Gary L. Miller died


Gary Miller, retired senior pastor of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, passed away in Malone, WI.  He had retired from the church in 2011, and he had remained active in retirement, including building homes in Ripon, WI, with ServCorps, Asylum Hill Congregational Church’s building ministry.


The Twichell and Twain Walk, Re-Enacted


Steve Courtney, John Boyer, and James Kidd re-enacted Joseph Twichell and Samuel Clemens’s famous walk from the Mark Twain House to Talcott Mountain today.  They walked from the Mark Twain House up Woodland Street to Albany Avenue, and then followed Albany Avenue to Bloomfield Avenue.  They then followed Simsbury Avenue (Route 185), which took them the rest of the way to Talcott Mountain State Park.  Along the way, they stopped at Auer Farm for lunch, and then they got caught in the rain.  When they finally arrived at Heublein Tower, they were greeted by Lisa Johnson and Pat Heublein, who had cider, hot chocolate, and donuts waiting for them.

They drove back to Hartford, and on the drive they read aloud “1601:  Conversation as it was by the social fireside, in the time of the Tudors,” which Clemens said he’d tried out on Twichell during one of their walks.

Neat Little Tidbits

The excursion was organized by Courtney, and he recruited Boyer, who was director of the Mark Twain House, and Kidd, who was senior pastor at Asylum Hill Congregational Church, to take the walk with him.  He also invited Johnson, the curator of Heublein Tower, but she decided to meet them at the Heublein Tower.

Courtney describes “1601:  Conversation as it was by the social fireside, in the time of the Tudors” as a ribald tale with a final line that remained unpublishable in the Courant in 1996.

Trust but Verify

Courtney did not specify the date of this walk in his January 1996 article – he said only that they took the walk two days before the Million Man March, which occurred on October 16, 1995.  Hence, this post goes under October 14, 1995.

Put into Context

According to Courtney’s article about the walk that appeared in the Courant on January 14, 1996, they hadn’t been certain what route Twichell and Twain had followed.  They received some assistance on this from Johnson and Justin Kaplan, a biographer of Clemens.  They also consulted the first biographies of Clemens (by Albert Bigelow Paine) and Twichell (by Leah Strong), as well as a book on Nook Farm by Kenneth Andrews.  Courtney also researched the walk in Twichell’s journals, which are held by Twichell’s alma mater, Yale, at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Heublein Tower was not there to be a destination for Clemens and Twichell – that tower was built in 1913.  Instead, Clemens and Twichell walked to Bartlett’s Tower, which was a very popular tourist destination in the late 1800s until, apparently, it was closed to the public and transferred to a private owner around 1898.

Courtney would go on to write a biography of Twichell, Joseph Hopkins Twichell: The Life and Times of Mark Twain's Closest Friend, which was published in 2008.

Questions to Pose

Just how long did the walk take?  Apparently, there’s no specific reference to the duration of the walk in anything Clemens or Twichell wrote, and the only evidence about time elapsing on the walks is that they would sometimes catch the train at Bloomfield, either going out or heading in, if they were short on time.  Curiously, Courtney didn’t say how long his walk took, but it probably took longer as he and his companions stopped for lunch and got caught in the rain.

And what exactly did Twichell and Clemens discuss while on these walks?  Local lore has it that they worked through their respective writing projects – stories for Clemens, sermons for Twichell – but there is some dispute as to whether the talks touched on or avoided politics and whether they were polite or bawdy.  Courtney believes it was the latter, and he cites what may have begun as a conversation Clemens and Twichell had on their walk before Clemens sent it to Twichell in a letter – or published privately, hard to say at this point.

Speculating Without Facts

It appears that Clemens and Twichell would take this walk every Saturday in the autumn, not year-round.  Courtney’s article quotes Clemens, Twichell, and Olivia Langdon Clemens, and they are all dated in October or November or refer to the autumn.

Apparently, Clemens and Twichell always started their walks from 351 Farmington Avenue, aka the Mark Twain House.  Twichell would come down from his home at 125 Woodland Street, which would be located today on the west side of Woodland Street just south of the intersection with Ashley Street.  If Courtney got the path right, then Twichell had to walk first to Clemens’s house and then back past his own house as they walked to Talcott Mountain, and on those days he would dine at Clemens’s house after the walk he’d have to do the same, in reverse.  Some friend Sam was!  Unless, of course, they headed out down Farmington Avenue instead of up Woodland Street ….


