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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 7 Feb 2020 06:55:16 -0600
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The following review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac

_Mark Twain's America, Then and Now_. By Laura DeMarco. Pavilion Books,
2019. Pp. 144. Hardcover $22.50. ISBN-13: 978-1-911641-07-0.

 Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <>

 Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac Donnell.

 Copyright (c) 2020 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Can anyone honestly say they have stood for a moment at a historic site and
not imagined the past coming alive? This blending of time and place, past
with the present, may be a uniquely human strength, or perhaps a childish
weakness. But it is human, and few of us could stand below the steps of the
Lincoln Memorial and not hear the echo of Martin Luther King's immortal
aspiration, or walk in the pastoral greenery of Gettysburg and not think
the quietude ironic, or stand in any Nazi death camp and not be stricken
with anger and grief.

Shakespeare said the past is prologue; Faulkner said the past is not only
not dead--that it's not even past; and, Mark Twain wrote in one of his
letters that the one thing we must remember about the past is that we can't
restore it. But none of this wisdom ever discouraged a Twainian, and when a
Twainian finds himself in a place where Twain once breathed the air, time
and place begin to blur and the present recedes as the tidal past rolls in.

Twainians are not alone: This has long been true for all readers who find
themselves at literary shrines, as evidenced by the dozens of books about
such shrines that have found eager buyers for more than a century,
beginning with several during Twain's lifetime, including Charles F.
Briggs's _Homes of American Authors_ (1853), J. L. and Joseph Gilder's
_Authors at Home_ (1888), and Theodore Wolfe's _Literary Shrines: Some
Haunts of Famous American Authors_ (1895), _Literary Homes and Haunts_
(1899), and _Literary Rambles at Home and Abroad_ (1901). Twain's homes
were included in the Gilder and Wolfe volumes, and the Langdon family
library included a copy of the Briggs book that may have caught Twain's eye.

The literature about literary shrines grew during the twentieth century,
and a glance through the bibliographies and indices of more recent books
like Ehrlich and Carruth's _The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the
United States_ (1982), John Eastman's _Who Lived Where_ (1983), Geri and
Eben Bass's _U. S. Guide to Literary Landmarks_ (1984), Irvin Haas's
_Historic Homes of American Authors_ (1991), and Francesca
Premoli-Droulers's _Writers' Houses_ (1995), gives a hint of the extensive
literature on the subject.

Twain is included in virtually every such guide, with the focus nearly
always on his grand Hartford home or his humble boyhood home in Hannibal.
The other places where he lived are sometimes mentioned, but the places
where significant events in his life took place are usually ignored or
overlooked. Hilary Irish Lowe's candid assessment of Twain's major homes,
_Mark Twain's Homes and Literary Tourism_ (2012), was a welcome and
much-needed addition to this literature, focusing on Florida and Hannibal,
Missouri, Hartford, and Quarry Farm. Steve Courtney's _"The Loveliest Home
That Ever Was": The Story of the Mark Twain House in Hartford_ (2011) is a
model for such guides focusing on a single location.

The newest addition to this shelf is Laura DeMarco with _Mark Twain's
America, Then and Now_, a delightful travelogue of Twain's American
meanderings. Sixty-eight places are pictorially documented, then and now,
with nearly 200 old and new images, drawings, and photographs, many in
color. As the title of this book makes clear, this tour of Twain's haunts
and homes is American, and no attempt is made to capture every single spot
of ground where Twain spent his time. There are a few minor omissions--the
home of the Gilders were Twain stayed after his wife's death, the home of
Laurence Hutton where he spent time with some fellow authors, or the homes
of friends like Henry Rogers or William Dean Howells where his visits were
usually brief. Some Twainians might wish that the Hooker home where Twain
and Livy stayed in Hartford while their mansion was being built (and where
their son Langdon died) could have been included; it still stands,
subdivided into apartments, just a short stroll down the street from the
Hartford Memorial. Also not included, but still standing, is Orion's home
in Carson City, Nevada (it's now a law office). Orion's last home in
Keokuk, where Jane Clemens lived out her last years, also still stands.
Other places that were not included have changed completely, like the
grassy street corner in Keokuk where the Ivins House survived until the
1950s when it was razed to make room for nearby public housing; Twain gave
his first public speech to a group of printers there. Also omitted is the
block where the magnificent Lick House hotel stood in San Francisco before
it was levelled in the 1906 earthquake, where Twain sometimes stayed, and
once hosted a dinner. But the Occidental Hotel, where he also stayed, is
included. It too was destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake, but not
before its bar was credited with being the place where the martini was

Thinking of this very readable and reliable book as a sort of virtual Mark
Twain vacation, it is important to remember that no vacation can include a
stop at every possible place of interest. Time, space, and budget intrude.
Therefore, calling these absent locations omissions is too strong a word;
they are noted here merely for the benefit of Twainians who might have time
to seek them out if they find themselves in those locales. More concerning,
but still not a major objection, are two colorized images in the book that
might unintentionally mislead. Frederick Waddy's famous 1872 cartoon of
Twain riding a jumping frog has been attractively colorized at page 57; the
original cartoon was not in color. A photograph of Twain at page 142 has
also been colorized and shows him with dark eyes and a clean white mustache
that matches his snowy white hair. A genuine color photograph of Twain
taken in December 1908 shows that his eyes were quite blue, and his
mustache was heavily stained yellow from his habit of smoking cigars; these
details about his appearance have also been confirmed by reliable
eye-witnesses. The colorizing process is easier than ever these days, and
for that reason it is tempting, but it can innocently distort the
historical record.

