Posted by Jason Diamond

Last week somebody actually told me that “Mark Twain is so hot right now.”  While I’m just like everybody else who has been waiting nearly a decade to hear one of America’s greatest writers meet Zoolander, I was hoping it would be by finding out that “You can derelict my balls” was actually a quote from some obscure piece Twain wrote about President Grover Cleveland.  But this was as good as I think I’ll get.

For what it’s worth, Mark Twain is really hot right now.  His autobiography is selling like griddle cakes, and everybody is lining up to talk about him.  In England, they’ve declared him “the American,” and over here his book is listed on ultimate gift guides for the family nerd, dad, or for the distant family member who you just don’t know what to get for Christmas.

We’re in the midst of Twainamania, and I’m in a town that is (in my mind) known for three things:

1.  The Whalers (R.I.P.)

2. My girlfriend’s parents.

3.  Mark Twain.

I’m in Hartford, Connecticut: a town that calls to mind the forgotten cities of the Rust Belt — less the quaint New England backdrop my Midwestern ass expects.  I’m totally alright with burnt out burg, but Hartford is still an interesting city that happened to be the home of Samuel Clemons from 1874 to 1891.

While places in and around the Mississippi might have been the backdrop for Twain’s upbringing, as well as the setting for his most famous works, Hartford takes a great deal in pride in it’s adopted son.  In fact, glancing the Wikipedia page of people from the city, I’d say that he’s the most famous resident to ever live there.

While I’m not totally willing to join any clubs that claim Twain’s the greatest American writer ever, I understand and appreciate his importance.  That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be a little bit excited if a town that takes so much pride in his one-time residency were to celebrate his current renaissance while I was visiting.  But wandering the streets of Hartford (or being driven around by my girlfriends mom), I’ve found little to nothing much.

I went to the Barnes and Noble right outside of Hartford in Canton, asked for the new Twain book, and the girl behind the counter told me that she “didn’t even realize he put out a new one.”  When I explained the circumstances she said “oh, I think I mixed him up with somebody else,” and continued to put up Twilight merchandise as a superior type said “we’re just going to have to lose more fiction for the Wimpy Kid toys.”

Next was the Twain branch of the Hartford Public Library.  I was expecting some sort of massive display of the guy’s works, instead I got a dimly lit room, and the overwhelming feeling that the little library was haunted by the ghosts of budget cuts.  I asked the guy behind the counter if he’d read a lot of Twain, and he told me “no, not really.”

Hartford doesn’t seem as excited about it’s Twain past as I do.  I’m not exactly sure why any of this is (my excitement or the cities lack thereof), but I’m going to leave here a little disappointed with my lack of Twain time.  We drove past the closed Twain Museum, and I felt like flipping it the bird, but didn’t  — because everybody deserves a break.

This is all somewhat insane to me, because I hate being a tourist:  I live in New York, so I’ve seen so many examples of how awful tourists can be, that I have sworn never to be a Clark Griswold type of visitor. On the flipside, tourists really boost the local economy, and if they’re tourists with good taste (like me), can you really hate them?  This made me wonder a lot about why Hartford, a city in need of some cheering up, doesn’t exploit it’s Twain past to the fullest?  Even me, the anti-tourist and Twain novice, would probably want to dork out and pay ten bucks for some sort of “Twain tour of Hartford.”

Just saying Hartford.  If ya got it, flaunt it…

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  • I think you’ve got to go to Hannibal, MO to see a town really taking pride in and milking the Twain connection. It’s been many years since I was there, but my recollection is that it was a one-industry town, with Mark Twain tourism being that industry.