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Archive for the tag “Mark Twain”

Daughters Died of Illnesses That Can Be Treated Today

By Lina Allam

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     Like any father, Samuel Clemens adored his children and worked hard to provide them with the life that he never had.

But during the 1800’s medicine wasn’t as advanced as it is today, and Clemens lost three of his four children at a young age to medical troubles that might have been prevented today.

susy_clemens

Susy Clemens

Clemens, famous for the writing he did under the pen name Mark Twain, lost h is first and only son, Langdon, to diphtheria around the age of 19 months.

Clemens and his wife Olivia also had three girls: Suzy, Clara, and Jane, who lived in the family’s Hartford home until their teenage years.

But when their father lost all his money from investing in the failed invention, the Paige Compositor, he traveled the world doing public speaking to pay off his debts.

When the time came for his family to return home, his oldest daughter, Suzy, then 24 years old, died of meningitis.

Meningitis is a bacterial or viral infection that attacks the brain or spinal cord. The viral strain is untreatable, but eventually the patient’s organs are able to defend the body against the virus, though it could take a week or two.

Bacterial meningitis can be treated through antibiotics, however if it is not treated, it can be fatal. This deadly type of meningitis – called meningococcal disease – causes an overwhelming infection in the body’s internal organs.

If antibiotics are given early during the infestation, the antibiotics could save a life, said Dr. Leonard Banco, a pediatrician and the chief medical officer of Bristol Hospital.

At the time Suzy died, there weren’t antibiotics available to treat the disease, according to Dr. K. Patrick Ober, an endocrinologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who has a keen interest in historical medicine.

Jean, the youngest daughter, was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 15 and suffered seizures.

Banco said epilepsy is a seizure disorder that occurs in an organism mainly because of incorrect wiring in the brain. In a person with epilepsy, this causes seizures to sometimes occur in order for the body to regain its normal state. They can include the clenching of teeth and intense shaking, Banco said, and sometimes loss of consciousness.

An epileptic episode occurs because of a large discharge of energy released by the brain, Banco said.

jean_clemens

Jean Clemens

But unlike meningitis, epilepsy cannot be cured and is often something that one is born with.

Without antibiotics and other medicine, Ober said, medical treatment during the time of Mark Twain was limited. Some medicines doctors used, including Lepomane, which is a drug like heroin and often leads to addiction, could be harmful.

Without other options, doctors also often tried to bleed the patient out in order to remove any of the “bad” or “sick” blood, Ober said.

Doctors had no way to treat meningitis in Jean’s day. Ober said there was no medicine for epilepsy. Many medical professionals at the time thought that the epileptic seizures were the cause of intense amount of stress.

Though her family tried to keep Jean calm, she died of a heart-attack brought on by a seizure in 1909. She was 29.

Today, epilepsy is most treated with anti-seizure medicine, though sometimes other treatments are used, according to information provided by the Mayo Clinic.

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Processed Food Means Fat Food

By June Tran

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     Obesity is a topic that is as common nowadays as the popular iPhone.

According to a report done by the National Center for Health Statistics, between 2009 and 2010, an estimated 36 percent of American adults and 17 percent of youths are obese.

The reason for treating this condition more as a physiological disorder than as an undisciplined behavior spanned from early studies in the 19th century until today’s scientific inquires.

While genetics and other factors play a role, nutrition experts say the easiest way to maintain a healthy weight is by eating a sensible diet.

“There are a lot of different factors and there’s a genetic component,” said Laura Koski, a registered dietitian.

Obesity and the diseases that accompany it became more prevalent over time as people learned to grow their own food and food became more available, especially after the Second World War, according to Prof. Garabed Eknoyan of Baylor College of Medicine. In an article published by the National Kidney Foundation, Eknoyan wrote that it was the abundance of foods and reduced physical activity that posed the greatest problem.

“It’s a combination of things,” said Koski. “We have more foods available. You can spend less. We spend less of our income on foods than we did, say, 20 years ago.”

Although we spend less for our foods, it isn’t always the good stuff that gets into our body.

The most important part of nutrition, emphasized Pauline Weissman, a board certified nutritional specialist, is to eat “appropriate foods.”

In other words, Weissman said, whole foods that are in their “natural state” and aren’t out of a box or package.

Weissman puts the blame on processed foods, and she’s not alone.

“They thought that soda was the bad guy, but it’s actually the processed foods,” said Koski, who explained that people are eating more things like cakes, cookies, pies and chips than in years past.

Processed foods such as refined, simple carbohydrates are easier to break down and be absorbed into the blood stream, according to Weissman. So consumption of processed foods accounts for a spike and ultimate crash in blood sugar, she said, leading to a craving for more sweets.

But complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, are much harder to be processed and allow a slower increase in blood sugar and less of a desire for more, according to Weissman.

A study this year showed that when men ate a meal containing a lot of processed food, especially containing corn syrup, it resulted in increased hunger and stimulation to the part of the brain that triggers cravings, according to a published report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

While most of the obesity research points towards nutrition, there have been advances that show the biological reasons behind fat regulation and storage within human body.

According to the International Journal of Obesity, the most significant progress concerning obesity is in the study of two kinds of fat cells in the body, brown and white. Brown fat, which is associated with low body weight, is  good. The research showed an artificial way to grow new brown fat cells from precursor white fat cells that haven’t yet developed.

But the nutritionists aren’t counting on this discovery to help people, at least right away.

“There’s no simple answer,” said Koski.

Weissman said obesity is a “lifestyle disease.”

Taking into account that obesity is a medical and societal problem, changing our perspective on obese people doesn’t contribute toward solving it.

While there may be more acceptance of overweight or bigger people in our society, as Koski pointed out it may be “also because we have gotten heavier.”

As Eknoyan wrote, the stigma of being obese began to emerge during the later part of the 19th century. Before that, Western literature and art correlated a heavy-set person with the characteristics of affluence, power and beauty.

Breakthroughs in science may give us an insight into the workings of the human body, though the pathway of nutrition provides an easier and longer-lasting result.

Education about foods and nutrition is important in retraining our bodies to eat in a more healthy and effective way.

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.

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!

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.

Ashaya Nelson: Ready For Senior Year, In Her Own Way

Ashaya Nelson photo

Ashaya Nelson

By Molly Miller

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Seventeen-year-old Ashaya Nelson dreams of writing about fashion in her favorite city, Madrid, and possibly having an affair on the side with President Barack Obama.

But first, she must make it through her final year of high school at the Metropolitan Learning Center in her hometown, Bloomfield, Conn.

Nelson has been attending the school since sixth grade, and she has mixed emotions about her final year.

“I’m happy, but I’m kind of scared to be a senior,” she said.

What scares her the most? This coming school year, Nelson will complete the dreaded senior project, which includes a presentation in front of a panel of teachers, as well as a service-learning component.

“The seniors tell you that they ask a lot of questions, and I don’t think I’ll be prepared,” she said. “I have a bad memory.”

Nelson has a good idea of what she wants her senior project to be about, though. This past March marked the anniversary of her older brother’s death.  Javon Turner was only 18 years old when he died in a car crash in March 2012.

Now, Nelson wants to use her senior project as an opportunity to educate other students about safe driving. For the service-learning component, she’ll speak to other students about drinking and driving.

Her brother, Nelson said, was drinking and speeding when he drove into the back of a truck.

She’s nervous about presenting her senior project, but she is excited to graduate and move on.

“I do not like my school,” Nelson said. “I am ready to leave.”

Besides being with – and growing tired of – the same classmates for seven years, Nelson is frustrated with the lack of typical high school activities and traditions.

“Other schools have a lot of sports, and they have a homecoming,” she said. “I wish we had what other schools had.”

Part of Nelson’s dislike for her school comes from her passion for fashion. She loves clothes and accessories, especially when they’re from Forever 21.

“It’s youthful,” said Nelson, calling the store’s clothes “different and unique.”

At her school, Nelson isn’t allowed to wear her shirts, blazers, or nude pumps from Forever 21; she is required to wear a uniform.

But that doesn’t mean she dresses like everyone else.

“I’m out of dress code all the time,” she said. “They want us to be simple, but I can’t do that.”

Nelson decorates her uniform with non-regulation shoes, necklaces, headbands, bangles, and scarves.

“I guess I get away with it because I’m not loud about it.”

As much as she loves fashion, she worries that she won’t be able to make a career out of it.

“I feel like [fashion] won’t be useful,” she said. “I feel like it won’t get me anywhere.”

No matter what career Nelson pursues, she will always incorporate fashion into her daily life.

She loves wearing the colors white and blue, and she’s taken inspiration from Mark Twain, whom she has been studying about this summer. “I think I want to be like Mark Twain, and have a white ‘don’t-give-a-damn’ suit.”

If Nelson does become a fashion writer, she’d love to live in Madrid, where she traveled two years ago with her school. She fell in love with the vibe, the people, the architecture, and the sculptures.

It’s easy to picture her living there one day, writing for Elle, and meeting some of her favorite celebrities, including Obama, whom she has a huge crush on.

But for now, she just needs to make it through senior year.

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