Living History Tour Highlight — Third of Four

The emphasis on the significance of the House to the Clemenses proved to be an important trend throughout all the Living History tours; but this is not to say they are all the same. My next journey through the Nook Farm home was led by gossipy house-maid, Lizzie Wills. Lizzie leads what seems to be an unapproved tour through the home, commenting offhandedly that, should the family happen to return home at any point during the tour, all the visitors will have to employ their most convincing statue pose. She generously shows us her own pose, quickly freezing into an exceedingly credible “Innocent Maid with Duster” piece of art. It is very good; she is clearly well-practiced.

(Manager of Living History Tours Betsy Maguire as house maid Lizzie Wills. Photo by John Groo.)

And so begins a tour quite different from the admiring dialogue which characterizes Katy Leary’s journey through the house; instead of Katy’s loving rose-colored glasses, Lizzie dons a pair of spy glasses through which she observes the family. Because less is known about Lizzie’s personal life, she can deliver a tour which offers a far broader view of the family and house. What she may lack as a well-known historical persona, Lizzie more than makes up for in her tell-all nature and all the little-known stories she’s gathered from newspaper articles, servant rumors, and a great deal of creative eavesdropping.

In her chatty way, Lizzie seamlessly travels from descriptions of the house to revealing tales of Mr. Clemens’s rocky relationship with the newly invented telephone, his competitive billiards nature, the (sometimes unkind) way the public reacted to the house’s exterior, and the strain that Clemens’s propensity for extravagant entertaining put on the wait staff. Each design aspect of the house reminds Lizzie of some fact she heard while lurking in the hallway or of a scene she saw while hiding nonchalantly behind the drapes. Besides presenting a complete view of Sam Clemens, his family, and his home from an incredibly varied number of sources and angles, Lizzie is hilarious and continually entertaining. Between the gossip and an impromptu dance lesson in the Drawing Room, I certainly walked out of the House with a lot of juicy new information having had a seriously good time.

(Manager of Living History Tours Betsy Maguire as house maid Lizzie Wills. Photo by John Groo.)

Don’t forget to tune in next Monday, August 22 to hear about my tour with Olivia Langdon Clemens in the last installment of the Living History Tour Highlight series!

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.