‘Mark Twain’s America’ Shows Off a Rarely Seen Side of the Great Writer


In the handsome new book Mark Twain’s America: A Celebration in Words and Images, written by Harry K. Katz and with beautiful rarities, history, and arcana from the Library of Congress, we get to know the real stories behind one of America’s most celebrated and essential writers. It’s a gorgeous look at period Americana from 1850 to 1910, the odds and ends that, put together, serve as a biography of Twain, in the many roles that he played throughout his life. To celebrate this book, we’re sharing an exclusive sample of the book’s best in Mark Twain ephemera.

River of Dreams: Steamboat Race, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

A Steamboat Race on the Mississippi (between the Baltic & Diana). Colored lithograph after George T. Fuller by Weingartner, 1859.

“In the ‘flush times’ of steamboating, a race between two notoriously fleet steamers was an event of vast importance. The date was set for it several weeks in advance, and from that time forward, the whole Mississippi Valley was in a state of consuming excitement. Politics and the weather were dropped, and people talked only of the coming race. As the time approached, the two steamers ‘stripped’ and got ready. Every incumbrance that added weight, or exposing a resisting surface to wind or water, was removed, if the boat could possibly do without it….When the Eclipse and the A.L. Shotwell ran their great race twenty-two years ago, it was said that pains were taken to scrape the gilding off the fanciful device which hung between the Eclipse’s chimneys, and that for that one trip the captain left off his kid gloves and had his head shaved. But I always doubted these things.” (from Life on the Mississippi)

Sam and Livy, Courtesy of the Mark Twain Project

Samuel and Livy Clemens with daughters in a gazebo at their home, Hartford. Photograph, cabinet card by H.L. Bundy, 1884.

Livy Clemens helped design the dream house they built in Hartford, Connecticut, home to the American Publishing Company and a literary community which included Harriet Beecher Stowe and Twain collaborator Charles Dudley Warner.

Sandwich Islands Lecture, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Mark Twain Sandwich Islands Lecture, Steinway Hall, New York, 1873.

Twain would deliver his lecture on his experiences in the Sandwich Islands, or Hawaii, over a hundred times, and as the blurbs on this poster indicate, his promoters were not above contributing to the levity of the occasion.

Seventieth Birthday, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Seventieth birthday dinner: Twain and friends. Copyright by Harper & Brothers 1905.

Twain was a legend in his own lifetime, immortalized in paintings, illustrations, and sculpture, as in honor of his seventieth birthday in 1905. A dinner at Delmonico’s in New York was a grand and formal affair, as witnessed by this photograph of the guest of honor’s table. Harper’s published a special issue devoted entirely to the evening.

The Author’s Memories, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The Author’s Memories, illustration by True Williams in A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain, 1880.

Twain himself was a frequent character in his own books, encouraging familiarity, recognition, intimacy, and celebrity among his readers.

Trade Mark, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

“Mark Twain,” America’s Best Humorist, Chromolithograph by Joseph Keppler, New York: published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, Puck, Dec. 16,1885, p. 256

Twain and Susy, Courtesy of the Mark Twain Project

Twain and Susy in costume, Onteora Park, NY, 1890.

Plays and charades occupied the Twain family and their friends during idyllic summers spent in New York State. Susy and Clara devised original dramas with parts for their father and guests. “Our children,” Twain recalled in his Autobiography, “and the neighbors’ children played well, easily, comfortably, naturally, and with high spirit. How was it that they were able to do this? It was because they had been in training all the time from their infancy.”

Twain House, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Twain House, Hartford. Photograph from the Historic American Building Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS HAER) collection in the Library of Congress.

Among the Library’s numerous depictions of Twain residences are photographs and architecturally rendered plans produced in the 1930s by the Historic American Building Survey, a public program documenting the country’s most revered sites.

Mark Twain and John T. Lewis, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Mark Twain and John T. Lewis, ca. 1900.

In 1877, at Quarry Farm, the home of Livy’s sister Susan Crane outside Elmira, New York, a runaway carriage threatened the lives of her brother’s wife, their daughter, and nursemaid. John T. Lewis, an African American veteran of Gettysburg and tenant farmer on the Cranes’ land, stopped the careening buggy and made a friend of Twain for life.

Mark Twain at boyhood home, Courtesy of the Mark Twain Project

Mark Twain standing in doorway of his boyhood home on Hill Street, Hannibal, Missouri. Photography, 1902.

Mark Twain bid a final farewell to Hannibal in 1902, surrounded by former friends and neighbors and a town filled with “Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns.”