Mark Twain in Hawthorne, Tonopah, Eureka|
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On November 22 Mark Twain performed in Hawthorne for the first time in history, before a packed house at the old USO building, now the Convention Center.
It wasn't the original Mark Twain, of course — Hawthorne didn't exist when Sam Clemens came to Aurora, 15 miles to the southwest, as a hopeful gold miner in 1861. For that matter Mark Twain didn't exist then either — the letters that Clemens sent from Aurora to the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City were signed Josh.
By the time Hawthorne was established as a division point on the Carson & Colorado Railroad in 1881, Sam Clemens was firmly established as Mark Twain, living back east and revered as the author of Innocents Abroad, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and other hugely popular writings.
So this was Mark Twain's first appearance in Hawthorne, courtesy of McAvoy Layne, and the town turned out in force to attend. They packed the theater — extra chairs were hurriedly gathered and set in place — and were treated to his reminiscenses of steamboating on the Mississippi:
"Every tumblerful of Mississippi River water holds nearly an acre of land in solution. I got this fact from the bishop of the diocese. If you will let your glass stand half an hour, you can separate the land from the water as easy as Genesis; and then you will find them both good: the one good to eat, the other good to drink. The land is very nourishing, the water is thoroughly wholesome. The one appeases hunger; the other, thirst. But the natives do not take them separately, but together, as nature mixed them. When they find an inch of mud in the bottom of a glass, they stir it up, and then take the draught as they would gruel. It is difficult for a stranger to get used to this batter, but once used to it he will prefer it to water. This is really the case. It is good for steamboating, and good to drink; but it is worthless for all other purposes, except baptizing."
Riverboats on the Mississippi.
He told us of his Confederate military service: "In that summer of 1861 the first wash of the wave of war broke upon the shores of Missouri. Our state was invaded by the Union forces. They took possession of St. Louis, Jefferson Barracks, and some other points. The governor, Calib Jackson, issued his proclamation calling out fifty thousand militia to repel the invader.
"I was visiting in the small town where my boyhood had been spent, Hannibal, Marion County. Several of us got together in a secret place by night and formed ourselves into a military company. One Tom Lyman, a young fellow of a good deal of spirit but of no military experience, was made captain; I was made second lieutenant. We had no first lieutenant, I do not know why. . . .
"For a time, life was idly delicious. It was perfect. There was no war to mar it. Then came some farmers with an alarm one day. They said it was rumoured that the enemy were advancing in our direction from over Hyde's prairie. The result was a sharp stir among us and general consternation. Ir was a rude awakening from out pleasant trance. The rumour was but a rumour, nothing definite about it, so in the confusion we did not know which way to retreat. Lyman was not for retreating at all in these uncertain circumstances but he found that if he tried to maintain that attitude he would fare badly, for the command were in no humour to put up with insubordination. So he yielded the point and called a council of war, to consist of himself and three other officers, but the privates made such a fuss about being left out we had to allow them to remain, for they were already present and doing most of the talking too. The question was, which way to retreat; but all were so flurried that nobody even seemed to have even a guess to offer. Except Lyman. He explained in a few calm words, that inasmuch as the enemy were approaching from over Hyde's prairie our course was simple. All we had to do was not retreat toward him, another direction would suit our purposes perfectly. Everybody saw in a moment how true this was and how wise, so Lyman got a great many compliments."
McAvoy Layne as "the Ghost of Mark Twain" at the old USO building in Hawthorne.
And of the stagecoach journey from St. Joseph to Carson City: "We had had a consuming desire, from the beginning, to see a pony-rider, but somehow or other all that passed us and all that met us managed to streak by in the night, and so we heard only a whiz and a hail, and the swift phantom of the desert was gone before we could get our heads out of the windows. But now we were expecting one along every moment, and would see him in broad daylight. Presently the driver exclaims:
“'HERE HE COMES!'
"Every neck is stretched further, and every eye strained wider. Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears against the sky, and it is plain that it moves. Well, I should think so!
"In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling — sweeping toward us nearer and nearer — growing more and more distinct, more and more sharply defined — nearer and still nearer, and the flutter of the hoofs comes faintly to the ear — another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider's hand, but no reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm!
The Pony Express Rider.
"So sudden is it all, and so like a flash of unreal fancy, that but for the flake of white foam left quivering and perishing on a mail-sack after the vision had flashed by and disappeared, we might have doubted whether we had seen any actual horse and man at all, maybe."
He told us of his first visit to Lake Tahoe: "While smoking the pipe of peace after breakfast we watched the sentinel peaks put on the glory of the sun, and followed the conquering light as it swept down among the shadows, and set the captive crags and forests free. We watched the tinted pictures grow and brighten upon the water till every little detail of forest, precipice and pinnacle was wrought in and finished, and the miracle of the enchanter complete. Then to 'business.'
"That is, drifting around in the boat. We were on the north shore. There, the rocks on the bottom are sometimes gray, sometimes white. This gives the marvelous transparency of the water a fuller advantage than it has elsewhere on the lake. We usually pushed out a hundred yards or so from shore, and then lay down on the thwarts, in the sun, and let the boat drift by the hour whither it would. We seldom talked.
