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.