Friday, December 7, 2012

A Top 12 List for 2012

In looking over past blog posts, I realize that it's been... ahem... a while. In my defense, however, it's been just a bit on the busy side this past year. And in that spirit, I'd like to offer something of a countdown - in no particular order - of the 12 best events of 2012 at the Mark Twain Museum!

1. The museum celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 15, 2012 with a ceremony on the mall in front of the Boyhood Home. Special guests included Sara Zimmerman, great-granddaughter of George Mahan who purchased the home in 1911 to save it from demolition. He gave the home to the city of Hannibal in 1912, and since that time more than  8.5 million visitors have toured the home. Miss Zimmerman summed up the sentiments of those attending when she said, "It makes me feel very blessed that my grandfather had the foresight to do this for the city of Hannibal. It was an amazing act of preservation in a time when preservation was hardly known." Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer also spoke at the ceremony about the importance of the museum properties from both an economic and historical perspective. The museum exhibited "100 Years of Memories" featuring a retrospective of special visitors and events through the years including an online gallery.

Centennial Celebration

2. Historic preservation being the focus of our efforts, it was exciting to witness the completion of the Van Swearingen House restoration project by Hannibal High School historic preservation trades class students. More than 50 students worked on the 1844 home for two years. The Riedel Foundation provided substantial support for the restoration, and the home is now ready for new owners. 

Before and After

3. Speaking of historic preservation, I also have to list the day I received a phone call from an anonymous donor who was eager to help us complete the Becky Thatcher House. He said he was pleased with our efforts and wanted to help. Although I've never met this gentleman, I am forever grateful for the generous donation of $50,000 and his vote of confidence. "The Becky" is nearly complete, and it will be a highlight of 2013 to reopen the home to visitors. Thank you to every donor who recognizes our important work here.

The Becky Thatcher House

4. Special thanks to our new marketing director, Brenna McDermott, for spearheading many projects and events (in addition to writing dozens of press releases) such as Missouri School Read-In Day, a new initiative enacted into law by the Missouri legislature. Representative Mike Kelley asked the museum to take the leadership role in this program that invites community leaders into classrooms to read aloud to children. The museum piloted the program this year and will be expanding it around the state in 2013.

Reading Tom Sawyer?

5. Another great event this year was a visit from our beloved Hal Holbrook who has been performing his breathtaking "Mark Twain Tonight!" since 1954. The purpose for Hal's visit was twofold: he came to perform to a captivated crowd at Hannibal High School on November 17th, and the next day he received the "Mark Twain Lifetime Achievement Award" from the museum. The museum announced the establishment of the award this year during its centennial celebration. It will be presented every two years to someone whose life's work has significantly furthered Mark Twain's legacy. It is easy to understand why Hal Holbrook was the first ever recipient! The Wiegand Foundation presented the award, a bas relief of Twain writing in bed, inspired by Don Wiegand's portrait sculpture. Governor Jay Nixon even sent a special proclamation for the event that honored Hal as "an adopted son of Missouri."

Hal Holbrook Speaking at the Museum Gallery

6. Pianist Jacqueline Schwab, whose talents can be heard in numerous Ken Burns documentaries, returned to the museum and performed on the Ossip Gabrilowitsch grand piano. Jacqueline performed from her vast repertoire of American music, delighting the audience with stories about the songs and composers throughout the performance.

Jacqueline Schwab
7. Our Mark Twain: Words & Music CD benefit celebrated its one-year anniversary in September. The CD was named "the most downloaded Americana album of all time" by AirPlay Direct, was aired in its entirety on "The Midnight Special" radio show, and landed two songs in the top ten on the bluegrass charts: "Run Mississippi" ranked #2 and "Comet Ride" ranked #7. Sales remain strong, and we even heard from a professor in Japan who uses the CD as a text in his class. And speaking of class, I got to share teaching strategies with fellow educators at the University of Arkansas's Literacy Symposium for using the CD in the classroom to address the new Common Core Standards. I even got to present Garrison Keillor, Carl Jackson, Rhonda Vincent, and The Church Sisters with special frogs sculpted by Don Wiegand as thank you gifts for their work on the CD. And that's the short list!