"It interrupted the Sabbath stillness, and marred the dreams the luxurious rest and indolence brought. The shore all along was indented with deep, curved bays and coves, bordered by narrow sand-beaches; and where the sand ended, the steep mountain-sides rose right up aloft into space — rose up like a vast wall a little out of the perpendicular, and thickly wooded with tall pines.
"So singularly clear was the water, that where it was only twenty or thirty feet deep the bottom was so perfectly distinct that the boat seemed floating in the air! Yes, where it was even eighty feet deep. Every little pebble was distinct, every speckled trout, every hand's-breadth of sand. Often, as we lay on our faces, a granite boulder, as large as a village church, would start out of the bottom apparently, and seem climbing up rapidly to the surface, till presently it threatened to touch our faces, and we could not resist the impulse to seize an oar and avert the danger. But the boat would float on, and the boulder descend again, and then we could see that when we had been exactly above it, it must still have been twenty or thirty feet below the surface. Down through the transparency of these great depths, the water was not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so. All objects seen through it had a bright, strong vividness, not only of outline, but of every minute detail, which they would not have had when seen simply through the same depth of atmosphere. So empty and airy did all spaces seem below us, and so strong was the sense of floating high aloft in mid-nothingness, that we called these boat-excursions 'balloon-voyages.'"
And he told us of his duel with Laird of the Virginia City Union:
"The boys were jubilant beyond expression. They helped me make my will, which was another discomfort — and I already had enough. Then they took me home. I didn't sleep any — didn't want to sleep. I had plenty of things to think about, and less than four hours to do it in — because five o'clock was the hour appointed for the tragedy, and I should have to use up one hour — beginning at four — in practicing with the revolver and finding out which end of it to level at the adversary.
"At four we went down into a little gorge, about a mile from town, and borrowed a barn door for a mark — borrowed it of a man who was over in California on a visit — and we set the barn door up and stood a fence rail up against the middle of it. The rail was no proper representative of Mr. Laird, for he was longer than a rail and thinner. Nothing would ever fetch him but a line shot, and then, as like as not, he would split the bullet — the worst material for dueling purposes that could be imagined. I began on the rail. I couldn't hit the rail; I couldn't hit the barn door. There was nobody in danger except stragglers around on the flanks of that mark. I was thoroughly discouraged, and I didn't cheer up any when we presently heard pistol shots over in the next little ravine.
McAvoy Layne as "the Ghost of Mark Twain" at the old USO building in Hawthorne.
"I knew what that was — that was Laird's gang out practicing him. They would hear my shots, and of course they would come up over the ridge to see what kind of a record I was making — see what their chances were against me. Well, I hadn't any record; and I knew that if Laird came over that ridge and looked at my barn door without a scratch on it, he would be as anxious to fight as I was — or as I had been at midnight, before that disastrous acceptance came.
"Now just at this moment a little bird, no bigger than a sparrow, flew along by and lit on a sage-bush about thirty yards away. Steve whipped out his revolver and shot its head off. Oh, he was a marksman — much better than I was. We ran down there to pick up the bird, and just then, sure enough, Mr. Laird and his people came over the ridge, and they joined us. And when Laird's second saw that bird with its head shot off, he lost color, and you could see that he was interested.
Walker Lake at sunset.
He said: 'Who did that?'
"Before I could answer, Steve spoke up and said quite calmly, and in a matter-of-fact way, 'Clemens did it.'
"The second said, 'Why, that is wonderful! How far off was that bird?'
"Steve said, 'Oh, not far — about thirty yards.'
"The second said, 'Well, that is astonishing shooting. How often can he do that?'
"Steve said, languidly, 'Oh, about four times out of five!'
"I knew the little rascal was lying, but I didn't say anything. The second said: 'Why, that is wonderful shooting! Why, I supposed he couldn't hit a church!'
"He was supposing very sagaciously, but I didn't say anything. Well, they said good morning. The second took Mr. Laird home, a little tottery on his legs, and Laird sent back a note in his own hand declining to fight a duel with me on any terms whatever."
He told us about his beloved wife Olivia: "I saw her first in the form of an ivory miniature in her brother
Charley's stateroom in the steamer 'Quaker City,' in the Bay of Smyrna,
in the summer of 1867, when she was in her twenty-second year. I saw her
in the flesh for the first time in New York in the following December.
She was slender and beautiful and girlish — and she was both girl and
woman. She remained both girl and woman to the last day of her life.
Under a grave and gentle exterior burned inextinguishable fires of
sympathy, energy, devotion, enthusiasm, and absolutely limitless
affection. She was — always — frail in body, and she lived upon her
spirit, whose hopefulness and courage were indestructible. Perfect
truth, perfect honesty, perfect candor, were qualities of her character
which were born with her . . . I have compared
and contrasted her with hundreds of persons, and my conviction remains
that hers was the most perfect character I have ever met."
After an intermission he told the story of Grandfather's Ram, and took dozens questions from the audience.
