September Newsletter: The Rest of the Stories

Posted on August 27th, 2017

Friends Mark 50 Years

On September 25, 1967, the late Fran Gordon, a whirlwind transplanted from Texas to Hartford, gathered a group of women together to found the Women's Committee of the Mark Twain Memorial, now the Friends of The Mark Twain House & Museum. Karen Licht, current President, notes the volunteer group's many achievements over the years.

“As their numbers grew so did the events they developed and sponsored,” Karen says.  “The yearly financial contribution to the Mark Twain House began with a donation of $1,366 in 1970 after a fashion show. In 1975 member trips to locations Mark Twain wrote about became another source of revenue, and by 1976 their contributions exceeded $19,000.”

The annual Holiday House tour began in 1979 and continues to be an annual fundraising event.  Private homes, the Mark Twain House, and sometimes public buildings are included in the tour. 

In 1995 Kay Hoffman and Marty Flanders organized a fundraiser that is today the Mark Twain House & Museum Gala. It raised $40,000 that year. From 1999 through 2002 the Galas continued to raise over $100,000 annually for the operating expenses of The Mark Twain House.  

Since 1967 the Friends, in their fundraising efforts with the Holiday Galas and Holiday House Tours, have contributed over $1,000,000 to the operating funds of The Mark Twain House.

 “While fundraising for the House is our mission,” Karen says, “we enjoy all aspects of doing this with the creative and talented members we have had over many years of service to the Mark Twain House & Museum.”

Mahogany Suite Soldiers 

They were a fixture of many Hartford parlors, and of indeed parlors and public libraries throughout America, in Samuel L. Clemens’s time – the plaster statues created by John Rogers (1829-1904) showing patriotic, homey and literary subjects, just the right size to sit on a small table or wooden stand. They were meant to tell stories – in a scene of men playing checkers, a cat paws at a fallen piece; as a traveling magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, you can (from behind the sculpture) glimpse the boy under the table ready to hand him a dove.

Martin and Harriette Diamond of New Rochelle, N.Y., owned a “Rogers group,” as they are called, and when they read in the October 13 New York Times of the stunning renovation going on in the Mark Twain House’s Mahogany Suite they called Chief Curator Tracy Brindle and asked her if the museum would like to have it. The Diamonds, it turned out, had an art gallery for many years on Madison Avenue in New York City and – though their specialty was modern American abstract art – somewhere along the way they had acquired a Rogers group called “Wounded to the Rear – One Last Shot.”

It has a Civil War theme: A Union soldier kneels on the ground tending a bandaged leg. Another, his arm in a sling, faces the enemy defiantly and reaches for another cartridge for his rifle. The Diamonds had a rare accessory to the group, the original stand designed by Rogers’ company for the sculpture. This conjunction of statue and stand is so unusual that the Diamonds once loaned the stand to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its version of the group – and the stand stayed there for nineteen years.

“Wounded to the Rear” seemed just right for the Clemenses’ sense of décor, which ranged from high-toned European to parlor sentimental, and for the vivid presence of Civil War memory among Clemens’s neighbors and guests. Clemens’s own participation in the war was brief and proto-Confederate, described in his “Private History of a Campaign That Failed,” but his friendship with Union veterans and his famed association with Ulysses S. Grant and other Union generals could be hinted at by the statue’s presence in the best guest room.

Brindle said yes (subject, of course, to Collections Committee and Board of Trustees approval) and she and Curatorial Special Projects consultant Steve Courtney traveled to New Rochelle, bought the Diamonds breakfast, marveled at their art-filed apartment, and transported “Wounded to the Rear” home to Hartford. On the way, they took a side trip to visit the New Canaan Historical Society, a complex of buildings that includes Rogers’ original studio, guided by the society’s Executive Director, Janet Lindstrom.

The standing soldier in “Wounded to the Rear” now gazes defiantly across the golden treasure that is the restored Mahogany Suite, ever-vigilant against rebellion. We are deeply appreciative to the Diamonds for their generous thought and gift. 

Living History Thrives

Over 10,000 visitors have enjoyed “first person” costumed character tours since the Living History program started last year, reports Manager of Living History Programs Betsy Maguire. Here’s a recent review of the “George Griffin, butler” tour:

He was a joy to be around, and truly took us back in time with his radiant and emotionally authentic performance. I forgot all about 2017, which was amazing in a way that I can hardly express in words … It's extraordinary, and unlike anything you'll find at other museums anywhere in the world. Pay a visit to 351 Farmington Avenue. Be amazed. Be inspired. Be transformed.

