Mark Twain – a few thoughts

Looking back 100 years requires a bit of imagination. There was less noise and Americans were not far removed from there countries or counties of origin and of course, long distance travel was earth bound and expensive. We thank that unknown group of bureaucrats who saved the Danbury train line. After the war, the automobile was king. There was little money for trains and branch lines became an endangered specie.

Redding station, summer 2010

In the dead of winter green is my favorite color.

At the moment I’m involved in a multi-episode entertainment program for a major cable Channel. Corporate television is about hard deadlines and efficiency’s up and down the production process, at the expense of content.

What brought me to Twain and what kept me thinking about Twain, was the railroad. The first footage I shot was the train to Redding, not a through train from Grand Central Terminal, but the connecting branch line train from South Norwalk. Forgive me if I’ve gone over this territory before, but it’s the train that pushes and pulls the story of Twain to its conclusion. The death of Twain and the carriage of his body back to New York on the same tracks and just possibly by the same engine that brought him to Redding roughly 22 months before. And so it goes. No train, no Twain in Redding. He would have died in New York.

I have been looking for the flesh and blood Twain. Outside of that one strip of film taken by the Edison Company. The one where he walks around Stormfield and has tea with his daughters, there are no other moving images and no sound recordings, although we know he made a few. None have been found. Where to look. Well, a good place to start is with the work of Hal Holbrook. Holbrook built a second career on impersonating Twain. This is not to be taken lightly. He studied everything Twain. His research and his respect for Twain’s words are well known.

Stormfield Notes:
Stormfield construction contract signed January 20, 1907
Ground breaking: Isabel Lyons, H.A. Lounsbury, a Mr. Turner and two construction contractors (W.W. Sunderland of Danbury) met with John Howells (architect), Pain and William R. Coe, to turn over the soil with shovels and pour in a little whiskey in the hole.
August 1907 house construction halted by Twain. If the house was abandoned then it would cost him $15,000, half the cost of the completed house. (multiply by 22 to get the cost in todays dollars = $330,000)

Miss Lyon wrote:
The building of the Redding house is stopped again-or we are trying to stop it. Since his return from England Mr. Clemens has been troubled about lilving so far away-or worse still having to live alone out there for Santa cannot be with him now, and he musn’t be with Jean. MT: God’s Fool page 182

Stormfield 1934, 24 four years after Twain's death (Click for detailed view)

Yes, the house burned to the ground in the early 20’s, but a similar style home was built on the same foundation. There is even a loggia on the north side of the house as in the original. The field is a meadow to this day. The property is managed by the Redding Land Trust which keeps certain sections of it’s property in open space condition. Some of the views of the countryside surrounding Stormfield were probably still intact in 1934, when this photo was taken. Today the view from the back of Stormfield is completely obscured by trees. With the loss of the family farm, the town’s tree population has returned to pre-revolutionary condition.

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