A Touching Moment in the Mark Twain House
Hannah Rose – Writing Intern
I don’t remember my exact age when I first walked into the Mark Twain House. It was the kind of class trip where no-one seemed interested in the facts, none of us had read Mark Twain with much gusto, but the hidden door in the entrance turned our heads…for a minute. I knew Huckleberry Finn by title only, and on this field trip I was probably more concerned with maintaining the aloof indifference of preadolescence and staring at my schoolboy crush. I shake my head at the memory.
Before our tour we gathered on the porch and were told the rules of the house. No “Kodaking.” Questions welcome. No touching.
As I walked through the rooms, the house impressed me with its grandeur, but I was not inclined to handle any of the relics.
The schoolroom is the largest room on the second floor and I was impressed by the size even as a youth. The class was well spread out in the space, and I stayed toward the back of the group. While the guide was lecturing about the Clemens girls’ education, I was staring down at a weathered book, bound in blue. It rested on one of the girl’s desks. I couldn’t read the binding and wondered if it was even a real book. What if the pages were just blank? Could it be a block of wood made to look like a book? Maybe hollowed out as a hiding place for spare change or secret letters? What if I was the only one who knew the deception, or treasures kept in this volume? (Have I mentioned that I had a very active imagination?) I reached out, barehanded, ran my finger along the edge of the front cover — and lifted it.
“Excuse me, miss?”
The whole presentation about the schoolroom halted. I pulled my hand back at lightning speed and snapped my head to attention. The cover fell silently back into place. My entire class turned to judge me, knowing I had just broken one of the cardinal rules of the house. My face must have flushed. Someone probably snickered. My teacher, most likely, stood horrified. I was one of those kids who couldn’t help themselves. My imagination pulled me into a current and I was helpless to swim against it. At this point, I like to think Mark Twain would have sympathized – and perhaps laughed. But no one else did.
I didn’t return to the Mark Twain House until I was of legal age and well versed in how to follow directions and behave in a museum. The next time I walked the staircase of Samuel Clemens’s home I developed a much deeper appreciation for his contribution to literature. I see the house differently now.
Now, traffic slows behind me on Farmington Avenue while I gaze at the house dusted in snow, or ensconced by foliage. I’ve paused in the parking lot, in awe of the grandeur, a smile on my face. I’ve circled the yard shared by Twain and Stowe under October dusk during the Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours. I’ve gone back in time to 1889 and been led through the rooms by George Griffin, the family’s trusted butler, who worked with the family for almost 20 years. I have walked up the grand staircase, gleeful to touch the banister without reprimand. Clutched a notebook and pencil in hand trying to find inspiration in the wallpaper for a villanelle as a class deadline loomed. Eyed aged and tanned letters with illegible inked scribbles, wondering how in the world this collection came together in one place. These untouchable artifacts gave rise to an epistolary poem for the man of the house.
Most recently, while waiting next to the bust of Mark Twain in the front hall, one eager tourist asked, “Do you know if you can take pictures?” I responded, “I’m not sure about pictures. But they’re very serious about not touching stuff.”
I’ve now reached past the velvet rope of youth into my adult years of seeking wisdom and building connections with people who share my passions. Tucked in the corner under the slanted ceiling of the Carriage House I write this post as an official Writing Intern for The Mark Twain House & Museum. They still don’t let me touch the artifacts, but I enter doors marked “Authorized Personnel Only” and nobody stops me. I walk through the rooms of the house excited to hear stories of Susy’s two-act play performed in the drawing room, the optical illusions in the foyer, the dinnertime antics of our great American author, and the vigor of his quest for a life of laughter and adventure. Being associated with The Mark Twain House & Museum on a professional level has brought me into the kind of environment where intellectuals cooperate in creative ventures, community involvement, and collaboration. My writer’s voice grows stronger when surrounded by partners who challenge and encourage my skills. As a result, my confidence matures in tandem. You could say I’ve grown up in this house too.