When I first heard that I was going to have the opportunity to visit the Mark Twain study I was less than enthused. You see, I’ve never been an avid reader of Classic American Literature. As a matter of fact, the only time I’ve ever read any of Twain’s books was when it was on assignment from school. Then I was reading it for later study and dissection rather than for enjoyment. Yet somehow, when I stepped into the tiny 8-sided room, I understood that there was something here for me. There was a lesson here for all of us who write and seek to inspire with our words. I understood why this room, now located on the campus of Elmira College, was such a powerful place. It’s a fine start to anyone’s journey through Mark Twain Country in Elmira, NY.
To understand the power of Twain’s inspirational place, it’s important to first understand Clemens’s roots. You see, before he ever penned his novels or short stories, Samuel Clemens was a simple travel writer. He wandered around collecting thoughts, ideas, and images that were scattered about and stored them in his mind. They became part of who he was and, more importantly, part of his imagination. What was it then that transformed him into a force of American literature when he stepped into that cozy little room, lit one of his ubiquitous cigars and began to write? Was this room enchanted with a magical spell, was it some sort of intellectual incubator that allowed Twain to cultivate ideas? Was there some mystical “power of 8” that overcame him amidst the tobacco fumes that filled the room with an impenetrable haze? How is it that this one tiny octagon can be known as the birthplace for so much fantastic literature? What was it about this room, on top of a hill, that brought him back year after year to pen literary masterpieces?
It’s simple, this was Clemens’s Place.
Lauren and I both felt an immediate kinship when we entered into this tiny study and gazed upon its 7 lovely windows and hearth for a warming fire. It was as if by stepping into Clemens’s place, we were instantly transported to our own place. The same “place” that all writers have. For me it’s the moving windows of my VW that take me across the rolling hills and plains of North America. For others it’s the view from the window of a 747, the bustling streets of Paris seen from a table at an anonymous cafe, or the sight of the ocean from a cabin by the sea. Sometimes even less is require to create that space. Occasionally all we need is the pages of our journals and our favorite pen. Other times it’s a warm latte and our favorite song. Either way we all have something that brings us to our place.
As writers and dreamers we all need that place where our bodies are trapped and our minds are allowed to run free. Only then can we scatter our collected thoughts into the wind and allow nature’s muse to influence our words that will ultimately inspire our readers. Stepping into Twain’s study is a powerful experience that will allow you to feel a touch of that same energy and motivate you to dream. Even though your eyes will gaze out the window and see the bustling Elmira College Campus, your mind will see it’s own inspiration.
After visiting the study if you yearn to learn more about the man behind Mark Twain, the curator of his legacy has put together a lovely collection of artifacts that give us a deeper look into Clemens’s family life and it’s tragic story.
You can see how he first found love and then found his roots before moving to Hartford, CT. It was inspiring to see that behind the magic and whimsy of his words Clemens was a simple man with powerful convictions and ideals. To me his influence is that much more powerful and inspiring when you understand that he lived a life of humility and simplicity.
After connecting with Twain as a writer by visiting his place and learning about his life there is one more spot to visit on the Elmira College Campus. There’s a statue that was erected in Twain’s honor and it’s definitely a sight to see.
Once you’ve learned what you can from the Twain exhibits I recommend you take a short journey to the nearby Woodlawn Cemetery. There you will find Clemens’s final resting place. Don’t look for a fancy headstone or a giant mausoleum though, instead seek out the simplest headstone. You may have to clear the path of scotch and cigars left in tribute, but beneath it you will find his headstone. It’s the one without an epitaph and only bares his name. It’s as if he had written so many powerful words in life, he needed none in his death.
Details for the Center for Mark Twain Studies
One Park Place
Elmira, NY 14901
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