Carl Jackson, Yours Truly, and Garrison Keillor
on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville
Carl Jackson, Cindy Lovell, Lethal Jackson
at Wiegand Studio where Don Wiegand
created a lifecast of Lethal's hands filing a
banjo pick - like he did when Carl was just 5!
Don also created a lifecast of Carl's hands playing
the banjo - a Gibson Mastertone, of course!
Don did all this to thank Carl for producing
"Mark Twain: Words & Music."
8. And the AWARDS go to... the museum, of course! The museum is frequently recognized for its accomplishments and contributions, and 2012 was no different. True West magazine (which my dad read when I was a kid), named the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum a Top Ten Western Museum. Hannibal was a frontier town when Sam Clemens lived here, and that's part of our story told in our buildings and artifacts. The Division of Tourism surprised me with the Ambassador Award at the Governor's Conference on Tourism. And the design work for our beautiful CD was recognized by the International Academy of the Visual Arts.

Our thanks to Poole Communications for
designing the award-winning CD cover and liner notes!

With Governor Jay Nixon at the Conference
9. In 2009 we were visited by Neal Moore, a CNN iReporter who was canoeing the length of the Mississippi River looking for positive stories, and in 2012 we published Down the Mississippi: A Modern-day Huck on America's River Road. Neal returned from the far side of the world to launch the book to an enthusiastic crowd. I was proud to be invited aboard the project by Neal whose journeys took him from Lake Itasca to New Orleans.

Down the Mississippi
A Modern-day Huck on America's River Road
10. Our first Becky Thatcher Trivia Night Fundraiser was such a success, we did it again this year! Teams signed up to see who knew the most about the most insignificant knowledge while raising more than $4,000 for The Becky. There was also a silent auction and bake sale. We only had one category about Mark Twain. It was on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the team that claimed the town's official couple (Brooke Burton and Lucas Cline) got every answer right!

The Becky Thatcher House
11. Although our museum focuses on the buildings important to Sam Clemens's legacy in Hannibal and Clemens family artifacts, we have a lovely art collection as well, including fifteen original Norman Rockwell paintings of Tom and Huck. This year we featured a special exhibit of Thomas Hart Benton originals, courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri. The works represented The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi

We also found a buried treasure - or hidden treasure, at least - in the museum gallery right under our noses! Artist and conservator Gordon Harris discovered that a frame believed to be plastic was actually hand-carved and gilded. He removed the plastic-looking paint with a dental tool and found a valuable antique under the surface. That's right... right under our noses. He happened to be examining the painting of Twain by Andrew Zylinski and noticed the slightest glint of gold in the frame, and there you have it!

Painting of Mark Twain by Andrew Zylinski
12. Last but certainly not least is the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act. This legislation was introduced last year by Missouri Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer. It passed in the House of Representatives in April and in the Senate in November. And as an early Christmas present, perhaps, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on December 4, 2012. The coin bill, which was also championed by Missouri Senators Blunt and McCaskill, instructs the U.S. Mint to produce commemorative gold and silver coins in 2016. A surcharge on the coins will cover all costs, so taxpayers can breathe easy, and proceeds from the sales will be divided equally among the four main Twain sites: 1) The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum; 2) The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, CT; 3) The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in Elmira, NY; and 4) The Mark Twain Papers and Project at the Bancroft Library at UC-Berekeley in Berkeley, CA. Each site can expect approximately $1.75 million from the surcharges collected as long as matching funds have been received. We are grateful to our colleagues at the other Twain sites for working with us for the bill's passage, and we are also grateful to our representatives who recognized the importance of this legislation for the museum. 

Sculptor Don Wiegand created this portrait sculpture of Twain writing in bed.
It inspired the bas relief presented to Hal Holbrook for the Mark Twain Lifetime
Achievement Award, and Wiegand has offered the image for use by the U.S. Mint
when they manufacture the Mark Twain Commemorative Coins in 2016.

There were many other notable moments this year, such as visits from Andy Borowitz, Steve Courtney and Ian Strathcarron with their new books, an outstanding Music Under the Stars series that featured several performers from our Mark Twain: Words & Music CD, two week-long teacher workshops supported by the Missouri Humanities Council, several writers' workshops, ongoing performances by master storyteller Gladys Coggswell and Mark Twain performer Jim Waddell supported by the Missouri Arts Council and the Missouri Division of Tourism, the introduction of new technology using QR codes to enhance visitors' experiences supported by the Riedel Foundation, and even some cave exploration when things got too quiet, which wasn't often enough. But then, you can surely tell from this short list that it's rarely quiet at the museum

Here's wishing everyone a great holiday and a bright 2013. And I'll see if I can remember to do this a little more often than once a year...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Illinois Stories and the Bob Edwards Show

The Mark Twain: Words & Music CD has been out a little more than a month now, and we are enjoying all of the phone calls, emails, and conversations about how much people are enjoying it.  Yes, we're partial, so hearing your compliments is truly heartwarming.

