Tag: connecticut

Mark Twain House

Mark Twain’s Gothic Home Has Had Its Fair Share of Horrors

Want to hear a vaguely fun fact? Mark Twain (true name: Samuel Clemens) wrote his most famous books (Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, etc.) in an American High Gothic home in Hartford, Connecticut. I said vaguely fun. Don’t accuse me of over-promising. It’s a gorgeous house, and, by all accounts, Twain had a grand time there with his wife Olivia and his three daughters. He’d smoke cigars and play billiards with his bros, and write what’s now generally considered some of the best American literature. And it was home to Harriet Beecher Stowe. But the house hasn’t had the best luck since.

 

Twain dining room

Image Via The Mark Twain House and Museum

Conservatory

Image Via The Mark Twain House and Museum

 

The house is gorgeous, and the Clemens moved in as soon as it was completed in 1874. Clemens biographer Justin Kaplan called the house “part steamboat, part medieval fortress and part cuckoo clock.” Seems an accurate description from the photos.

 

But it has a somewhat dicey history. First off, Twain’s middle daughter, Susy, died in the house at the age of twenty-four of spinal meningitis. Mark, Olivia and their daughter Clara were on a lecture tour through Europe at the time, raising funds to pay off the family’s debt. After losing Susy, the Clemens couldn’t bear moving back in. They sold the house in 1903. It was restored and made into a house museum in 1974, after seventy-one years of use as an apartment building, public library branch, and a school.

 

Stairwell

Photo by Frank Grace Via The LA Times

 

But, over the past ten years, the house has faced its share of hardship. In 2008, the house was almost $12 million in debt, due partially to the construction of the visitor center. It was saved by various do-gooders, including the state of Connecticut, who gave the house $3.5 million. And the house’s lender, Webster Bank, expanded payments until 2021, and eliminated interest payments. The debt was reduced to $4.9 million. A bunch of best-selling writers like Jon Clinch and Stewart O’Nan held a fundraiser to save the house, and it scored some major publicity, so that helped things too.

 

The house even had a slight surplus for a while. In 2011, though, it was revealed that the comptroller of the house, Donna Gregor, embezzled over a $1 million from the Mark Twain House and Museum. Apparently, it was to help support her ailing family members, such as her mother, who was suffering from cancer. Some academics actually backed Gregor, saying that she suffered from pathological altruism. She was so eager to help her family that she ignored the consequences of her actions. Okay.

 

Pool

Photo by Frank Grace Via The LA Times

 

The judge was also unconvinced, sentencing Gregor to forty-two months in prison, as well as repaying the stolen funds ($1.08 million), repaying the museum’s insurer ($500k), and paying the IRS $323,480 because taxes. This is why you don’t steal from National Historic Landmarks, people.

 

Still, it seems the house is in good shape today. It really does look beautiful, and if you live near enough or are planning a trip to the U.S.’s northeast, then maybe make the Mark Twain House one of your destinations. And maybe plan on throwing them some extra change in the donations jar.

 

Library

Photo by John Jroo Via The LA Times

 

Feature Image Via Hartford