These quibbles duly noted, they should cause no reader to hesitate
embarking on this beckoning itinerary that traces Twain's journey through
life. The roster of the places included is impressive, and DeMarco begins
at the beginning, in Florida, Missouri with the "birthplace" cabin. Next
comes Hannibal, with an 1869 color birds-eye view lithograph that shows
steamboats steaming along the Mississippi River as the white town drowses.
On the opposite page is a recent aerial color photograph that shows a town
that has not substantially expanded its boundaries. This general layout is
followed throughout the book. Next come scenes, then and now, from New York
(where young Sam Clemens set type in 1852), Philadelphia (where he set type
in 1853), and Washington, D. C. (where he first visited in 1854 and would
return more than once). Locations in Keokuk, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and
Memphis bring the reader up to the Civil War, and then follow Sam Clemens's
journey west to Nevada, stopping at the Pony Express station in Hollenberg,
Kansas along the way, and then Salt Lake City, before reaching the stage
depot in Carson City, Nevada. All are pictured, then and now, and DeMarco's
brisk and informed narrative carries the reader right along.

Twain's pictorial life continues to unfold with haunting images of
ghost-towns in Nevada, striking street scenes in San Francisco, and scenes
from Hawaii and New York City revealing that little evidence survives from
Twain's Hawaiian days, but more survives than one would expect in New York
City, including the Cooper Institute where Twain and Lincoln both spoke
(now the Cooper Union, where President Obama spoke) and the Plymouth
Congregational Church, which still serves local parishioners. In Elmira,
Quarry Farm and the opera house survive, as most Twainians know, but the
lovely grounds of the stately Langdon mansion, where Twain and Livy were
married and where their funeral services were held, are now occupied by a
strip center that carries the Langdon family name. In Boston, the famous
Old Corner Bookstore, where Twain first met Howells, has survived, thanks
to the Boston Globe using it as a subscription office for many years; it's
now a Chipolte Mexican Grill, but retains its original appearance.

Twain and Livy's first home in Buffalo was razed in 1963, but the carriage
house survived, for some years as an eatery, now as apartments. DeMarco's
tour, while American, is not strictly American. The Langham Hotel in London
puts in an appearance, reflecting Twain's first visits to England in 1872
and 1873. Vicksburg, Mississippi and Minneapolis, Minnesota are featured,
documenting Twain's 1882 trip on the Mississippi River to gather
information and evoke memories. New York City appears again, this time with
the building that headquartered Standard Oil, where Twain visited Henry
Rogers at his office, as well as the Players Club at Grammercy Park, and
the building on West 10th Street where Twain and his family lived after
their return to America in 1900--later subdivided into apartments where
Joel Steinberg would gruesomely murder his illegally adopted six year old
daughter Lisa in 1987. On a happier note, Wave Hill (Twain's home, known as
Riverdale) still stands, somewhat expanded in size, but still surrounded by
beautiful grounds. Like other places associated with Twain, his home on
Fifth Avenue survived into the 1950s before being torn down, and the block
is unrecognizable today. The Brevoort Hotel in that same block, where Twain
spent a lot of time, was also razed in the 1950s, and on that block now
stands the Brevoort Apartments, where Buddy Holly once lived. The tour
nears its end about an hour or so by rail out of New York City, at Twain's
last home, Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut, which burned in the 1920s
and was replaced with a similar home in the 1930s that stands today on
grounds that have shrunken from the original acreage Twain enjoyed the last
two years of his life.

 Laura DeMarco's lavishly illustrated travelogue traces the entire arc of
Mark Twain's busy life and constant movements. She tracks down every place
where Twain paused long enough to raise his family in the city, write, give
an after-dinner speech, drink, write some more, deliver a lecture, hide out
from the authorities, write some more, raise his family in the country,
have another drink, try his hand at mining, write some more, set type,
watch a football game, or simply be born, or die. Unlike this reviewer,
DeMarco presents these places in chronological order, and she accurately
describes the relevant details from Twain's life that attach to each place,
and provides unexpected and interesting details about those places. The
journey concludes with a handy index. Although too big to fit in a pocket,
this book will serve vacationing Twainians just as the venerable Baedeker
travel guides served Twain's generation, so get some bigger pockets. For
those who cannot visit every place Twain visited, this book is the next
best thing--a fun and informative way to feel the past and present converge.