Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Twain Studios”

Guilded Age Included Luxury Fashions

By Ashaya Nelson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

The Gilded Age following the Civil War, is known for women wearing corsets, so they could have the perfect silhouette, with long heavy skirts. Men’s outfits were set off by spiffy bowler hats.

American author and humorist Mark Twain created the term “Gilded Age.” At the start of this time, the country experienced a rapid increase in the population and growth in the economy.

But Gilded Age fashions were for those who could afford it. The upper-class wore these extravagant costumes.

I believe that clothing at this time was valued more than fashion is today. In the eyes of the people, fashion wore was like art. Women wore luxury fabrics, and dresses were detailed and fitted.

According to Patti Philippon, chief curator at the Mark Twain House & Museum, people wore a variety of outfits for different occasions in the Gilded Age, which ended in 1893 because of the bad economy.

Women would have a different costume for going to an opera, visiting or doing work such as washing clothes.

Fashion even mattered in times of grieving. There were stages to the mourning costume. For mourning or funerals, black dresses with pansies were worn, Philippon said, explaining that pansies were flowers that represented thoughts and remembrance.

Teenage girls had to dress as women in long dresses. The younger girls would wear shorter dresses.           Toddlers and babies – both boys and girls – wore embroidered dresses that were very detailed, Philippon said.

Women would either go to their own seamstress or go to a boutique to get new clothes. The Clemens family bought their clothing from Arnold Constable & Co. in New York. They also sometimes had their clothes made for them.

Olivia, Mark Twain’s wife, had a woman in Paris who created her dresses.

The dresses were so big and bulky; they couldn’t fit into a closet. There also weren’t hangers at this time. So they used wardrobes to store their clothing.

Clothes brushes were use for dusting off dresses. Also in this era, washing machines were not yet invented.

During the winter, everyone wore dark clothing, and in summer, they wore light colored clothing.

Upper class men wore dark suits that Mark Twain called “crows,” but in old age, Twain didn’t follow these customs.

He often wore white wool suits out of season, sometimes with colored socks. Twain called it his “don’tcareadamnsuit.”

In February of 1906, he wore the suit because he knew it would attract attention before testifying about copyright before a Congressional committee.

In a Gilded Age exhibit at the museum, a bicycle and clothing are on display.

Bike importer Colonel Albert A. Pop of Boston created the “Drop Frame.”

It was a safer bike for women that was lowered for skirts. The Divided Skirt and Bloomer Costumes were made for women who rode bikes.

The Divided Skirt looks like a flared skirt, but are actually pants. Bloomers were made for women who wanted to engage in activities.

The bloomers are still worn for athletic purposes, and also for fashion. They’re used for toddlers and infants to cover their diapers.

The accessories, just like the clothing, were interesting. The women wore hair combs, hair jewelry, and extensions.

Hair was weaved and made into jewelry and was given to someone else, symbolizing remembrance and mourning.

Some of the unique fashion of the Gilded Age has been revived today. Women still wear hair extensions and combs. Harem pants were inspired by the style of bloomers.

Fashion shows the evolution of history.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

Meaghan Szilagyi and Her Tireless Pursuit of Happiness

By June Tran

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

A bubbly and compulsive 15-year-old born and raised in downtown Hartford, Meaghan Szilagyi was a weak baby born five months premature.

Raised into a family with a rich history rooted in Hungry, her grandfather was a prominent governor there where the family name is both well-known and respected. It was Szilagyi’s father’s trip to the United States after the wake of communism in Hungry that really ties into the story of Szilagyi’s life today.

Meaghan and Ambriel

Meaghan Szilagyi, left, and her Twain Studios friend, Ambriel Johnson, sometimes shared music while they wrote over the summer.

Her Sicilian grandmother cared for Szilagyi after she was born. 

Later, her older sister, Kaitlyn exposed Szilagyi to writing. Often she expressed envy for her sister’s work, feeling that her own work “did not compare.”

The insecurities did not stop there. Entering middle school, Szilagyi began to hate writing prompts and essays. Teachers often assigned ridiculous topics such as essays about “intergenerational relationships” or the reason why To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic.

Boring subjects weren’t the only hurdle. Grades on writing assignments were also a problem.

Although she began to enjoy writing research papers and essays, she said, she “kept getting C’s.”

Szilagyi saw herself as someone who “sucked at writing essays.”

It was during an afterschool makeup session that Szilagyi met Cheryl Ryba, an eccentric English teacher who believed in the idea of “being with your inner self.”

Ryba inspired Szilagyi to keep writing and envelope herself in the art.

She now keeps herself busy with writing journals and poetry. While journaling, Szilagyi writes to an imaginary friend called “Phil.” In this journal, she records her daily activities and feelings.

Szilagyi is indecisive about which career she wants to pursue.

“I do but I don’t,” she said, when asked if she has a career plan for the future. In her mind, there are two paths that she’s planning to take, one that “cannot be written about” and the other a double major in sociology and psychology.

For someone who describes herself as having a “contradictory personality,” Szilagyi possesses an inexorable desire to pursue never-ending happiness.

Writing Apprentices Sign on With the Mark Twain Gang

Jahyra White of Hartford and Indira Senderovic of wethersfield show their support for the Mark Twain House & Museum.

Twain Studios Writing Apprentices Jahyra White and Indira Senderovic show their allegiance to The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Twain Studios is full of promising young people who clearly know where their loyalties lie: with the Mark Twain House & Museum in the ongoing, friendly summertime battle with Theater Works for the streets, hearts and minds of Hartford.

June Tran, Lina Allam

June Tran of South Windsor and Lina Allam of Glastonbury are most definitely on the side of The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Meaghan Szilagyi and Ambriel Johnson

Meaghan Szilagyi of Wethersfield and Ambriel Johnson of Hartford are key players in the Twain Gang.

Molly Miller, Cecilia Gigliotti

Molly Miller of Hartford and Cecilia Gigliotti of New Britain are on board with Mark Twain.

Rae Martin, Grant Henry

Twain Studios and the Twain Gang wouldn’t be the same without Rae Martin of Windsor and Grant Henry of Glastonbury.

Post Navigation