Believe it or not, you know who he is. You’ve probably read not one but a few of his works in school or just because you wanted to.
Samuel Clemens is the real Mark Twain; and if you ever get the chance to go to Elmira, New York, you’ll find out who this man really was. Not many people know that Mark Twain found solace in Finger Lakes Wine Country or that he actually did have a life outside of his novels. He and his family spent their summers in Elmira for 20 years. It is where he found inspiration and wrote most of his legendary books. Now Elmira has quite a few places you can visit to experience and learn more about one of America’s greatest authors.
Now located in the center of Elmira College’s campus is probably one of the coolest exhibits dedicated to Clemens; his actual study. In this octagonal, window filled, gazebo-like building he wrote several of his classics. Some of these works included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the Prince and the Pauper. This study was originally located on a property called Quarry Farm but was donated to the school in 1952. The study is open to the public; so you can say that you’ve stood where Mark Twain once wrote.
The second part of the exhibit is located in Cowles Hall. When you first walk into the hall you enter an almost breathtaking octagonal grand entrance. There are pitched, high faulted ceilings and grand, circular chandeliers that transport you back in time. Through a couple of hallways is the room of the exhibit. In here you will find several photographs and personal artifacts that belonged to both the Clemens and Langdon (Samuel’s wife) families. It is mostly forgotten that Mark Twain was a real person who had a family – and this exhibit, along with the one at Chemung Valley History Museum (but more on that later), so eloquently puts that into focus for you. A particular favorite photograph in the exhibit is with Clemens’ wife, Olivia, with one of his daughters and their house staff sitting on a patio with the study almost perfectly framed in the background.
The Mark Twain Exhibit is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a. -4:30 p.
For even more personal artifacts and photographs of the Clemens family, the Chemung Valley History Museum is a must see! In their main exhibit area they have a whole side dedicated to the family’s personal live and belongings. Some of the more interesting artifacts include a pool table from the Langdon family home and the blanket Clemens used during his seafaring adventures. And while most of the historic sites related to the Clemens and Langdon families are unfortunately no longer around, you can still have the opportunity to see photographs and to hear what it was like during the ‘Guilded Age’ in Elmira and the Finger Lakes region. You will also get the chance to hear about how Simon and his wife, Olivia Langdon, met; which may be one of the most romantic stories you’ll hear (but I won’t spoil it here).
The Chemung Valley History Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a. -5 p. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens, and $1.00 for students (ages 6-18). Children under 5 are free!
As previously mentioned, this was the original site of the infamous Mark Twain study. Quarry Farm was owned by Susie Crane; Samuel Clemens’ sister-in-law, and is where the family spent most of their summers. But in 1982, after years in the Langdon family, it too was donated to Elmira College. Now the property is used solely for educational purposes. In fact, the actual house on the property is closed to the public. The only way to get close to it is by attending an Elmira College lecture in the barn. Elmira College hosts these lecture series usually twice a year. The next series starts on May 14. The Langdon family asked that the house be used solely for scholars, in hopes that the home would produce many more great American novels.
For more information about lecture series at Quarry Farm, please contact Elmira College.
While Clemens was born in Missouri, spent time navigating the Mississippi, and lived most of his adult life out in Connecticut, Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira is where he chose his final resting place to be. What name is on the actual gravestone; Samuel Clemens or Mark Twain? You can do a quick internet search to find out, but it would be much more fun to visit and see for yourself.
Of course there is so much more to learn about the real Mark Twain, and Elmira is just to the place to visit to find out.