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
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|
|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.
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.
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|
|Owner of the site, Karen Hunt (far right) explains the archaeological|
dig to Twain scholars. Karen is rebuilding the Quarles' farmhouse.
|Jerry Salley, Gladys Coggswell, and Carl Jackson|
Glady performed as "Aunt Rachel" (Mary Ann Cord)
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?|
|Carl, Jerry, Cindy, and Larry|
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|
|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?)
|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.
|Scott, Julien, Daniel, and Laura aboard the Ginsbergs' pontoon boat|
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.