Monday, October 24, 2016

Two Famous Authors and Their Homes

October 16-20, 2016
Willington, Connecticut

Football is as much my passion as it is Bill's so this Sunday is games and laundry per usual.

Temps overnight never get below 55, leading to a surprisingly warm Monday. Tessa and I spend the day in nearby Manchester running errands.

I find a wonderful groomer at Shampoodles who is finally able to get rid of the itchy skin Tessa's had since we got to New England. If you're in the area and doggie needs a "do", I highly recommend them. 

I also learn that full service car washes do not exist here. I can drive through to wash and wax the exterior, but drying, vacuuming and interior cleaning is all self-serve. Very archaic!

Piper gets washed nonetheless, and doesn't look too bad for an amateur finishing the work. 

Tuesday it's even warmer, very un-Fall-like. I envision the leaves being confused, the trees re-thinking whether they should be letting go yet. 

My Chautauqua buddy, Joann, has been sending me information on great places to visit along our route. Greatly appreciated as we know so little about the area.

On the list is the Mark Twain House in Hartford and Tuesday is the day to visit.

Hartford is a big city! After so much time in small towns and villages, I'm surprised by the big buildings and busy downtown.

A real city atmosphere

The Mark Twain House includes a multi-story museum on the same grounds. Before touring the house where no photographs are allowed, Tessa and I check out the exhibits and the excellent movie. Once the most recognized man on earth, Samuel Clemons suffered a great deal of personal and financial tragedy in his life. The loss of two daughters and his beloved wife Lily, took their toll. He considered his move to Europe to be a seven year exile, never feeling at home until he returned to America.

While we know his fictional master pieces, Mark Twain was also known during his life time as a brutal satirist and opinionated lecturer. 
These trunks traveled to Europe and back with the Clemons' family. One of the few things we kept in storage is a trunk of Bill's that looks very much like the large one on the right.
While Huck Finn clearly shows Twain's strong position on slavery and racism, I knew nothing about his philanthropy and participation in the fight for civil rights. Warner McGuinn, pictured here, had his college tuition fully paid anonymously by the author.
Clemons invested a fortune in the Paige Compositor, expecting the type-setter to make him the top publisher in the country, but instead it's constant breakdowns ultimately caused him to declare bankruptcy which led to his heartbreaking choice to move the family to Europe.

I enjoy listening to several of Twain's earlier pieces on the headphones provided in this sitting area.
In Their Father's Image is a lovely exhibit dedicated to the Clemons' three daughters.
Clara is the only child to outlive her father. With her mother also passing many years earlier, she was the sole family guardian of Clemons' possessions as well as his image. A task that often caused her great frustration.
While Twain was on tour his daughters prepared a play from one of his short stories and "put it on" for him when he returned. The large photo shows the girls and their mother performing what he would later call "one of my greatest memories." 
A small replica of the home's fireplace where I later learn has a most wonderful story. Every night the family would gather here and Clemons' would tell a different story using all of the items on the mantel. He did this for years, never repeating the same story. I love that!
I have to include the life-size Lego Mark Twain. Have to.
The house has been called the "most lovely home ever built". I haven't seen every house but this one is certainly at the top of those I have. Not being able to take photographs is actually wonderful because I just enjoy it all in the moment. From the grand entrance hall to the billiards room with the 1904 table, every room is spectacular. The "angel bed" in the master bedroom went with Clemons everywhere, and he took his last breath in the bed in his Redding, Connecticut home in 1910. Clara gave it to the museum in 1940. Like the home and everything in it - it is grand.

The grounds are being upgraded so there is little landscaping, but the home's exterior is nearly as beautiful as the interior.

"To us, our house had a heart and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes, and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence, and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction." - Mark Twain

The multiple chimneys are unique and stunning.
I'm so grateful to Joann for telling me about this wonderful place, and I encourage you to see it when you're in the area.

Next door to the Twain House is the Harriet Beech Stowe Center, with a visitors' center, the Katherine Seymour Day House, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. 

I take the short tour with three others. The docent loves Tessa, taking her leash so she can "see better". I'm lucky she left with me :-)

This is one of the best tours I've done. More than just being lead around a place being told interesting information about what I'm seeing, this is an interactive discussion about the impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin, of women daring to "speak out", of powerful literature. 

Her famous novel was inspired by Harriet's observation of a slave auction in Kentucky, and by the death of her infant son, giving her personal understanding of how the mothers felt who were sold away from their own children.
For the first time since opening in 1968, the center is receiving a much needed update. Because of all the work being done, most of Beecher-Stowe's house is closed today. Many of her art pieces and other artifacts have been moved to the Katherine Seymour Day House which normally serves only as the administrative offices and research library for the Center. The home was purchased by Harriet's grand-niece to save it from being destroyed. It is now named in her honor. 