We've been gifted by two media events that have helped put the CD in front of folks.  First of all, Mark McDonald from Illinois Stories arrived in Hannibal the day of the CD's release and interviewed Carl Jackson and Val Storey.  Carl and Val performed five of the songs from the CD, and Mark filmed them for this broadcast on Illinois's PBS stations.  We saw an immediate spike in sales.

Mark McDonald from Illinois Stories interviewed
Carl Jackson and Val Storey about Mark Twain: Words & Music

Last week, the Bob Edwards Show aired an interview Bob conducted with yours truly (Cindy Lovell) about the CD.  Bob allowed me to share some of the behind-the-scenes stories about the project, but best of all he included several excerpts from the CD, both spoken word and song.  I'm glad he didn't ask me to name my favorite song, because that would not have been possible.  I love them all.  If you'd like to hear Bob's interview, here it is: Part 1 and Part 2.

Bob's audience is vast, and as the broadcast aired we saw our online sales begin to climb, both in our online store and on Amazon.  Yes, we do make a better profit from our own online sales, but watching the sales rankings climb on Amazon was exciting.  Yesterday we were ranked #1 in Bluegrass, #1 in Spoken Word, #6 in Country, #26 in Pop and #28 in Music overall.  Such is the reach of Bob Edwards's audience.   
Ranked #1 in Bluegrass Music sales on Amazon

Watching the sales rankings move up was exciting, especially
when we made it into the category of Pop Music.  Who knew?

We are in the early days of CD sales, and our marketing budget is limited.  We're hopeful that word of mouth and similar media coverage will help us share the project.  Twitter and Facebook can only do so much.  So, if you've heard the CD and like it, please let others know.  And if you haven't heard it yet and are curious, Amazon has posted clips from every track.  Each clip is 30 seconds in length.  If you listen to them in order from the beginning, you'll have a pretty good idea of the story sequence.

Every little event excites and encourages us.  Let us hear from you! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Big Read

One of the greatest programs supported by the National Endowment for the Arts is The Big Read.  The Big Read is a community event during which people of all ages and backgrounds come together to read the same book.  One of the titles on the list is my childhood favorite, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and I am constantly thrilled when I pick up the phone and hear from someone in another community announcing they have selected this book.  I've given keynotes and teacher workshops in many Big Read communities, and I'm thrilled to make new friends everywhere I go and have them come visit me in Hannibal.

The Big Read is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Recently I had the privilege of visiting Irving, Texas and Alexandria, Louisiana, two communities that selected Tom Sawyer.  Both communities planned family-friendly activities to involve everyone in reading, and I was thrilled to get to share the "real stories" behind the book - events, people, and places.  That was the magic I discovered when I first visited Hannibal in 1996 - that there is very little "fiction" in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

"Jackson's Island" in the Mississippi River is where the boys ran off to play pirates.
The Mark Twain Cave is still open to the public, and if you're
lucky you'll see the occasional local resident like this little fellow.

Sam Clemens's childhood friend, Laura Hawkins, lived in this house,
which is right across the street from his. She became the model for
Becky Thatcher. The Museum is accepting donations to finish the
restoration of this house and reopen it to the public in 2012 as a
children's museum that tells the story of childhood in mid-1800s Hannibal.

"Injun Joe" was loosely based on Joe Douglass, a Hannibal resident
whose physical characteristics frightened the local children.

In Hannibal today you will still encounter "Tom Sawyer"
and "Becky Thatcher" strolling the streets.

For anyone reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer today, you can do no better than to visit Hannibal, Missouri, where the stories started.  The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum maintains nine historical properties, including the Boyhood Home of young Sam.  You can come visit and see the very window where Sam would sneak out at night to go adventuring with his buddy, Tom Blankenship, who provided the model for Twain's beloved character, Huckleberry Finn.  For parents, teachers, or anyone reading this book with children, if you can't make it to Hannibal, you can at least orient yourself using the virtual tours created by the Mark Twain Young Authors.  This will give you some background story on the real people, places, and events that appear in this wonderful book.
Grab a brush and help whitewash the famous fence!

