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"Tom & Sandy Seabold, Artworks" <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:02:08 -0500
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There was an article about Mark Twain in the Daily Gate City, Keokuk, Iowa’s newspaper. See below.

Sandy Seabold

Twain’s writing style rooted in Keokuk
By Steve Dunn/Managing Editor
Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 1:40 PM CDT
Local Mark Twain historian Jack Meister told the Keokuk Kiwanis Club Monday that Twain started to develop his writing style in Keokuk.

Born Samuel Clemens, Twain lived in Keokuk during 1855-56 with his brother Orion, who operated a printing business on the top floor of the old Ogden building at 52 Main St. Although the building is gone, a marker designates the spot of the building that was owned by Iowa State Insurance Company.

“In June 1855 Sam Clemens came to Keokuk,” Meister said. “When Sam came here, he became familiar with most of the people in town. Keokuk was a boom town then.”

Referring to the “Mark Twain Papers,” Meister said the editors of the publication described Keokuk at the time as “a bustling frontier town, population about 6,500, some 200 miles above St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi River.”

Another article in the Dec. 16, 1855, Keokuk Daily Post noted that “there were about 700 buildings of all kinds put up in Keokuk the past year, and we are told by builders that there must over three times the number now in contemplation to what there were last year at this time.”

The town’s rosy future and his wife’s roots in Keokuk convinced Twain’s brother Orion to move to Keokuk first.


“Orion undoubtedly viewed Keokuk as a town of opportunities, as did his brother, Sam, who had come to view his job in St. Louis as having no future,” Meister said in a presentation he gave during a Lee County History Symposium in Keokuk in June 2003.

According to Meister, Twain’s arrival in Keokuk did not go unnoticed.

“Without printing his name, the Keokuk Weekly Dispatch ran an untitled notice on July 5, 1855, about a certain gentleman who had stated that there was not a single paper published in Keokuk worth reading and that if ‘he’ were to publish a paper, there would be lots of spirited news,” Meister said.

During his time in Keokuk, Twain had a girl friend, Annie Taylor, who was younger than him.

“His mom was afraid he would marry Annie Taylor,” Meister told the Kiwanis Club.

Taylor was the daughter of Hawkins Taylor, a Keokuk City Council member who became Keokuk’s mayor in 1857, She was a student Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant.

In an Aug. 5, 1856, letter to his brother Henry, Twain writes “Annie is well” in five different places.

“Annie seems to interrupt his train of thought in the process of writing the letter,” Meister said in his presentation nine years ago. “He also states in the same piece of mail that he believes his mother’s willingness to allow him to go to South America lies in her fear that he was going to get married.”

A letter to Taylor on May 25, 1856, exemplified the style that Twain sought to develop as a writer, according to Meister. In the letter, Twain talks about working in the third floor print shop until nearly 2 a.m. one night as “the flaring gas light over my head attracted all the varieties of bugs which are to be found in natural history, and they all had the same praisworthy restlessness about flying into the fire.”

Twain used 658 words to create a satire on religious singing, Meister said during the history symposium in Keokuk. In the letter to Taylor, he compared the “president” beetle to Oliver Isbell, owner of Keokuk Music Rooms, which occupied the second floor of the Ogden building. Twain reportedly joined one of Isbell’s singing classes and took piano lessons from him.

When Twain left Keokuk in the fall of 1856, he arranged to have articles about his travels published in the Keokuk Post. Using a pen name, he received his first pay as a writer.

Through his letters to his friends and family, Twain “became the master of understatement, the reporter with tongue firmly planted in his cheek, the manic-depressive folk-bard who loved to strip humanity of its pretense through biting satire,” Meister observed nine years ago.

Although Twain’s stay in Keokuk was relatively short, the author kept up ties to the city throughout the rest of his life, Meister pointed out.

In 1883, Twain bought a house for his mother at 626 High St. The house still stands. He returned to visit her in 1885, and during the summer of 1886, Twain brought his family back to Keokuk for a reunion. In the summer of 1890, he made his last visit to Keokuk to see his mother.

Four earlier visits occurred in 1860 when the population had grown to 8,136; in 1867 when he lectured at Chatham Square Church; in 1870 when he attended races; and in 1882 when he visited his brother Orion who had permanently settled in Keokuk by that time.

“By the time of his last visit, he was a married man and an accomplished author, but there can be no doubt that when he stood on Third and Main and looked toward the river, he remembered the days in the print shop, the Gate City market, life in a bustling, busy city, the steamboats at the landing, and Annie,” Meister said nine years ago. “And perhaps, in the evening, as the August sun cast the shadows of twilight across the bricks of Main Street, he stood and watched the apparition of a 19-year-old printer issue forth from the Ogden building at the dawn of his career.”

Unfortunately for historians, nearly 3 1/2 trunk loads of letters written by Twain to his mother were destroyed at the author’s request in 1904 by former Mayor John Carpenter, the executor of Orion’s wife’s estate.

“Mark Twain had written these letters to his mother in perfect candor – and about the whole sum of his candid writing was in them – intending and believing that nobody else would ever see them and had ordered them burned,” said a Dr. G. Walter Barr of Keokuk, a friend of Carpenter.