Nearly a Lifetime with Mark Twain

Posted on August 8th, 2016

Living History Tour Highlight; Second of Four

My week of living history started off under the capable guidance of one Katy Leary, the ever loyal lady’s maid to the Clemens family. Asking to check tickets in a voice accented ever so slightly by her Irish family roots, Katy Leary is the complete experience from the moment she appears, giving visitors an emotional all-inclusive pass into what life as a servant for the Clemens family was like. Katy is well-versed in the family’s time both in and out of the home, as she almost always accompanied them on their travels abroad, and she speaks of the Clemenses with complete devotion and gratitude. Our journey is awash with intimate details of the family and house, as well as the story of this dedicated woman, travelling from her birthplace in Elmira, New York all across the world. In fact, as she will tell you, modest Katy Leary once made it all the way to a seat in Queen Victoria’s private London theater box, to her own surprise as well as the family’s. The stories she has to share depict an exciting thirty years of employment with the Clemenses.

Katy Leary

(Katy Leary, c. 1880s. Photographer: H.L. Bundy, Hartford, Connecticut. The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Connecticut.)

Thanks to the extensive research done on Katy’s life and the life of the family, everything presented in the tour is a true account. The authenticity lends serious substance to skillful acting to create an experience that is captivating at the least. From start to end, I really felt as though it was Katy Leary leading me through the house she worked in and loved; I was totally convinced by her command of information, the inclusion of real details and stories, and the conviction with which she shared it all. Katy took us back to 1897 with anecdotes of Sam Clemens’s eccentricities (including a very good impersonation of his resonate voice booming through the halls), tales of the affectionate interactions between Olivia and Sam, recollections of house visitors, and discussion of her interactions with fellow servants. She may even have a displeased word or two to say on George, the famed butler’s, behalf.

Katy Doorway

(Virginia Wolf as lady's maid Katy Leary. Photo by John Groo.)

Katy’s memories and stories are a testament to the real goodness of the Clemens family, evidenced by the way they treated their employees, and the importance of the Nook Farm house as a busy family home. Hearing of both the frequent and lavish dinner parties hosted there as well as the quiet family evenings Mr. Clemens spent reading to or playing with his girls, it is clear that the Clemenses were happy here. The tour will discuss the tragedies which would plague the family in later years; yet, the overwhelming feeling remains that the home was a place of joy and love. It’s where Mark Twain had his most productive years and gained notoriety and wealth, where he and his wife raised a family, and where their three children grew into intelligent and thoughtful young women.

Return next Monday, August 15, to hear what maid Lizzie Wills has to say about her employer and the home!

Sabrina Rostkowski is an undergraduate at Yale University studying the humanities. Thanks to the generosity of the Yale Club of Hartford, she has had the wonderful opportunity to intern at The Mark Twain House & Museum during the summer of 2016, primarily (though not exclusively) in the Development Department. MTHM is honored to have had Sabrina share her talents and enthusiasm with us this summer.

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