Mark Twain was not big on anniversaries. "What ought to be done to the man who invented the celebrating of anniversaries? Mere killing would be too light," he observed.
But even the great curmudgeon acknowledged that anniversaries were "very well up to a certain point." For Hartford and Connecticut, that point might be next April 21.
That is the 100th anniversary of the death of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, the incomparable writer, wit, social critic and world citizen. He lived in Hartford for two decades and wrote most of his major works here, and, after a time in Europe, spent his last years at a house in Redding.
If this isn't an anniversary to celebrate in Connecticut, it's hard to imagine what is. Since Mr. Clemens is not here to object, we should do this up big.
The Mark Twain House & Museum and other arts groups are leaving no fence unpainted. There will be events during most of 2010 — we also celebrate the 125th anniversary of the publishing of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in February and the 175th anniversary of Mr. Clemens' birth in November.
If hoped-for funding comes through, there's be a January appearance by a very famous Mark Twain portrayer — I'm not at liberty to disclose his name but he has the same initials as Hubert Humphrey — and lectures by well-known authors and Twain scholars.
The emphasis is the centennial month of April, when — on various dates — visitors to the city will be able to enjoy three special exhibits at the Twain House Museum, a world premiere adaptation of the "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" at The Hartford Stage, "Tom Sawyer: A Chamber Opera" by the Hartford Opera Theatre, and "The Prince and the Pauper" by the Hartford Children's Theater.
Also, The Twain House and the Hartford Public Library are working together on the Big Read program, a national program in which cities read a particular work and discuss it. In Hartford, it will be "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
On the eve of April 21, the Twain House will host a Victorian seance event, "The Mark Twain Seance," which will educate visitors about the spiritualism popular in middle-class America in the 1870s and 1880s. The evening also will include tours led by celebrated ghost investigator Lorraine Warren. (The current weekend ghost tours are selling out.)
How cool is this? It's the kind of event the legendary Chick Austin used to cook up at the Wadsworth Atheneum, one everybody's going to be talking about. I'm saying we alert the immediate world. CNN. The New York Times Travel Section. The Washington Post. Huffington Post. Wilbur Post (no, wait ...) NPR.
After a century, Twain remains an international literary rock star. Of the 64,000 people who visited the Twain House last year, 75 percent were from out of state, coming from all 50 states and 61 countries. Journalists from Europe have already begun arriving to film the house in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the day when reports of his death were no longer exaggerated.
The Twain House and Museum "is a big part of the sell on Hartford — we use it all the time," said H. Scott Phelps, president of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau. He said the Twain House was a significant factor in drawing three conventions — independent booksellers, librarians and museum interpreters — to the city this fall.
Twain sites across the country — Elmira, N.Y., Hannibal and Florida, Mo., Virginia City, Nev., and the University of California, Berkeley, as well as Hartford (see www.twain2010.org) — have declared 2010 "The Year of Mark Twain." Let's have the big party here.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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