Twain at Home

by Andrew Piro
Perched on a hillside, the Twain House is an opulent structure boasting red brick walls, jagged roofs, and a wrap-around porch. Had the house been built today, there would probably be a three-car garage to add to the overall air of prosperity. Whether Twain would have actually owned three cars is another story. Ambivalent towards technology, he was one of the first in the area to have a telephone, though he threatened to throw it out the window.

The house was built for $40,000 in 1874, which doesn't sound like much given the apparent affluence, but taking inflation into consideration, the price tag would be near a million dollars today. The author's wife added to the bill when she furnished the rooms for more than the actual cost of construction; the heedless spending shows. The dining room table is garnished with personalized silverware-each handle etched with "Livy," Twain's wife's name. Two of the fireplaces have diverted chimneys wrapped around a window located above the mantle. The lobby holds a nine-song music box: a clunky, arcane precursor to the Ipod. Though the extravagance of the house makes it clear why he had financial problems and went bankrupt in 1903, it's still hard to imagine that the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn-a book many scholars consider the greatest American novel-couldn't keep his own home.

Like most public figures, Twain's fame stems from his achievements, leaving his personal life in the shadows. Reading a book like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is easy to forget that the author was a middle-aged man living a domesticated life in New England, not an errant adolescent exploring the south. The Twain house restores the former identity. Although the legions of pets, servants, and children aren't around anymore, the house remains a cozy home. In the living room one can easily imagine the children sitting cross-legged in front of the fireplace while listening to their father's storytelling. One might also envision George, Twain's servant of 17 years, setting the table for dinner as the great American author plucked books from their shelves.

The Twain House has retained so many authentic and telling furnishings it is surprising to discover that after Twain's bankruptcy, the family took all of their possessions from the premises. Following their departure, and the period immediately after, in which another family lived in the home, a nearby school used the estate as residence for students. When the school relocated, the house was sectioned off into apartments, where tenants lived until 1929, when the "Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission" purchased it. The cost was exorbitant for a non-profit organization, but the Twain house remained in good hands, as the first floor was rented to the Hartford Public Library-a fitting environment for the home of a literary icon.

The most striking room in the house is Twain's billiard room. On the ceiling there are images of billiard sticks, pipes, and drinking glasses, all of which are testaments to Twain's recreational activities. Even with the distraction of a pool table nearby, he wrote nearly every day, including portions of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and generally only stopped for supper and time with his children. It seems funny to think that he conjured up vibrant descriptions of life along the Mississippi River, and the adventures of his earlier years in the wild West, while sitting at a modest desk in a corner. Occasionally, Twain would be struck with writer's block in which case he would open the door to the balcony, stand in the doorway, and gaze upon the nature for inspiration. On tumultuous days, the open door would invite gusts of wind into the room and manuscripts would feed the flames of the fireplace. Fortunately, Twain would rewrite manuscripts so that they, like the Twain House, would remain for generations.

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