My Big Read adventures have taken me from to Carmel, California to Enterprise, Oregon to Ashland, Kentucky and beyond, and I look forward to visiting more communities and telling folks about the true stories behind Twain's fiction.  Listening to the songs and stories on Mark Twain: Words & Music is a great way to learn about Twain's life, and the virtual tours give a glimpse into our historical town, but the best way to experience the boyhood adventures of Sam Clemens is to visit Hannibal.

Don't wait too long!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mark Twain: Words & Music - The Release

Everything happened so fast, it was almost blurry.  Think of it.  Carl Jackson and I first spoke in 2007 about doing this project.  (And remember, this was after having not seen or spoken to each other since the early 1970s.)  After our reunion phone call when he agreed this all sounded like a splendid idea, we kept in touch by phone and email, and then I stopped in Nashville and had dinner with him on my way to Florida in December of, let's see... 2009?  Must've been.  Well, the hours we have logged on our iPhones, the emails that've flown across the World Wide Web, the hundreds of songs and words considered, the devilish details, the serendipitous surprises... it has all culminated in the actual release of Mark Twain: Words & Music.

We had a release party.  That is to say, Carl and Val Storey came to Hannibal to be on hand when the first CDs were sold at the stroke of midnight (Tom and Huck's famous hour), so we led up to the appointed time with a first rate party followed by Carl and Val singing songs from the CD.  You're familiar with the line-up: Jimmy Buffett as Huck Finn, Garrison Keillor as the narrator, Clint Eastwood as Sam Clemens, & Angela Lovell as Susy Clemens.  Then there are the singers... Emmylou Harris, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent, Bradley Walker, Carl Jackson, The Church Sisters, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, Marty Raybon, Val Storey, Vince Gill, Joe Diffie, and Ricky Skaggs.  The CD is released on the Mailboat Records label.  It is produced, of course, by the one and only Carl Jackson.

Now, let's go to the party...

The Museum Gallery was decorated "just so"
In hopes that all of our best friends would show

Megan and Beau brought wine from the Cave
I sampled them all, now which is my fave?

Chocolaterie Stam donated mouthwatering chocolate
I'll have to confess to stashing some in my pocket

The downstairs was ready for what would come later
Upstairs there was food that LulaBelle's catered
The Rockwell Gallery was full of folks
Sharing good time, laughter, and lots of good jokes
With LulaBelle's catering, the food was superb
Most everyone made it, but we sure missed you, Herb!

Journalism students and prof spoke with Michael
Their blog is the best, glad we got into their cycle
Danny and Emily co-wrote "Huck Finn Blues"
Brad Paisley recorded, now THAT is good news!
There's Micki and Michael and Carl and Ryan
I can't remember all names - I swear I am tryin'!

Val and Nancy catching up with a chat
Mixing and mingling, you just can't beat that!

Gregg and Vikki check out the exhibit
That describes the CD and tells how we did it

Everyone's laughing and giggling and grinning
I guess you could say we were all just "Huck Finning"

While the party continued the stars sneaked downstairs
To warm up their voices for a few empty chairs
We've heard of air guitar, but never wine
Henry's tuned and he's ready to have a great time

Finally it's time for music and more
Of our beloved Sam Clemens, there's so much in store
Kristy is mesmerized, Dena is smiling
This musical evening is truly beguiling

The fans were nestled all snug in their seats
While Carl and Val did not miss a beat
Carl played lead, he and Val took turns singing
That sweet Martin guitar, like a bell it was ringing

After the show folks waited in line
To buy their CDs, then have Val and Carl sign

Okay, so the captions aren't award-winners, but you get the idea.  I mainly wanted to share pictures for those who couldn't be here.  Now, aren't you sorry you didn't come?  A highlight of the evening came when Carl got ready to sing "Indian Crow," a song he co-wrote with Jerry Salley.  The song calls for a respectable dobro, and boy, did we get lucky.  Rusty Young (of Poco fame) and his lovely wife, Mary, had come to the party, and with no warning, planning, or rehearsing, Carl called upon Randy to come up and help play the song.  Breathtaking.  (Rusty, we gotta book you for Music Under the Stars somehow!)

