Look to Thomas Nast and Albert Bigelow Paine if you want to understand why Twain moved to Redding, Connecticut

This was part of a talk that I gave at the Redding Library on Saturday the 18th of August, 2012. Numbers sync with the powerpoint images (will add soon). There was a bit of ad-lib to fill in some of the gaps, but it should be clear enough to follow.

*2 The story
So how did Mark Twain make Redding his home….Seems like everything I do is a work in progress….well this little piece of research yet another.

We begin with Thomas Nast…..

Thomas Nast 1840 -1902. He was a Caricaturist and Editorial Cartoonist. He was the inventor of the political cartoon. He also created the image we know as Santa Clause……..most of his political cartoons appeared in the Harpers Weekly published in New York….

Nast was a staunch Republican, and he deliberately chose the elephant as a Republican symbol because of the animal’s great size, intelligence, strength, and dignity. Without picking sides, I’m not sure this description depicts any people in our political parties today. Except for possibly size. So that’s how the Republican’s ended up with an elephant!

Lets not forget about the Democratic Donkey. Well it was Nast again, but the origins are a little less clear. Andrew Jackson was called a jackass for his popular beliefs and loved the idea appealing to the masses. He loved the Donkey, but I digress.

6 & 7
Here is a couple of Nast’s cartoons, there’s the Elephant again. They always seem to be falling….

Twain is the subject of this Nast cartoon. One evening Twain was staying with the Nast’s in their house in Morristown New Jersey. He was kept awake by the noise of the house clocks. He tried to stop them. The amused Nast sent him this cartoon in remembrance. This has nothing to do with our story, except to say that Twain was evidently a light sleeper.

9. So what does Nast have to do with Twain’s move to Redding? He was dead 6 years before Twain decided to build in Redding. And as far as I know Nast knew nothing about Redding…..But he did have a significant roll to play in our story non-the-less.

Enter Albert Bigelow Paine…
Here’s a little background: Paine was born in Massachusetts…grew up in Iowa and Illinois….left school at 15 and by the time he’s 20 he’s working in St. Louis as a photographer. He moves to Kansas and opens up a photographic supply business. But he liked to write and one of his stories is accepted by Harpers Weekly, so with this small success under his belt he moves to New York City in 1895 at the age of 34.

And by 1899 he is an editor of the popular young person’s magazine, St Nicholas.

With a number of books under his belt Paine becomes Thomas Nast’s official biographer and publishes the book, Thomas Nast: His Period and his Pictures. We’re not sure if it was a best seller, but he gets good reviews. I’m also assuming it was probably a somewhat lucrative endeavor. Nast was very popular. And Nast’s death in 1902 probably helped book sales when the book was published in 1904. It was the coffee table book of its day, with numerous Nast Illustrations.

Out next character is The Players Club….
The Players was founded as a social Club in New York City by the noted 19th-century Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth. This 1847 building is located at 16 Gramercy Park. But there is another connection to the players club….On April 14, 1865, Edwin’s younger brother and actor John Wilkes, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. But I digress again.

Paine like other authors of the day would send copies of there work to the people they though might help promote a book. He sent a copy of the Nast book to Twain in 1904. A acquaintance of Paine’s had seen the Nast book in Twain’s bedroom. Twain often greeted guests, in bed, proped up by pillows. I think this book siting gave Paine the confidence he needed when he finally got to speak with Twain.

To make a long story short Paine crossed paths with Twain at a dinner at the Players Club in early January 1906. After introducing himself to Twain he asked if he could call to see him some day. Twain answered, “Yes, come soon”… Paine, married now with three young girls, is elated.

On January 6th 1908 Paine arrives at Twains house at 21 fifth avenue. Built by James Renwick, the architect of St. Patricks Cathedral, the house was once the home of the writer Washington Irving of The legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Wickle fame.

And there Paine found Twain as usual in bed with his pillows. Paine mentioned in the ensuing conversation that he would like someday to write a book about Twain…..Twain answered, “when would you like to begin”. This begins Paine’s journey with Twain that ends with Paine’s death in 1937. Buy the way Paine, his wife and two of there daughters are buried in Umpawaug cemetery, at the end of Diamond Hill road here in Redding.

