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The Mark Twain House & Museum is proud to present an exhibition titled For Business or Pleasure?: Twain’s Summer Sojourns which will focus on the Clemens family’s American summer vacations while discussing the overarching themes relating to Gilded Age leisure and travel. The exhibit will roughly cover a time period between 1870-1910 and visitors to the exhibit will be “taken” to places such as Elmira, Saranac Lake, and the Onteora Club, all in New York; Old Saybrook, Connecticut; and Dublin, New Hampshire.
With the rise of America’s middle class in the 1820s and 1830s and the expansion of passenger line railroads, the concept and practice of “taking vacations” emerged as a possibility for those who had the financial means to escape their work and home life for health and leisure pursuits. The Clemenses were among these of upper-middle class families who left their urban homes in the summer for cooler climates either at the seaside or on mountaintops. However, not all people could afford or were allowed to partake in the same vacation activities as the Clemenses. In this exhibit we will explore what summer leisure activities were available to the Clemens’s servants while left behind to work and care for the Hartford home, as well as investigate the variations in opportunities based on gender, class, ethnicity, and religion during this time.
While the Clemenses did live abroad for a few summers, the majority of their summer holidays were spent here in American at Quarry Farm in Elmira, New York with Olivia Clemens’s family. They also spent one summer each at Old Saybrook, CT, Saranac Lake, NY, and the Onteora Club, NY, and two summers in Dublin, NH. These respites were opportunities for leisure, sporting activities, creative pursuits, academic study, and for Samuel Clemens an opportunity for uninterrupted time spent writing. It is no wonder that during their summer vacations, Clemens was the most productive at writing his most famous works.
The exhibition will run from March 2023 through December 2023 and will be accompanied by a variety of leisure-themed programs and events for adults and families.
“For Business or Pleasure?” follows Twain’s footsteps through a series of sets, artifacts, and other memorabilia, which detail the advent of travel and leisure in middle-class America during the Gilded Age. Vacationing became a hobby for those outside of high society, and this concept is reflected in the works Twain produced at the time.
The exhibit takes visitors to the same places the Clemens family traveled without having to leave Hartford. The museum partnered with the nonprofit TheatreWorks to commission a five-sided replica of the author’s study at Quarry Farm. A boardwalk installation mimics the seafront of Old Saybrook, which also features period bathing suits on loan from the Darien Historical Society.
A tent structure recalls the family’s time at Saranac Lake in upstate New York, where Clemens wrote “The United States of Lyncherdom” in 1901. The exhibit also features an Adirondack guide boat borrowed from Mystic Seaport and an equine figure to recall the horseback riding daughter Jean enjoyed during her time in Dublin.
The author’s iconic white suit jacket — the only known one in existence — will also be featured in the exhibit. The artifact is a loan from the Mark Twain Boyhood Museum in Hannibal, M.O., and was last displayed in Hartford in 2002, Howard said.
An exciting slate of related programming intends to create connections between society’s past and present travel traditions. For example, children and adults will be able to participate in a summer reading challenge — an activity that first gained popularity during the Gilded Age.