We really did have an amazing time, and now the fun will be watching how it sells and hearing how folks like it.  We've already had many letters, emails, and phone calls with lots of folks re-ordering after they've played theirs.  Looks like Santa Claus might need to stock up.  Remember, this is a benefit for the Museum, and the artists donated their time and talent to this project to help our cause - caring for 9 historic properties.  Please help us get the word out.  The Associated Press ran a great article yesterday that seems to have generated a lot of interest.  I peeked at the Amazon rankings earlier this evening, and the CD was ranked #46 in Country Music and #2 in Bluegrass.  Kind of amazing considering we've done no advertising.  But then, the whole thing's been kind of amazing.

Thank you to all who believed in this project.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mark Twain: Words & Music CD Release

Just when I think my week can't get any better (I "work" at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, after all), a small package arrives that sends everyone into a tizzy.  The small package that arrived this past Tuesday contained a precious handful of our new CDs - Mark Twain: Words & Music.  Now, this has been a work in progress since the idea began in 2005, so to hold an actual CD in my hand after all this time - well, let's just say I'm not over it yet.

Our first peek at the finished product!
What is this CD project, and why all the fuss?  The quick answer is: This double-CD with a 40-page booklet of liner notes tells Mark Twain's life in spoken word in song.  The glitzy answer is: This CD features Jimmy Buffett (as Huck Finn), Garrison Keillor (as narrator), Clint Eastwood (as Mark Twain), Angela Lovell (yes, MY Angela Lovell as Susy Clemens) and songs by: Emmylou Harris, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent, Bradley Walker, Carl Jackson, The Church Sisters, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, Marty Raybon, Val Storey, Vince Gill, Joe Diffie, and Ricky Skaggs.  The most important answer is: This CD is a labor of love that will generate much needed revenue for the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum.

A double-CD with a 40-page booklet of liner notes
Back in 2005 I was trying to come up with a creative project for 2010, also known as "The Year of Mark Twain" because of the confluence of three important anniversaries: the 100th anniversary of his death, the 175th anniversary of his birth, and the 125th anniversary of the American publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  For two years my favorite CD had been Livin', Lovin', Losin' - Songs of the Louvin Brothers, which won two Grammys in 2004 and was produced by Carl Jackson, a childhood friend I hadn't seen in more than 30 years.  I met Carl when he played banjo for Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys, a top notch bluegrass band.  Carl was 14, I was 12, and we became friends and pen pals.

Carl Jackson playing banjo with Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys
Carl left Jim & Jesse and played several years with Glen Campbell.  He later toured with Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Vince Gill, and Ricky Skaggs.  Being raised on bluegrass music, I kept up with Carl's music even though we lost touch.  On the Louvin project, which won the Grammy for Best Country Album, Carl had paired the perfect voices to recreate some of the Louvin Brothers' greatest songs.  Adding to the magic of the album was the inclusion of archival audio footage of Ira and Charlie Louvin onstage, talking to the audience, introducing each other, and talking about their songs.  I loved the way the songs blended with the chatter.  The idea for a spoken word/song compilation CD about Mark Twain's life felt like the perfect way to honor Twain's legacy in 2010.

Livin', Lovin', Losin' - Songs of the Louvin Brothers
The CD that started it all... produced by Carl Jackson
Although I hadn't spoken to Carl in more than three decades, I got his number from a mutual friend.  I called, he answered, and six years later, here we are - with real CDs on hand.  I have to say that I was thrilled for two reasons when Carl answered that call: 1) he remembered me; and 2) he said he liked the idea and would do it.  Now, if Carl Jackson is not a household name in your family, it's because Carl does not do any self-promotion.  But he is, without a doubt, the best acoustic producer in Nashville (which also means in the entire country).

I set to work writing the script, listening to songs, and planning the sequence.  Carl also set to work, reviewing everything I sent him, doing a lot of listening on his own, and contacting friends to write songs, play, and sing on the CD.  (And yes, Carl wrote new songs especially for the CD.)  Carl and his friends generously and graciously donated their immense talent to this project.

And speaking of generous folks, a handful of unsung heroes (The Hutchison Brothers: Herb, Bob, and Tom; Keith and Heather Harned; Joan and Bruce Coffey, Cheryl Amman, Mina Brown, Jimmy O'Donnell, the Riedel Foundation, and the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau) stepped up to the plate and wrote checks to cover the costs of making a CD - everything from studio time to legal fees.