After the performance, Layne joined a tableful of friends and fans at the El Capitan. As he made his way through the gambling hall toward the restaurant, still dressed in his trademark white suit, unlighted cigar in hand, a man leaned precariously off his barstool and nudged his companion. "Look!" he hissed: "Tom Sawyer!"
Another man, glowing with good cheer, stepped away from the slot machines to say admiringly, "I've read every book you ever wrote."
"Which one did you like best?" McAvoy asked the beaming man, who paused, consulted his store of opinions, and replied earnestly, "Tequila Sunrise!"
Local people and visitors alike raised their glasses in toasts and their voices in boasts, and the party lasted late into the night. A Sunday morning breakfast at Maggie's Cafe concluded the visit, and it was a week before Hawthorne ceased to buzz about the great event. What happens in Hawthorne gets talked about all over Mineral County for days on end.
I hope you will forgive my close coverage of McAvoy's performance, but I can't ignore an opportunity to quote Mark Twain at length.
The Eureka Gallery, Main Street.
Eureka has experienced some interesting changes recently. A closing: The Pony Expresso deli on the east-bound end of town is dark as the Mennonite family that operated it have moved to Costa Rica along with some other members of the local congregation. It's for sale, if you want to start a new life. An opening: The Eureka Gallery on Main Street, featuring the work of numerous Nevada artists including the photography of the proprietors Deon and Trish Reynolds. It's housed in the old bank building, with its painted safe still intact.
Also for sale: The Owl Club, the Best Western Eureka Inn and the Jackson House. The Eureka Cafe is a Chinese restaurant of real distinction, and probably the only one in the state that's beloved for its hamburgers: "The best burgers in central Nevada!" an admiring resident told us on our most recent visit, "and only five dollars!"
Quick notes from beyond the mountains:
The Nevada State Railroad Museum hosts its 20th Annual Santa Train on December 15 and 16 from 9 am – 4 pm at a special discounted price of $2 per seat. Rides feature a visit with Santa and a candy cane for all good little boys and girls. The museum is at the south end of Carson City at the intersection of Fairview Avenue . . . Speaking of railroads, the bridge to carry the restored V&T across Highway 50 is under construction at the Lyon County-Carson City line . . . And, the Comstock History Center is presenting the exhibit “Beebe & Clegg on the Comstock”, a collection of photographs by Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg. The exhibit will be on display through April 2009 . . . Nevada, Iowa, the seat of Story County (Iowa), was named by a returned '49er for the Sierra Nevada in 1853, predating establishment of our Territory by nine years. There are Nevadas in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Texas, and maybe more, to say nothing of Nevada City California . . .
Chuck Clegg and Lucius Beebe revived and published the famed Territorial Enterprise in the early 1950s
In celebration of the 25th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Western Folklife Center in Elko and the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno have partnered to develop a joint exhibition entitled Between Grass and Sky, a broad range of artworks, from paintings and sculptures to intricately crafted gear, which will be mounted in both locations starting in January 2009. The Gathering takes place January 24 to 31, 2009 and tickets are now on sale at the Center's website (above). It will be a very special reunion of hundreds of poets, musicians and gearmakers who have participated in the Gathering over the last quarter century. The event will look back at 25 years of cowboy poetry and music performances, and look ahead by presenting young artists as well. Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (she grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona) will deliver the keynote speech . . .
From "Between Grass and Sky"
Here's a unique Christmas gift offering from the Goldwell Open Air Museum at Rhyolite: a desert studio all to paint, draw, sculpt or print uninterrupted and with no imposed schedule. The museum's Artist Workspace Program provides an affordable weekend or longer getaway using the facilities of the Red Barn Art Center to pursue individual or group work. Fees are just $50 per day (minimum stay two days), or $200 a week and includes housing in Beatty and 24- hour studio access. Technical assistance is available. Download and complete an application form for yourself or your gift recipient. Complete the form by Dec. 22 and your gift will arrive by Christmas . . . The Nevada State Railroad Museum hosts its 21st Annual Santa Train on December 13 and 14 from 9 am to 4 pm. The Santa Train excursion is being offered at a special discounted price of $2.00 per seat. The Museum is located at 2180 South Carson Street, Carson City; call (775) 687-6953 for information . . . And since we're speaking of railroads and Christmas, how about this: The Nevada Northern Railway ("The Ghost Train of Old Ely") will sell you a gift certificate for renting a locomotive. That's right — you can't rent a car in Ely, but you can rent a choo-choo, put your hand on the throttle and drive it out of the station — everything except sell tickets. For the hardcore foamer (railroad enthusiast) this is the dream gift . . . Harrah’s Reno has brought "exhilarating and non stop Kung fu style show" The Monkey King back from China to Sammy’s Showroom for the Christmas season, through Decemer 18. The show features magic, dancers, acrobatics and martial prowess and made its North American debut at Harrah’s Reno in December of 2007. Tickets: $33.50 and $38.50; reservations and information:1-800-788-2900.
The Red Barn Art Center, Rhyolite
Overheard at Gil's Bar in Hawthorne: "Gladys, if you want my opinion, the two greatest discoveries of the 20th century were the Cuisinart and the clitoris."
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