My wife and I share a goal of hopefully setting foot in each of the forty-eight contiguous United States before we die. We usually aim to visit one or two states each year, but we’ll sometimes digress briefly into other states along the way simply so we can cross them off our to-do list, even if it’s a few hours at a single attraction. It was in that spirit of completism that we broke up the Day Two marathon drive from Dubois, PA, to Boston with our first-ever foray into the state of Connecticut.
After much research and little debate, we nominated this guy as our excuse for a Connecticut stop.
Located in the Hartford neighborhood of Asylum Hill, the Mark Twain House and Museum mark the spot where the celebrated American author lived with his wife from 1874 to 1891. Guided tours of his home are offered throughout the day, provided you arrive in town with enough time to take advantage.
Unfortunately I’d chosen one of the slowest possible restaurants for our Sunday lunch. The Perkins in Matamoras suffered that day from an apparent lack of enthusiasm, team spirit, and/or overall customer service drive. My misguided whim would cost us an extra hour or more that might’ve been better spent seeing the exact room in which the esteemed Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Clemens once slept. By the time we finally arrived at the House barely an hour before closing, I was so worried about the possibility of nightfall beating us to Boston that I opted us out of the tour and settled for mere admission to the adjacent Mark Twain Museum.
Sometimes the hardest parts of our annual road trips are the chain reactions from the unintended consequences of our decisions and/or the unplanned obstacles in our paths, sometimes necessitating the occasional reworking of our itinerary on the run. Every so often this means skipping an item or two on our to-do list. In this case, I also took into consideration the fact that none of us are hardcore Twainies or Twainheads or Twaincoats or whatever his biggest fans call themselves. As casual acquaintances of his work (I’ve only read two of his books and one short story), a museum tour seemed sufficient for our interest level.
That being said: the grounds of the House and Museum are a lovely sort of self-contained little forest.
Admittedly, I overestimated the museum’s contents. We skipped through the entirety of their exhibits in about twenty minutes. I’d say it was a mixture of 60% Twain paraphernalia (writing tools, souvenirs from his jobs, writing samples, souvenir photos — fulfilling baseline expectations, really) and 40% history of Hartford with infrequent Twain connections, Twain tangents, or gratuitous mentions of Twain in the plaque descriptions. The place was as much about Hartford as it was about Twain. Not that that has to be a bad thing, but the Hartford-centrism was unexpected, given that its name is nowhere in the title. I can recommend the museum highly for Hartfordies, Hartfordheads, Hartfordsters, or whatever they call themselves.
Fun entertainment connection: one section is named after Hal Holbrook, the actor who would embody Twain onstage more times than any other living actor over the past sixty years.
My favorite part was the architecture, which surrounded us on all sides with Twain’s own memorable words, etched into the walls…
…engraved above the entrance to the corporate-sponsored theater…
…and even plastered on the front of their smashed-penny machine.
How weird would that be to know that somewhere out there is a building with your own words writ large all over? I was endeared enough that, in a rare mood to spend money on souvenirs, I picked up a copy of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court from the gift shop on my way out. Because hey, science fiction.
When we’d had our fill of the museum, we didn’t stick around Hartford for long. The surrounding neighborhood of Asylum Hill is nowhere near as picturesque or well-kept as the selective visuals shown above. Apter descriptors would include “intimidating” and “Detroit-ish”.
Once we were on the road again with the doors secured, my wife managed a glance at their gold-leaf capitol dome from a safe distance.
Regardless, as of this date we can now say we’ve officially been to Connecticut. That’s more than we can say for its next-door neighbor Rhode Island, which had no convenient entrances along our path and no imaginative temptations that lured us toward them. Better luck next vacation, Rhoadies or Rhodeheads or Rhode Warriors or whatever.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]