Oh, and then there's the lovely Sally Poole and her excellent staff (I'm talking about you, Sheena Kendrick) who took all the words and images we provided and created a work of art in the design of the CD.  Yes, this CD was a team effort - TEAM TWAIN.

And now we are about to unveil this amazing project with a heart full of gratitude and hope...

14 story segments + 13 songs = 1 life story of Mark Twain
(Or, you could rewrite this as 2 CDs + 40 pages of liner notes = 1 unique project)

The CD will be released September 21, 2011.  In fact, we're so excited, we're having a party on the evening of Sept. 20th!  (Tickets are only $25!  Call 573-221-9010, ext. 404 to order yours!)  Carl will be there along with other special guests, and at Tom and Huck's favorite hour - MIDNIGHT! - we'll begin selling the long awaited CDs!  For folks who can't make it to the party, it's easy to pre-order this beautiful, historic project from the Museum's online store.  Priced at only $18.95, your holiday shopping could not be easier this year!  The CD has something for everyone: history, literature, American roots music, some of your favorite stars, and some brand new stars.  And remember, you're not just getting the best road trip CD ever created, you're helping to preserve the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum properties in Hannibal.  Who ever knew that doing a good deed could have such a great payoff?
"Like" the CD on Facebook and tell your friends about it!

P.S. Carl and I dedicated the CD to our parents and to my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Ronald E. Riese.  Mr. Riese introduced me to Mark Twain a long time ago at Newberry Elementary.  It just goes to show you how much impact teachers have on their students.  Thank you, Mr. Riese!  (And thank you, Carl, for making my dream come true!)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mark Twain's Hannibal: The Clemens Conference


Last week (August 10-14) we launched our first scholarly conference here in Hannibal, the Clemens Conference. As Calvin and Hobbes  might say, the days were just packed. Everything about those days felt magical, starting with the weather. After the three-digit temperature heat wave we'd been experiencing, Mother Nature generously delivered perfect blue skies, cumulus clouds, temps in the low 80s during the day and high 60s at night, and the very breeze immortalized by poets. Luck was upon us, and everything else fell into line.

Henry Sweets offered a tour of Hannibal for early arrivals (and repeated the tour Sunday morning for those who missed the first one). Several carloads of folks took him up on his offer and formed a caravan touring Hannibal's historic and notable sites, such as Riverview Park, Lover's Leap, and Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Shoichi Nasu, Barb Snedecor, and John Pascal read the
tombstone of John Marshall Clemens, Sam's father
More scholars arrived Wednesday evening, as did Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, and Jerry Salley - our very special performers for last week's Music Under the Stars concert. We all met up that evening at the Museum Gallery for a wine reception and tour. Tom and Becky stopped in to perform their engagement scene, and the mood for magic was set.

The conference kicked off officially on Thursday morning. Twain scholars, seasoned and new, presented on a wide range of topics. Conversation was lively, and camaraderie seemed to be the word of the day. Longtime scholars were extremely supportive with those breaking fresh ground on Clemens.

Dr. Martin Zehr presents on Hannibal's influence upon young Sam
At last Dr. Barbara Snedecor, Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, delivered her keynote on Livy. Most folks know that Olivia Langdon Clemens never accompanied her famous husband to his hometown on the three trips he made here after they were wed, so in many ways this felt as though Livy had finally made it to Hannibal. Barb's talk focused on a collection of letters written by Livy, offering new insight into this genteel, educated woman whom Sam Clemens adored.

Later in the week, Dr. Barbara Snedecor found work
as a cub pilot on the Mark Twain Riverboat

After a full day of excellent papers topped off with Barb's engaging talk, scholars moseyed downtown to enjoy Music Under the Stars, the Museum's signature summer program held every Thursday night in front of Sam's boyhood home. We enjoyed a rare treat with local singer/songwriter Murray McFarlane and T.C. Pierceall opening for Carl, Jerry, and Larry.  

