"Twin Tiers Treasures" Highlights Elmira as Twain Scholar Destination

Posted March 12, 2013

Twin Tiers Treasures: Elmira a Destination for Twain Scholars
By Brian Pappalardo, Correspondent, The Star-Gazette, 3/9/13

Many Twin Tiers residents know about the Mark Twain Study and Quarry Farm, and their connection to Samuel Clemens’ years in Elmira.

But they may not know the popular landmarks are part of the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, a destination for Twain scholars from all over the world that’s often overlooked by local residents.

“We are scattered all over campus and Quarry Farm is up on East Hill,” said Barbara Snedecor, the director of the center and an assistant professor of American literature at Elmira College. “There isn’t an actual physical center. It’s easy to see why people locally may not know who we are.”

The center was established in 1983, a year after Jervis and Irene Langdon gave Quarry Farm to the college with the understanding that it would be used only by scholars.

“Once the college had Quarry Farm, they chose to make it the centerpiece of a center that would be devoted to the study of Twain,” Snedecor said.

The college previously received the Mark Twain Study from the Langdons in 1952 so the college could preserve it and people could visit it, Snedecor said.

“The study was on the family’s private property, in the woods and showing visible signs of wear,” she said.

Now in its 30th year, the center also has:

• A Mark Twain archive in the second floor of the Gannett-Tripp Library, including all of the first editions of Twain’s works and the scholarly books written about Twain, said Mark Woodhouse, the college Twain archivist. “We have a really good collection of secondary sources on Twain, which a lot of scholars don’t have in their home libraries,” he said.

• A three-room exhibit about Twain’s 20 summers in Elmira, on the first floor of Hamilton Hall, that includes photos and furniture from Quarry Farm. “We explain how Clemens fell in love with Olivia Langdon and came to Elmira,” Snedecor said.

• A fall and spring public lecture series at the Barn on Quarry Farm that gives visitors the opportunity to see how the farm inspired Twain, who wrote parts or all of seven books there, including “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

“People who come to the lectures learn it’s a very special place,” Snedecor said. “Only scholars are allowed in the house, but just visiting the property is a great draw for the series.”

Special place for scholars
One of the biggest attractions for scholars, Woodhouse said, is staying at Quarry Farm.

“For a scholar to be able to live and work in the house where the object of their study once lived and worked, that’s just unheard of,” Woodhouse said. “It’s an ideal place to work.”

Many scholars come to the archive room to study Twain’s marginalia, his comments written in the margins of books he read at Quarry Farm.

“That’s the strongest original material we have in our collection for scholars,” he said.

The center provides fellowships to pay the expenses of scholars traveling to Elmira, and the scholars stay at the farm for a few days to a few months. The farm has full-time caretakers who live in an apartment on the premises.

“Many scholars go to the University of California, Berkeley, and look at Twain’s papers, then come here to work at Quarry Farm,” Snedecor said. “It’s a very special place for them to write. They can still sense the presence of Clemens.”

Tour season coming soon
The college opens its Twain attractions to the community during the spring and summer, offering tours of the study and the exhibit for bus tours and the Mark Twain Country trolley. Student ambassadors, usually history and English students, are trained to tell Twain’s story to visitors, Snedecor said.

Cutbacks in local school districts have curtailed student bus trips to the college, where teachers can show students the study and exhibit before stopping at the Twain gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery on the way to lunch at Quarry Farm, Snedecor said.

Instead, she has made herself available to talk about Twain at local schools. “I have brought Quarry Farm to the classroom, but unfortunately, it’s not the same thing,” she said.

Woodhouse says residents interested in learning more about Twain can call or write him about visiting the archive room.

“I make the point whenever I talk to groups that we are open to the public,” he said.

Busy spring and summer
The center is looking forward to its spring lecture series and an international conference it will host in the summer, Snedecor said.

The lecture series starts in May at Quarry Farm, and attendance has been growing steadily, Snedecor said. About 100 people attended each of the four fall lectures, she said.

In August, about 200 scholars and other Twain enthusiasts from around the world are expected to attend the conference, which is held every four years. Some visitors will seek fellowships to stay at the farm before or after the conference, Snedecor said.

The conference will mark the 150th anniversary of the first use of Clemens’ pen name and offer many other presentations over three days, she said.

Interest in the center has grown since 2010, when the nation marked the 100th anniversary of Clemens’ death and the best-selling “Autobiography of Mark Twain” was released, Snedecor said.

“The national news media looked closely at Twain’s life in Elmira for the first time, and helped people understand how important this area was in Twain’s life,” Snedecor said. “It’s a real source of pride for us that this region so influenced Clemens, and by extension, all of American literature.”

(For original story, please visit http://www.stargazette.com/article/20130309/NEWS01/303090055/Twin-Tiers-Treasures-Elmira-destination-Clemens-scholars?odyssey=mod|dnmiss|umbrella|1.)

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