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Mark Twain

Out With Halley’s Comet

On October 6, 1909 his daughter Clara married Ossip Solomonovitch Gabrilowitsch at Stormfield. Clara, now a singer, married the Russian pianist at her father’s home, an event of enormous delight to her father. For the occasion, he wore his honorary robe from Oxford. It seemed that life was slowly evolving into a new and different phase for him. With a new son-in-law and his daughter Jean living with him now, Twain could look forward to happier days ahead. But tragedy would hit again when, on December 24, 1909, Jean was found in her bathtub at Stormfield, having drowned during a massive seizure. He sent word to Clara and Ossip not to bother coming for the Christmas holiday as there was nothing to celebrate now that Jean was gone. Not able to make the journey because of health reasons, he saw his daughter’s body off to Elmira for burial beside her mother and sister. Whatever equilibrium he may have attained from Clara’s wedding, he now lost that with the death of Jean. He had now been diagnosed with angina pectoris, or “tobacco heart.” As described in a newspaper from the day:

“Angina pectoris is a paroxysmal affection of the chest, of baffling and obscure origin, characterized by severe pain, faintness, and deep depression of the spirits. The pain is severe, and of an oppressive, crushing, or stabbing character. The attacks progress in frequency and severity with uncertain intermissions, sometimes of long duration, to a fatal termination.” (Associated Press Night Report, April 22, 1910)

Twain makes a trip to Bermuda in 1910 with Albert Bigelow Paine in order for the warm weather to help with his physical condition. But eventually it becomes clear that Twain is losing his battle with the disease and makes the decision to return to Stormfield in order to die there. Shortly after his return to Connecticut, Clara and Ossip join him to be with him in the end. As Samuel Clemens had been born as Halley’s Comet streaked across the sky, so he would depart this life as the comet made a return engagement to Earth. Twain was aware of this correlation and seemed to feel that it was meant to be. The end for Mark Twain came on April 21, 1910 at Stormfield, Redding, Fairfield County, Connecticut:

“Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) died painlessly at 6:30 tonight of angina pectoris. He lapsed into a coma at 3 o’clock this afternoon and never recovered consciousness. It was the end of a man outworn by grief and acute agony of body. He was 74 years old. The breakdown which brought on the end is attributed to disheartenment following the death of his invalid daughter Jean. The death of his friends H.H. Rogers, W.M. Laffan, and R.W. Gilder, also affected him. Yesterday was a bad day for the little knot of anxious watchers at the bedside. For long hours the gray, aquiline features lay moulded in the inertia of death, while the pulse sunk steadily, but at night he passed from stupor into the first natural sleep he had known since he returned from Bermuda, and then he woke refreshed, even faintly cheerful, and in full possession of his faculties. He recognized his daughter, Clara (Mrs. Ossip Gabrilowitsch), spoke a rational word or two, and feeling himself unequal to conversation, wrote out in pencil: “Give me my glasses.” These were his last words. Laying them aside, he sank first into reverie and later into final unconsciousness.” (Associated Press Night Report, April 22, 1910)

The loss felt by the American people was keen and acute. President William Howard Taft, upon hearing of the death of America’s most popular humorist and author wrote:

“Mark Twain gave pleasure—real intellectual enjoyment—to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come. He never wrote a line that a father could not read to a daughter. His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature.” (Associated Press Night Report, April 22, 1910)

The decision was made to have a public funeral for Mark Twain. His body was carried by train from Connecticut to Grand Central Station in New York City. On Saturday, April 23, at the Brick Presbyterian Church located at Thirty-seventh Street and Fifth Avenue Twain’s funeral commenced at 3:00 in the afternoon. The funeral service itself lasted only twenty minutes, where the Reverend Dr. Henry Van Dyke spoke to the assembled crowd and concluded with these words:

“Now he is gone, and our thoughts of him are tender, grateful, proud. We are glad of his friendship; glad that he has expressed so richly one of the great elements in the temperaments of America; glad that he has left such an honorable record as a man of letters, and glad, also, for his sake, that after many and deep sorrows, he is at peace.” (Hoffman, p. 500)

As his friend, Rev. Joseph Twichell, remarked of the author, “Twain was the Lincoln of our literature.” After the final prayers his coffin was opened for viewing, with Twain resplendent in his customary white suit. The church was then opened to the public for the viewing where a steady stream of mourners filed past the American legend. After the viewing the body was carried by train to Elmira, Chemung County, New York. On Sunday, April 24, a public but very quiet and small service was held in the parlor of the Langdon home, the location where Samuel Clemens had married Olivia Langdon forty years earlier. A few personages who had attended that small wedding were present at this occasion. The ceremony was simple, with no music and no honorary pallbearers. A brief address and prayer was provided by Dr. Eastman. Then the coffin was opened one last time for the mourners and then sealed shut. The body was then conveyed to Woodlawn Cemetery where his wife and children were buried.

“Under a tent on the grassy slope of the Langdon plot in Woodlawn cemetery, with rain beating fiercely against the canvas cover, a little group of mourners silently watched today as the body of Samuel L. Clemens was lowered into an evergreen-lined grave beside the bodies of his wife and children. The Rev. Samuel E. Eastman, pastor of Park Church, and a close friend of the late humorist, conducted a brief and simple service, and Mark Twain’s final pilgrimage was at an end. Tonight he lies sleeping under a grave piled high with flowers, the tribute of friends from far and near.” (Associated Press Night Report, April 25, 1910)

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