Murray McFarlane and T.C. Pierceall warm up the crowd

A record crowd packed the mall area in front of the Boyhood Home, and the crowd soon learned this was to be no ordinary evening. After a flawless performance by Murray and T.C., the veteran songwriters took the stage and surprised the audience by playing ONLY their original compositions - many of them Number 1 hits. After a while Carl began talking about our new CD project, Mark Twain: Words & Music, and the audience went wild as the trio played several selections, including "Huck Finn Blues," which Carl co-wrote with conference participants Danny Wilson and Emily Hayes.  (Brad Paisley recorded the song for the CD.) And just when we thought it couldn't get any better, Carl sang "Comet Ride," a song he penned that tells the story of Sam Clemens coming into the world and later going out with Halley's Comet. No one seemed surprised when not one, but TWO, shooting stars fell from the sky behind the stage area, wowing the crowd with their uncanny timing. Yes, it was magical.

Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, and Jerry Salley
"Music Under the Stars" Nashville-style

A happy crowd in front of Sam's home

The trio from Nashville did not take a break and played an extra half hour. The crowd didn't budge and would likely still be there if the music had continued. After these first rate musicians packed up their instruments, they were still in the mood to play. We grabbed folks who were handy and made our way to the auditorium of the Museum Gallery. The jam session lasted until nearly 2:00 a.m. I even recorded Carl, Larry, and Jerry singing "Happy Birthday" for my sister, Becky, who lives in England.  (Thanks, guys!  She loved it!)
Henry Sweets IV, Larry Cordle, and Carl Jackson jamming
The conference continued on Friday with excellent sessions. Henry had planned a trip out to Sam's birthplace in Florida, Missouri that included a special side trip to Quarles Farm, the site where young Sam listened to stories told by Uncle Dan'l, an enslaved man owned by Uncle John Quarles. Like Hannibal, this is hallowed ground to all who love Mark Twain.

We had a faithful and affectionate good friend, ally and adviser in “Uncle Dan’l”, a middle-aged slave whose head was the best one in the negro quarter, whose sympathies were wide and warm and whose heart was honest and simple and knew no guile... I have not seen him for more than half a century and yet spiritually I have had his welcome company a good part of that time and have staged him in books under his own name and as “Jim”, and carted him all around—to Hannibal, down the Mississippi on a raft and even across the Desert of Sahara in a balloon—and he has endured it all with the friendliness and loyalty which were his birthright.

Owner of the site, Karen Hunt (far right) explains the archaeological
dig to Twain scholars. Karen is rebuilding the Quarles' farmhouse. 
Friday also included performances by award-winning author and storyteller Gladys Coggswell and Twain impersonator Jim Waddell. Gladys performed A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It, and Jim shared Civil War recollections.

Jerry Salley, Gladys Coggswell, and Carl Jackson
Glady performed as "Aunt Rachel" (Mary Ann Cord)
After a full day of scholarship, everyone was ready for some fun.

By-and-by someone shouted:

"Who's ready for the cave?"

Everybody was.  Bundles of candles were procured, and straightway there was a general scamper up the hill.  The mouth of the cave was up the hillside--an opening shaped like a letter A.  Its massive oaken door stood unbarred.  Within was a small chamber, chilly as an ice-house, and walled by Nature with solid limestone that was dewy with a cold sweat.  It was romantic and mysterious to stand here in the deep gloom and look out upon the green valley shining in the sun.

Everyone was ready for the cave.  Mark Twain Cave owner Linda Coleberd and manager Beau Hicks split the group in two and guided us on a custom-made tour from a Clemens perspective. Pat Ober has been researching Dr. McDowell's story and was elated to find himself in the actual chamber where the good doctor conducted his experiments. (True story: McDowell suspended his deceased 14-year old daughter in an alcohol solution in a copper and glass cylinder in the cave.  Creepy!) Scholars ooohed and aaahed and kept an eye out for young Sam's autograph, which to this day still hasn't been located. Talk about an enchanted evening. Church ain't shucks to a circus, and ballroom dancing ain't shucks to cave exploration.

Does anyone have a piece of kite string?
After the cave most everyone was ready to get some rest, but it turns out Jerry Salley had located some Hank Williams 78s that day and was itching to hear them. After a late night jamming the night before, it seemed fitting to sit up late and play the old classics. A houseful of friends - all we could gather on short notice - made their way up the hill to my place. We cranked the old Victrola and listened to Hank sing "Jambalaya" and other favorites. I pulled out a few of my favorites, too. (Confession: We listened to Gene Autry sing "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and found ourselves in the Christmas spirit.) We were having too much fun to concern ourselves with the lateness of the hour.