One of nine ornate fireplaces. 
Tessa's pal shows us a newspaper which ran Uncle Tom's Cabin as a serialized story for many weeks. The book was published before the last chapters were printed and sold 10,000 copies the first week - people wanted to know how the compelling story ended!!
This beautiful clock is from Harriet's home and the chime at 2 o'clock has the sweetest tone.
My favorite piece here is the desk given to Harriet as a wedding gift, and where she penned the story of Tom, Topsy and little Eva. She also published 29 other novels.
Other items include many of the Uncle Tom-themed items that Harriet received no compensation for, including dishes, towels, statues, and even wallpaper. 

There is also a display of the bastardization of the story both on stage and in films. Seeing how the characters are portrayed in these it's not difficult to understand how "uncle tom" became a derogatory term. It's very sad considering the compassionate tale told by Harriet.

We do get a quick look inside Harriet's home, and like the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house in Seneca Falls, I feel very fortunate to stand in the same parlor where this strong, smart and brave woman also stood. It's even more poignant that they knew each other :-) 

Harriet lived in the home from 1873 until her death in 1896. It changed owners several times before Seymour-Day purchased her great aunt's home in 1924 and lived there for forty years. She donated the home and it's neighbor to be used to preserve Beecher-Stowe's history.

I enjoy seeing these two homes together, appreciating the important stories these two authors made part of our nation's culture.

After our busy day in the city, Wednesday Tessa and I take a short drive in the country and spend some time walking around our pretty little park. It is still in the 80's.

As the leaves reach their peak, some trees are already bare.
Hyde Park
Our home in the forest
Nice sites along the small lake

Some of the brightest colors are just out our window.
Bill is finally coming home Thursday afternoon!! Mom has been moved to her new place in Fresno, CA. The boxes Bill packed and shipped arrived intact. The family is all making plans to visit her. All-in-all a very successful trip. 

Tessa and I hang out at home until it's time to pick him up at the airport. We are both very happy to have him home!!


  1. We would love to tour Mark Twain's house. My husband was born and mostly raised in Hannibal so he's quite a fan of anything Mark Twain.

    1. What an amazing life he lived! I'm so glad I had the chance to learn more about him.

  2. You have some nice Fall photos there and it's always so interesting to actually see where pages of history have been written. And I enjoy seeing original artifacts such as those trunks etc. It sure sets one's imagination on fire.

    1. We've seen some amazing foliage in New England. There are so many wonderful pieces in both these homes, with great stories.

  3. What a great post Jodee. Love the fireplace story about Twain and the house is gorgeous. Connecticut is the only state on the East Coast, well actually East of the Mississippi where we have not spent a night and you have now given me a reason to go back and do that AND to venture into a city where I almost never go. I'm going back and see where you are staying so I can just do that too. Thanks for all the scouting. Can't believe the temps there in late October. It's only going up to 60 here today.

    1. You two would love both the tours - they were worth traversing part of the city for sure. The signage is good so it's easy to get in and out. The campground is fine for a few nights - and the surrounding area is beautiful. Our temps have dropped to the 50s now, chilly!

  4. The Clemons home is gorgeous!

    It is amazing how both of these historical stops deal with things that are STILL issues today, so many years later. How is it possible that America has not gotten beyond racism by now???

    1. I was thinking the same thing, that it's unbelievable we still have this ignorance among us.

  5. Another awesome post Jodee. The Clemon's home is the fireplace story.

    Amazing fall colors...

    1. Thanks! It is a beautiful home the family loved very much.

  6. Two great tours. Absolutely love the architecture of the Twain house and can imagine the inside to be superb.

    1. It was so wonderful to see these two houses together.

  7. Literature is a part of history that really never made an impression on me growing up.But seeing these museums makes me think I should've paid more attention... Someday I'd like to visit historical places such as these. The architecture is gorgeous as well!

    1. There are so many of the classics I've never read, and I have no excuses now, just need to add a few to my Kindle! The impact of some of these writings had such an impact on our history - and the museums like these are wonderful. You'll love them!

  8. What a great post, Jodee:) The Clemon's home is beautiful. Thanks for sharing so much of the history and the interesting little facts. I really enjoyed reading it. Glad you saved Bill's trunk. There were the coolest looking things. Loved the fireplace story:)

    How nice to have the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center next door! A great docent can makes all the difference in a tour. I can understand why she feel in love with Tessa:)

    Boy did you hit the leaves at the right time. What spectacular colors!! Beautiful home!!

    1. It's one of those smaller museums that share more information than one can absorb - Twain led an incredible life! The houses are literally yards apart, all on the same block. The surrounding area has suffered over the decades so it's wonderful that they were saved. We continue to see great colors as we move into your home state - very different, but so beautiful.

  9. I like Shampoodles, but prefer real ones.

    I never thought about Clemens having a family. Duh.

    1. bwahahahaha

      His writing does seem like that of a bachelor, but his family was a huge part of who he was.