying to hold in his Tourette’s, he said, “feels like that most intense sneeze.”

A mysterious man had an impact on his life. Adam T. Glass, a U.S. Air Force veteran who suffered a brain crushing injury, helped him learn to move his body in ways that brought relief.

Hanagarne explained that Glass could somehow see where the pain came from in someone’s body, and how to fix it. Glass helped Hanagarne by having him use a five-pound dumbbell, and by moving his wrist.

Today, Hanagarne is a happy family man. He said his mother came home from church one day and told him she’d found the perfect wife for him. When he met his wife, he could barely speak.

She did not hear his true voice until eight months after their wedding.

After trying for years to have a child, they had Max, a son who is now five years old.

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