Courtney, Steve, “Walking to the Tower,” Hartford Courant, January 14, 1996, retrieved online September 16, 2020.

Asylum Hill Congregational Church Re-Dedicated Its Newly Restored Sanctuary


The church rededicated its newly restored sanctuary at its Sunday service.  The service included a festival procession featuring the choir, organ, handbells and music for trumpet, all under the direction of Richard Einsel.  Daniel George, a tenor soloist, performed “Elijah” by Felix Mendelsohn.  James Kidd led the service, and Bernard Drew returned from Arizona to participate as well.

Neat Little Tidbit

Daniel George was one of the lead contractors on the restoration project.  He had been the soloist at the church for 10 years (not clear when or why he left), and his son Justin was born while he was singing one Sunday at the church.

John Canning, who also worked on the restoration project, had recently completed work on the governor’s office at the State Capitol.

Trust but Verify

The Courant article, which focused on the church’s decision to remain in Asylum Hill, came out the day before the rededication service.  It isn’t likely that anything happened to cancel or postpone the service in the following 24 hours, but still.

Put into context

The rededication of the restored sanctuary was viewed as the culmination of a process begun with a vote taken by the congregation to remain in Hartford, circa 1973 according the article but more likely earlier than that, as Bernard Drew had participated in similar discussions in the church.  The church began a capital campaign to restore the sanctuary in 1980, and that campaign coincided with a vigorous recruitment campaign that appealed especially to suburbanites.  By 1985, the church had raised $250,000 and doubled its membership from 500 to 1,000.

Additionally, Kidd told the reporter that the church now had three full-time ministers and that it was planning to hire a fourth.  This fourth minister would focus on single adults and youth.

Questions to pose

What was Templo Gloria?  The article states that AHCC formed Templo Gloria as part of an outreach effort among the city’s growing Latino population and that it contributed $50,000 annually to support it.  Edwin Marcano had been hired in 1984 to conduct this outreach, but it isn’t clear if he then led Templo Gloria.

Speculating without Facts

James Kidd was bullish in his assessment of the church’s decision to stay in Hartford:  “Many inner-city Protestant churches continue to decline.  Very few are the exception, and we are a dramatic exception.”  It should be noted that his neighbors – Asylum Avenue Baptist Church, the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, and Trinity Episcopal Church – are all also “commuter churches” and that both Asylum Avenue Baptist and Trinity Episcopal considered leaving the city before ultimately deciding to stay.

It is interesting to note that while Drew came back, Walter Wagoner did not – and Wagoner was a lot closer by (Greenwich, I think).  Since Wagoner began the church’s intellectual renaissance, his absence raises questions about whether he ultimately agreed with the direction in which the church headed or not.


Neyer, Constance, “Asylum Hill Church to Reaffirm Its Commitment to Urban Setting,” Hartford Courant, October 5, 1985, page AB1D.

Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival held


Annual Boar’s Head Yule Log Festival celebrated by the Asylum Hill Oratorio Choir and Cast, which was under the direction of Richard C. Einsel.  The animals were provided by Charlotte Bacon and Bob Commerford, and Commerford was responsible for Arthur the Camel.

Neat Little Tidbit

Commerford refers to Arthur having been at the White House several weeks before the Boar’s Head.  This would have been at the Carter White House, as Reagan was just over 2 weeks away from his inauguration.

Put into Context

This may have been the final performance for Arthur the Camel at the Boar’s Head.  He died in 1982, and it isn’t clear if he performed at the 1982 Boar’s Head.

Bob Commerford – aka Robert W. Commerford – continues to operate the Commerford Zoon in Goshen.

Question to Pose

When did animals first become a part of the Boar’s Head Festival?  The reporter here really lingered on the animals, which makes it seem like they were a relatively new part of the festival.  Of course, geese squabbling in a church is a noteworthy event under most circumstances.


Sevick, Stephanie, “Animals, congregation join in for Boar's Head Yule Celebration,” Hartford Courant, January 5, 1981, page A5.

New Pastor for Asylum Hill Congregational Church


The Courant reported that Asylum Hill Congregational Church had selected Walter D. Wagoner to succeed Bernard T. Drew as senior minister.