Carl, Jerry, Cindy, and Larry
"SATURDAY morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life.  There was a song in every heart, and if the heart was young the music issued at the lips.  There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step.  The locust-trees were in bloom and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air.  Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above it, was green with vegetation and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting."

Saturday was the last official day of the conference, and the beautiful weather stayed with us. Our venue was Hannibal-LaGrange University, and we heard many compliments about the campus as well as the dorms where most folks were staying. Scholars shared more papers, and we heard from Scott Teems and Laura Smith (director and producer) about their new project, a feature length documentary titled, "Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey." Scott and Laura interviewed several Twain scholars during the conference and shot footage of Sam Clemens's Hannibal. We missed Hal, but Scott and Laura did a great job telling us about the progress of the documentary. We also heard from Dr. Robert Hirst, General Editor and Official Curator of the Mark Twain Project and Papers, University of California, Berkeley. Bob shared reminisces of his 44 years at the Project and talked about the upcoming volume 2 of the autobiography.

Dr. Robert Hirst shares his unique perspective and insights
Bob's keynote closed out the conference, but we still had to have our dinner, and where better than aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat on the Mississippi River. Captain Steve Terry indulged the scholars, letting them have a turn at the wheel.

The pilot-house was full of pilots, going down to 'look at the river.'

We cruised upon the muddy brown water, laughing, swapping yarns, Kodak'ing each other, and having a general good time.

Patti Philippon, curator at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut,
contemplates a career on the river.  (Mallory Howard, can you learn Patti the river?)
After a great meal and much too short cruise (was it really two hours?), happy passengers disembarked, some traipsing to Kerley's in the hopes John Bird (a regular there now) would play his mandolin, others sauntering Main Street toward the Boyhood Home for one last glimpse by moonlight. 

The full moon was riding high in the cloudless heavens, now.

Although we had neglected to check the calendar, Luck was still with us and had fetched us a full moon for that lovely ride on the riverboat. And while some folks made their way back to their college dorm rooms for one last night, we are pretty confident that a few others straggled out to the graveyard, possibly with Tom and Huck and a dead cat in tow. (Rumor has it that warts aren't a problem in Hannibal.)

A full moon lit the Mississippi River and Hannibal-town

Two or three minutes later the murdered man, the blanketed corpse, the lidless coffin, and the open grave were under no inspection but the moon's.  The stillness was complete again, too.
Sunday morning brought the sadness of goodbyes with promises of "See you soon!" Scott Teems and Laura Smith stuck around with their crew to get some more footage for their documentary. Pam and Mike Ginsberg (owners of LulaBelle's) volunteered their pontoon boat and took the crew to Jackson's Island and other spots on the river. We can't wait for the film to come out (probably 2013 - let's hope for a screening at the Elmira conference) to see how much Hannibal footage makes it into the final cut.

Scott, Julien, Daniel, and Laura aboard the Ginsbergs' pontoon boat
We look forward to seeing all of the Twain scholars in Elmira in 2013 and back in Hannibal in 2015.  (But we'll certainly welcome you if you can come before that!)

So endeth this chronicle.  It being strictly a history of a conference, it must stop here...

A conference is only as good as its scholarship. We are deeply gratified that so many excellent papers were submitted. Special thanks to these Twain scholars for their fine presentations: Jeffrey Melton, Matthew Vercollone, John Bird, K. Patrick Ober, Martin Zehr, Dustin Zima, Barbara Snedecor, Debra Cochran, Nathaniel Williams, Ashley Ortiz, Ryo Waguri, Tim Jon Semmerling, Jenny A. Bucksbarg, John H. Davis, Debra MacComb, Jarrod Roark, James Wharton Leonard, John R. Pascal, Kotaro Nakagaki, Mark Valentine, and Robert Hirst.

Additional thanks to Kent Rasmussen for letting us read his upcoming book: Dear Mark Twain: Letters from His Readers. We are still laughing.

Thanks for support from: Hannibal-LaGrange University, Linda Coleberd, the Mark Twain Cave, John Ravenscraft, the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Hannibal Arts Council, and Karen Hunt.

Final thanks to the behind-the-scenes folks who made this happen: Henry H. Sweets III, Ryan Murray, Mai Conrad, Dena Ellis, Nathan Hammock (at HLGU), Emily Hayes, and Danny Wilson.