Current Exhibits

Opened in 2003, The Mark Twain Museum Center offers visitors an opportunity to learn more about Mark Twain, his family, the historic house, and the author's legacy. This state-of-the-art facility houses our ticket desk; the Aetna Gallery with a permanent exhibition on Twain's life and work; a rotating exhibition hall, The Hartford Financial Services Theatre, showing a Ken Burns mini-documentary on Twain; classroom space; the lecture hall-style Lincoln Financial Auditorium; The Mark Twain Store; entertaining spaces like the soaring Great Hall and the sunny second floor café/patio area.

In addition, the Museum Center houses our research library, which is open by appointment only. Featuring walls etched with some of his most famous quotations, this LEED-certified green museum is a treasure-filled way to begin and end your visit to The Mark Twain House.

Spiritualism, Seances & Sam (Opening October 10)

Our Fall Exhibition

Open during regular museum hours. Exhibit included with admission.

Spiritualism, Seances and Sam

On Friday, October 10, The Mark Twain House & Museum will be opening an new exhibition, "Spiritualism, Seances & Sam." The exhibition will examine the Victorian era's fascination with spiritualism and, in particular, the relevant beliefs and experiences of Samuel Clemens ("Mark Twain").

"Mark Twain was fascinated with spiritualism, reveling in debunking seances as a young reporter in San Francisco, and maintaining skepticism on the subject all his life -- but sanctioning his wife Livy's attempts to seek solace in seances after their daughter's death," says Mallory Howard, Interim Curator at the museum. "But the exhibition is broader than that -- it covers the gamut of spiritualism, mourning and attitudes toward death in his era and after, and how his attitudes fit into that continuum. We bring the story into the 20th century with an extraordinary collection of objects loaned by artist Calvin von Crush, and finally into the present century."

"Spiritualism, Seances & Sam" will be on display in the galleries of the Museum Center through January 19, 2015. It will be open during regular museum hours for a special $6.00 museum-only admission -- or free when you purchase a ticket to tour the Mark Twain House.

At 5:30 p.m. on October 10, there will be a free opening reception for the exhibition.

About the Exhibition
Death was a pervasive factor of life in the late 19th century. Given the relatively unsophisticated standards of public sanitation and medical care of the era, ailments that are insignificant today were often deadly, and childhood mortality rates were very high. Moreover, the huge death toll of the Civil War impacted most families in both the north and the south. Mourning rituals of the period were elaborate, and included practices that today might be considered ghoulish.

There was also a great deal of interest among people of all classes in the afterlife, and in attempts to communicate with deceased loved ones. Residents of Hartford were just as interested as others across the country, and séances and appearances by mediums attracted large audiences in the city. Some of Mark Twain's neighbors in Hartford's Nook Farm neighborhood were active participants in the spiritualism movement, including Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Isabella Beecher Hooker.

Mark Twain was as interested in the subject of spiritualism as his contemporaries, but he was a skeptic. While working as a journalist out west during the 1860s, he attended many séances and wrote satirical articles about them for local newspapers. He also ridiculed superstitious beliefs in his various writings. However, later in his life, after the death in Hartford of his beloved daughter Susy, he and his wife participated in a number of séances in an attempt to communicate with Susy. He was not convinced by these experiences, saying, "I have never had an experience which moved me to believe the living can communicate with the dead...." He described the highly-recommended mediums that he and his wife dealt with as "quite transparent frauds."

Despite his skepticism about communication with the beyond, Twain did believe in other "supernatural" phenomena, such as mental telepathy and prophetic dreams. In fact, he believed that he had personally experienced both of these phenomena.

The exhibition will examine the era's fascination with the afterlife; the views of Mark Twain and his Hartford neighbors on the subject and their involvement in the spiritualism movement; and period mourning practices. It will also explore the connections between spiritualism and other progressive social movements of the era, such as women's suffrage. It will feature historic artifacts from the collections of the museum and other institutions, including photographs; newspaper articles; mourning paraphernalia, such as jewelry and clothing; correspondence; historic spirit communication devices, such as Ouija boards, spirit trumpets and automatic writing planchettes; and ephemera associated with Victorian-era psychics and spiritualists. Each of the items displayed will be accompanied by explanatory labels and wall text that will provide information about its historical context and significance.

The "Spiritualism, Seances & Sam" exhibition is sponsored by the George A. & Grace L. Long Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., and Alan S. Parker, Esq., Trustees. With the support of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of Tourism.


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