Neat little tidbit

Drew served as senior minister for 24 years, second only to Joseph Twichell in length of tenure.  Drew Hall is dedicated to him.

Trust but verify

This Courant article is unusual in that it doesn’t refer to Wagoner’s call to service, nor does it say when the special pastoral selection committee made that call.

Put into context

Bernard Drew was going to be a tough act to follow, given his long tenure at the church, but even still Wagoner came from a very different background than Drew’s.  Wagoner’s career had largely been in academia, holding several administrative and one faculty position over the course of 25 years, and the closest he came to a ministry at a church during this period was as university chaplain.  Just before answering the call from AHCC, he served as interim minister at the First Congregational Church in Sharon, MA.

Speculation without facts

AHCC’s website describes Wagoner as an “unusual choice,” apparently because he was old (55!) and because he’d never held a full-time pastorate, but the website also says that he began an “intellectual renaissance” that saw a growth in membership, reorganized the church’s structure, and connected the church with Asylum Hill.  Drew’s “exit interview” with the Courant suggested that AHCC planned to do just this, and Wagoner may have been selected because he was enthusiastic about this undertaking.


Unattributed, “Asylum Hill Selects Its New Pastor,” Hartford Courant, December 15, 1973, page 27.

Bernard Drew Discusses Asylum Hill Congregational Church as a Commuter Church


The Courant interviewed Bernard T. Drew about his recently announced retirement from the church. Drew told the Courant that the membership of the church had shifted from mostly living in the neighborhood when he began his ministry to now mostly commuting to church. He said, “The church now, as far as parishioners go, is mislocated.” He also noted the challenge the church faced in its community outreach: “The biggest task will be to set up a relationship with people on the move. People don’t stay in the area any more. Often they live here six month and then they are gone.” Overall, though, he was optimistic about both the future of Asylum Hill and of Hartford. “I don’t serve the same church Joseph Twichell did, and my successor won’t serve the same church I did.”


Unattributed, “Pastor of Asylum Hill Church to retire after nearly 24 years of service,” Hartford Courant, March 24, 1973, page 23.

Bernard Drew’s Retirement Officially Announced


Bernard Drew’s retirement as senior minister was formally announced at a meeting of the congregation at the church. Drew was not present at this meeting.  A special committee to search for the next pastor was also appointed.

Neat Little Tidbit

Church members had known about Drew’s plan to retire for more than a year, and this announcement made it finally official.  This would place Drew’s decision to retire at some point during 1971.

Trust but verify

The Courant article did not include who was meeting, but it seems likely that it was the Asylum Hill Congregational Society.

Put into context

Drew said that he wanted to retire when more of the church members would be around, so he picked Easter 1973 instead of the summer.  While that may be true, it’s also true that Easter and Christmas are typically the two best attended services in any church.  Leaving that cynicism aside, there certainly would be symbolism involved in retiring on Easter, with a sense of renewal accompanying the next minister (who wouldn’t be selected until closer to Christmas 1973), but Drew also gave his first sermon at the church on May 1, 1949.  It was four months before he would be installed as pastor, but there would be symmetry in giving his last sermon at nearly the anniversary of his first.


Unattributed, “Minister to retire in April from Asylum Hill church,” Hartford Courant, December 7, 1972, page 90.

Live, from Asylum Hill Congregational Church, It’s Easter Service


CBS broadcast the Easter service from Asylum Hill Congregational Church live to a national audience.  The broadcast began at 11:00.  As Bernard Drew rose to give his sermon, a stage manager informed him that the broadcast was running long, so Drew cut two minutes from his sermon on the fly.  The choir sang “Hallelujah Chorus.”  The broadcast ended precisely at noon.

Neat little tidbits

The CBS crew asked Richard Einsel, the choir director, to wear a bright blue robe rather than the black one he chose.

The broadcast was directed from a truck parked on Huntington Street.

Drew’s sermon focused on the Christian way of facing death, noting as he closed the sermon God had, through the Resurrection, “manifested that He cares for us enough to respect and sustain our individuality from here to eternity.”

This wasn’t Drew’s first live broadcast:  he’d given a sermon on the radio in 1954.

An usher watched the service on one of several color televisions in the vestry.

