100 Things Western New Yorkers Should Do At Least Once: Visit the Mark Twain Room - The Buffalo News
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100 Things Western New Yorkers Should Do At Least Once: Visit the Mark Twain Room

The Mark Twain Room is free. It’s open to all. It is a glassed-in space right off the main drag in the downtown Central Library. Yet most will walk on by, and never the Twain shall meet.

That’s a shame, and I’m not just talking about the pun.

You do not have to be a Twainiac to know that the great man lived in Buffalo for a couple of years, from 1869 to 1871, when he was involved with the Buffalo Express. He resided on Delaware Avenue, in a big old Victorian house demolished long ago. And Buffalo has an enviable Twain souvenir, the handwritten manuscript to his legendary novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

So what are you waiting for? Why should adventures belong only to Huckleberry Finn? That was what I asked myself that the other day. And instead of walking past the Twain Room as I had always done, I stopped, and I went in.

A hush greets you.

Climate-controlled, it is part museum and part shrine. Dominating the room is a stunning wooden mantel from Twain’s Delaware Avenue home. Twain’s eyes follow you from a portrait.

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Twain trivia abounds. A board game Twain had devised looked crazy and impossible. An antique box of Mark Twain cigars bore Twain’s picture and the words: “Known To Many – Loved By All.” It is a reminder of what a superstar Twain was.

A few things startled me.

Among the historic Twain editions were books I had never heard of. Who knew that Twain had written a meticulously researched book about Joan of Arc? Scholars puzzle over how Twain, wary of organized religion and often gleefully quoted by atheists, showed such devotion to this saint.

Another surprise concerned Twain’s ties to Buffalo.

I had heard that the two years Twain spent in Buffalo were sad. He discovered that newspaper work wasn’t for him. His father-in-law, who had given Twain and his bride the Delaware Avenue home, died while visiting them there. So it startled me to learn that Twain himself had given Buffalo the manuscript to “Huckleberry Finn.” He had made friends here, and clearly had some warm feelings toward our town.

The library exhibits a trunk that had held missing sections of the manuscript, long presumed lost forever, and discovered only in 1990. They also display two pages from “Huck Finn,” rotating them now and then.

“So he sat down on the ground, right between me and Tom,” I read. Twain had crossed out “right between” and written “betwixt.”

I found that touching. Now, with everyone writing on laptops, such little revisions are usually lost forever.

Also touching the extensive collection of Twain translations from around the world. You would not think his tales of life on the Mississippi would resonate with foreign lands and cultures, but clearly they do.

“Przygody Hucka.” That one’s Polish.

A vintage German edition was titled “Huck Finns Abenteuer und Fahrten.” Perhaps that inspired Twain’s essay “The Awful German Language.”

And library staffers love to tell of a professor from Iran’s University of Tehran who, visiting the Twain Room recently, felt bad that we had no copy of “Huck Finn” in Farsi. When he got home, he mailed us one.

What an influence Mark Twain had on the world. It’s funny to remember that he was, for a while, a Western New Yorker. In one column on display, Twain kvetched about the signs in Niagara Falls.

“They always happened to prohibit directly the very thing I was wanting to do,” he joked. “I desired to roll on the grass; the signs prohibited it. I wished to climb a tree; the sign forbade it. I longed to smoke; a sign forbade it.’”

We still have those signs. Mark Twain was one of us.

Stop in and see him sometime.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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