Now lets rewind the clock six months before Twain says yes to Paine’s biography proposal. It’s now August 1905. Paine and his family make a journey to Redding. He has money burning in his pocket and only one thing on his mind: find a summer home for his family.

They are here to look at an abandoned farm house on what is now Diamond Hill Road. He must have read an advertisement in the New York papers placed by a Harry A Lounsberry. The same Harry lounsberry who took care of the upkeep at stormfield and eventually became one of the signatures on Twain’s will. So with the royalties (I’m assuming) from his Nast book, he buys this abandoned farm house and it’s 31 acres. The price, 900 dollars. That’s about $20,000 in today’s money. Still a Bargain even in 1905. There’s no record of a mortgage I can find. so we might assume it was cash.

The property is located just passed today’s Mark Twain lane on the left side of the road and just before Moffets creeks flows under the road. The Paine farm house burned down in the 70’s and the only thing remaining is one of the two mammoth maples…You can see the trunk here.

And five stone steps that will elevate you into the property.

Paine bought the property form the Meeker family. The Meeker’s acquired the land as part of a land grant form the crown. The were given one of the long lots. Not very wide but the property stretched from long Island sound to what was then fairfield county, 15 miles. What was important about a long lot was you had waterfront property. The 15 miles ended right here at Diamond Hill road (just in back of this building). That’s why there are so many old meeker houses on the lower end of Diamond Hill.

This couple (maybe Meeker’s) are sitting on the front stoop of the house posing for this picture. Look closely there’s a dog setting beside them.

The property was a fixer upper and there was a lot of work to be done before the Paine’s moved in. This is chronicled in Paine’s book published 1919, titled “Dwellers in Arcady: The story of an abandoned farm house. Even though it was written as fiction, most of the illustrations (done by Thomas Fogarty, a noted member of the Art Student League in NewYork) were probably drawn  from photographs  taken by Paine,and though many of the names were changed it rings true. it’s a good picture of what Redding was like in the very early part of the 20th century. I could do a talk on this book alone and may someday. The book is available to check out here at the library.

So Pain is living in Redding with his family and working here at 21 Fifth Avenue with Twain. He lives with Twain and commutes to Redding. The train from Grand Central takes about 100 minutes give or take each way. Same as today. A train I’ve taken for many years.

We know little of the conversation that went on between Paine and Twain about Redding, but Paine seemed to have painted a wonderful portrait of the town set in the hills of Connecticut. In Paine’s biography of Twain he writes that he had bought a house in Redding and was enthusiastic over the bargain. “His interest was aroused, and when he learned that there was a place adjoining, equally reasonable and perhaps even more attractive, he suggested immediately that I buy it for him; and he wanted to write a check for the purchase price, for fear the opportunity might be lost.”

Here’s a copy of the purchase agreement that is on file in the Redding Town Hall. So from the time Paine walked into Twains life, it was a mere 77 days until Twain owned property in Redding. This was pretty quick. This was followed by more land purchases and the construction of Stormfield which Twain inhabited on June 18th 1908. One last note. Twain never visited Redding, during any phase of construction or to see the land he had purchased. He often said he didn’t want to see the place until the cat was purring by the hearth. The new house was to be his summer home and like Paine after living there only a few weeks decided to make it his final residence.

This is the train station as it looked about 1918 Probably not much different the when Twain stepped off the train in 1908. Twain needed to get into New York when ever he pleased, but more importantly he needed a steady stream of visitors to keep him happy. I want to underline how important this train was to Twain’s ultimate decision to consider Redding other than an investment.

So to sum it all up….I feel that without the income from the Nast biography Paine might not have had the money to buy land in Redding. And without the Nast biography he may have not become Twain’s biographer. And of course Twain would not have been interested in Redding. And I would of thought of Twain as only someone I read in high school.

30 done

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One Response to Look to Thomas Nast and Albert Bigelow Paine if you want to understand why Twain moved to Redding, Connecticut

  1. Pingback: Albert paine | Gilardin

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