WTIC taped the broadcast in order to show it to the church members at a later date.

Put into context

Drew and Einsel both claimed they were calm prior to the broadcast.  Drew said he saw little difference between preaching to the gathered congregants and to a television audience, saying it would embarrass him “just as much to fail in front of 10 and it would be in front of 10 million.”  Einsel told the Courant that he and the choir had gone about their regular routine: they took a coffee and pastry break before the service. He told the Courant, “Maybe it’s not too good to be so calm.”

The broadcast seems to have gone off without any serious glitches, although the Courant reported that the producer in charge, Bernard Seabrooks, had been concerned enough that the service would run long that he had prayed that they would get out on time.

Questions to pose

How big of a deal was this?  The Courant doesn’t mention any local dignitaries attending the service, and these days it’s hard to think of a politician who would miss an opportunity like this.

Speculating without Fact

Nowhere is it mentioned whether CBS reviewed Drew’s sermon in advance.  It seems likely they would have, if only to ensure that it would fit in the allotted time, but it’s possible that CBS told Drew how long he had and then let him fit his sermon into that length of time as he saw fit.  Note that when he was told the broadcast was running long, he knew to cut two minutes out and then speed up his delivery.


Hall, Ann, “TV to Air Services from City Church,” Hartford Courant, March 23, 1971, page 1A.

Kauffman, Bruce, “City minister preaches Easter sermon to millions via TV,” Hartford Courant, April 12, 1971, page 5.

Asylum Hill Congregational Church Prepares for A Live Television Broadcast


Preparations for the next day’s live broadcast of the church’s Easter service began. A crew from CBS arrived and set up a broadcast truck on Huntington Street. They ran a special power cable from the Cathedral of Saint Joseph across Asylum Avenue, and the lighting and sound equipment were set up inside the nave so that they would be invisible to the viewers.

Neat Little Tidbit

According to Bernard Drew, CBS selected Asylum Hill Congregational Church for this broadcast because Ivor Hugh, director of communications for the Connecticut and Greater Hartford Councils of Churches, had pitched the church as a location for a televised Easter service at a meeting he attended with CBS executives.  Hugh reportedly told the executives that Asylum Hill Congregational was colorful, had excellent music, and was interesting historically – it was Mark Twain’s church, after all.  The executives responded that if Hugh could arrange it, they’d do it.

Trust but verify

There’s no reason to doubt Drew’s account of Hugh’s meeting with the CBS executives, but Drew was silent about what Hugh did – or needed to do – to convince Drew to go along with this broadcast.

Put into context

Drew told Ann Hall, a Courant reporter, that he planned that the Easter service would be a typical one for the church and that the lighting and equipment would be out of sight in order that the service would look as natural as possible.  Hall additionally noted that the music selections would be traditional as well, so nothing was done to alter the service for a national television audience.

Speculating without evidence

Although it’s unclear when Hugh met with CBS, preparations for the broadcast were underway on March 23, when the Courant ran an article reporting that the church had been selected for the national broadcast.  By the time of the article, Drew could tell Hall that he planned to have his sermon ready by April 1, and Richard Einsel, the choir director, could tell her he had selected four hymns for the service:  “Hallelujah Chorus,” “Entrata Festiva,” “O Clap Your Hands,” and “Achieved Is They Glory.”


Hall, Ann, “TV to Air Services from City Church,” Hartford Courant, March 23, 1971, page 1A.

Kauffman, Bruce, “City minister preaches Easter sermon to millions via TV,” Hartford Courant, April 12, 1971, page 5.

Rehearsal for the Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival


The Courant published an article on the rehearsal for the upcoming Boar’s Head and Yule Festival, scheduled to take place on January 5, 1969.  The program for the event would be:

  • A tiny sprite brings a lighted candle into the darkened church
  • The minister receives the light, and the lights in the chancel were brought up
  • The lights in the church were brought up
  • Trumpet fanfare announced the entry of the boar’s head
  • King Wenceslas and his page entered
  • A jester followed
  • The woodsmen entered with the Yule Log
  • The shepherds entered
  • The Three Kings arrived with their gifts

All knelt as the epiphany star shone over the communion table


Unattributed, “Special Festival Planned,” Hartford Courant, December 28, 1968, page 17.

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