What would you say if someone came up to you today and said “Guess what? Samuel Clemens is coming to Beatrice, Nebraska!”? Well 150 years ago people might say, “Who is that?” He was and is more commonly known as Mark Twain! An American humorist who commented on American culture and politics. Born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri on Nov. 30th of 1835, Mark Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri which would eventually become the setting for two of his most famous novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ernest Hemingway once said of Huckleberry Finn, “If you read it you must stop where Jim is stolen from the boys, that is the real end. The rest is just cheating.” He also said in the same essay, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
Twain began the travels that were the catalyst for much of his writing as a steamboat pilot’s apprentice on the Mississippi River. In 1861 Twain traveled with his brother to the Nevada Territory and later served as a correspondent from the Sandwich Islands and Europe, which gave him his reputation to launch his lecture and literary career. He became a national voice of his time and fully embraced the “Free Soil, Free Labor” ideology at the heart of the 1862 legislation and was fascinated by the development of railroads through the latter half of the 1800s.
You’re probably sitting there, reading to yourself thinking, “Yeah, I already learned this stuff in history!” However, here are some things you may not know about the historic Mark Twain.
· He used different pen names before deciding on “Mark Twain.” He signed humorous and imaginative sketches as “Josh” until 1863. Additionally he used the pen name “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass” for a series of humorous letters. How he came up with Mark Twain was by working on the Mississippi riverboats where ‘two fathoms’ was a depth indication of safe water for passage of a boat . The river boatmen’s cry “by the Mark Twain,” meant, according to the mark on the line, the depth is two fathoms, or 12’, and it is safe to pass! He claimed it was not entirely his invention.
· In significance of the great invention of his pen name, his is grave is marked by a 12’ high monument.
· Twain was born during a visit by Halley’s Comet and he predicted that he would go out with it as well. Twain said, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it as well. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with the comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’” He died the day following the comet’s subsequent return.
· He has also had an asteroid named after him because of the strong connection between him and the comet.
· Twain patented three inventions including an, “Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments” (to replace suspenders), and a history trivia game. Most commercially successful was a self-pasting scrapbook, a dried adhesive on the pages only needed to be moistened before use!
Please be sure to join Homestead National Monument of America, The Nebraska Humanities Council, and the City of Beatrice is commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Homestead Act in the FREE LAND? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America Homesteading Chautauqua event out at Homestead National Monument! Be sure to visit Mark Twain not only as he leads you through the tales of his life, but introduces other historic Chautauquan figures every night of the week of May 21-25!
By Colleen Capri Cutchin
Student Conservation Association Intern