Water or Wine?

High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.-Mark Twain

An apt quote from one of North America’s most famous writers to describe how I feel about my blog (You like it. I really hope you like it).

On Friday, my mother-in-law picked me up and we headed off to tour the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT. As a child, I read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and completely enjoyed it, but I never got around to reading any other books by Mark Twain (let alone dig into his background). I was looking forward to this trip as a chance to spend time with my husband’s mom and to learn a bit more about the history of the state in which we currently reside.

The house is situated atop of a small hill overlooking Farmington Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares that links Hartford’s West End neighborhood with the downtown. Beautiful, though timeworn homes lining the street intermingle with old shops and new restaurants, telling the story of an area that was likely once an epicenter of social activity and one of the most sought-after places to live.

Twain House

Visitors park behind the house in a lot that now covers a river (Park River) that Twain and his family would have looked out upon from their home. The Webster Bank Museum Center is your first stop before touring the house. It contains permanent and rotating exhibits detailing the life of Samuel Clemens (the man) and Mark Twain (the writer), as well as a theatre showing a Ken Burns mini-documentary on Twain.

Walking through the permanent exhibit on the main floor, I learned about a man who was a great writer (and became quite wealthy and a celebrity because of it), but a poor investor (his bad investments eventually put him into bankruptcy, forcing him to sell his family’s Hartford home). He struck me as the type of guy you wanted to be friends with; the guy you could grab a cold drink with and laugh for hours because of his quick wit and unabashed opinions (just don’t ask for his bet on the next hot stock).

Moving on to the second floor, we walked through an exhibit detailing Twain’s many travels overseas. He made his mark as a travel writer “blogging” his experiences on the Sandwich Islands (which we all know as Hawaii) for the Sacramento Union. A short time later he was selected to go on a steamship tour of Europe and the Holy Land, covering his journey for Alta California (these articles were later reworked into his first book, Innocents Abroad). I felt an immediate rush of excitement and inspiration, thinking about the journey ahead for Matt and me and my amazing opportunity to blog about it all.

The museum was just a warm-up. Our tour of the house began at 3:30 and our tour guide immediately began painting the picture of a man who was dedicated to his wife and children; a man who was outspoken politically and socially; and a man who threw dinner parties most nights of the week and hung out with the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe (his neighbor for many years) and Rudyard Kipling.

Pictures were unfortunately not allowed inside, but you can take a trippy virtual tour on the Twain House website. The 25 rooms have been meticulously restored to what they would have looked like when Twain and his family were living there (featuring many original pieces owned by Twain, such as a stunning fireplace originally designed for a castle in Scotland–a purchase on one of the family’s many European trips). Our tour guide was excellent and brought Twain to life with glimpses into his history (he and his wife had four children–only one of whom outlived Twain) and personality (he was a cat person and his daughters could reportedly soften interruptions while he was writing by holding out a kitten).

If you are headed to Hartford, I definitely recommend adding the Twain House to your itinerary. It is open from 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily and tickets start at $11 for a tour of the museum and house. If you are a writer, check out the calendar of events because the center often hosts special writer conferences (as they did this past weekend). In fact, the Mark Twain House and Museum offers something for everyone (ghost tours–check, lecture series–check).

As for me, I was thrilled to learn about another writer who was able to share glimpses into other countries and cultures that many might never have the opportunity to experience themselves. What can I say? I love my job!  

My mother-in-law and me with the man himself (in Lego form).


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