Living History Tours are sponsored by The Hartford.

Outreach: Mark Twain and the Presidents

Assistant Curator Mallory Howard and Historic Interpreter Jason Scappaticci, and their Community Outreach program, “Mark Twain and the American Presidents,” made the news in the Hartford Courant this past month.

Reporter Dennis Hohenberger described the pair’s appearance at the Whiton Branch of the Manchester Public Library on Aug. 14. He relayed their message that “Twain's razor wit eviscerated the culture and the political forces of the Gilded Age.”

Just one example: "I am different from Washington, I have a higher, grander standard of principle. While Washington could not lie, I could lie but I won't."

Mallory’s and Jason’s topic was a timely one, Hohenberger said: “Much as in Twain's time, the current political establishment is held in slight regard, now the target of social media, where armies of armchair pundits post or tweet keen or sharp as marble comments about the nation's political class.”

The program was just one of the museum’s outreach programs, available to schools, libraries, historical societies, garden clubs, bowling leagues – just about any group you may belong to. For a complete list and details, click here. 

Volunteer of the Month 

Volunteer Services Coordinator Grace Belanger has announced that Judy Arzt has been named Volunteer of the Month for September.

"Her work with our school groups on field trips, along with her deep, abiding love for Mark Twain, is a real asset for the museum," Belanger says. "She has aided with Clue tours, Tom Sawyer Day, guest speakers -- you name it. "

"When the opportunity to serve as volunteer presented, I was thrilled," Arzt says. "Serving as a volunteer, I have met the wonderful people who work at the House and Museum and contribute to its legacy of enhancing the community locally and globally." 

Judy is a former high school English teacher and is currently a professor at University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, where she teaches graduate educational technology courses. In her teaching career, she has integrated Mark Twain’s works and brought students to his Hartford home.

“When I first moved to Connecticut from upstate NY, where I taught Twain’s works and studied them at the university, I made a visit to the Twain House a priority. In my continued teaching career, Twain’s literature took prominence, and I organized many student field trips. I have continued to be a regular visitor, often bringing family and visitors along.”

Going Above & Beyond

A few words from Interpreter Kaitlyn Oberndorfer:

I had the final EDL school tour of the year consisting of six adorable 11 year olds from Highcrest Elementary School. Not only had they studied up on Mark Twain's life in advance but they also kept a countdown until they could go on this trip roughly a month in advance. At the end of the tour, which they acted like perfect historians on, they told me something special. They had made friendship bracelets for one another representing their favorite scenes out of Tom Sawyer of which they had just read as a group. Each color represented a scene, from blue for Becky because she cries a lot to white for whitewashing the fence. Then they waved their lunch fee instead to have a picnic outside by the house. For this picnic, they saved the last page of Tom Sawyer to read outside the home. Can we adopt them or is that out of the question?

Gardens and Grounds

This summer has been a season of transformation for our grounds. With the help of many volunteers, we have moved the garden dedicated to Frances Gordon (founder of the Friends!) to a new location.

Friends and staff very kindly donated perennial flowers in addition to their time, increasing the variety of flowers for the butterflies and bees to visit while at the Mark Twain House & Museum.

Our focus continues to be on planting natives and encouraging all pollinators to the garden. We also did a small redesign in the shade garden by the main parking area, planted a dozen red twig dogwood shrubs next to the main staircase to fill in the gap left by construction, and cleared out the long stone planter box on the patio outside the café and filled it with petunias and sweet potato vine for gorgeous color that has lasted all season and will happily take us into the fall.

In October we will be unplanting and planting another new garden in the turnaround between the residence and the carriage house. This garden will contain perennials you would have found in the gardens during the time the Clemens lived in Hartford, from 1874-1901. It will be the first historically accurate garden on the grounds. We hope to create more of these gardens in 2018.

Mums, fall pansies and grasses will start appearing around the property soon, adding fresh pops of warm autumn color throughout the grounds.

The care of the gardens and grounds is a daily task. Many hands make light work. We welcome volunteers in the garden, no experience is necessary. You will find us in the gardens most Friday mornings from 9:00-12:00. Stop by!

For additional information, please contact Grace Belanger, Assistant Manager of Visitor Services & Coordinator of Volunteers and Interns for the Mark Twain House & Museum. Grace.belanger@marktwainhouse.orgor 860-280-3130.

Happy gardening!

Laura Barnett Goldberg

Gardens & Grounds Coordinator

Become a Member

Check out our new $35 Twainiac membership category.

Download Brochure

Want a hard copy of our information for your trip? Download and print a PDF.