I thought you might find the following letter of interest. It was
distributed to the directors of the Mark Twain Home Foundation in Hannibal
at the August meeting by Henry Sweets and is a matter of public record. It
is from Jim Cary, a director himself, and one of my fellow attorneys here in
Hannibal. It was addressed to Henry and Herb Parham, a retired business
executive who is president of the Foundation.
Dear Herb and Henry:
I am reading John Adams by David McCullough, and a passage in that book
caught my eye as being somewhat representative of the concerns I have
regarding how we should be interpreting and presenting the life of our most
famous "citizen," Samuel L. Clemens, for our visitors.
Upon visiting the Shakespeare house in Stratford-on-Avon, Adams was
reportedly distressed by how little evidence remained of Shakespeare, either
of the man or the miracle of his mind. "There is nothing preserved of this
great genius ... which might inform us what education, what company, what
accident turned his mind to letters and drama," he lamented. It appears to
me that the same might be said about how we currently interpret and present
Sam Clemen's (sic) life in Hannibal.
I am pleased, Henry, with your efforts to engage a team of consultants
to assist in preparing future museum exhibits. I look forward to the
opportunity to have some input as to the contents of the exhibits.
While I agree that some of our critics have been unduly harsh in their
criticism, I do believe we have an opportunity to improve how we portray the
story of Sam Clemens' great genius as well as what education and company and
what accident turned his mind to letters and drama.
I am frankly excited about the prospects of incorporating into our
interpretation of Sam Clemens' life in Hannibal how such experiences as
printer's apprentice, slavery and the river had an effect on his intellect
during his formative years.
One only has to view Ken Burns' recent Mark Twain documentary to
recognize, for instance, just how significant slavery and race were in
molding the thoughts that would constitute the foundation of his writings,
particularly his masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We should not
shy away, in my opinion, from weaving that influence into the fabric of the
story of his Hannibal experience.
While I am certainly not critical of what has been done the past 90
years in telling the story of his life here, I believe we can improve the
presentation of that story for future generations of visitors. Paramount in
that presentation, in my opinion, is historical accuracy. That the story
may have been misinterpreted or perhaps even misrepresented for so many
years should not be the reason for our refusal to explore a more accurate
presentation of the life of this great man during the few short years that
he lived here. His memory, and the future generations of visitors who come
here to learn more about him, deserve nothing less, in my opinion.
I would hope that we could set aside our feelings of antipathy towards
our critics and explore openly and honestly the opportunities now available
to us and focus upon the responsibilities that have been entrusted to us.
Thank you for the opportunity to vent my feelings on this matter. While
I may be in a minority in having these concerns, I would hope you recognize
they come only after a great deal of thought and reflection.
I am confidant we can, and will, strive for and succeed in presenting an
experience for our visitors worthy of the legacy left to us by not only Sam
Clemens, but the Mahan family. We are, after all, the stewards of this
James E. Cary
Terrell's note: I am heartened by this letter. I think it is a good
development. I wish Jim were in the majority. Perhaps that day will come.