After three speakers and a movie, champagne corks blasted off amid a packed room of about 50 people who sat amid 300 of Mark Twain’s personal books.
In the front of the room, over a stone fireplace, a rich oil painting of the severe, bushy face of Twain cast a curious gaze over the crowd on Sunday, Feb. 27, for the 100th birthday celebration of the .
But Twain wasn’t the only one being celebrated. His daughter, Jean Clemens, whom he was rather estranged from until he settled into his Stormfield estate in Redding, was also honored.
A 2008 oil painting of Clemens (see picture), painted by Susan Durkee, rested in the corner, close to Twain’s self portrait.
“Mark Twain got to know Jean here in Redding,” said historian Brent Colley, one of the guest speakers at the event.
Twain had been away from home, building up his public persona and had hardly known his own daughter, said Colley. But after falling in love with Redding, Twain and his daughter also came to love one another deeply.
Clemens had donated $6,000 to help build the library. Sadly, neither she nor her father witnessed its opening. Clemens died shortly before Christmas, and Twain died shortly thereafter in summer of 1910. The library opened in February 1911, and has become an unforgettable place for those who knew it now as well as those who know it then.
A lot of things have changed in a 100 years: for example, you can retain your luggage, if you have any, without having to pay to get it back—something Twain employed to raise money. He also charged visiting friends $1 in 1910 (about $22 in current value) as a guest tax “not upon the valuable sex, but only upon the other one,’” said Library Director Heather Morgan, quoting Twain during her presentation.
In another instance, when Twain threw a fundraising concert, he charged $1.50 for access to the living room, $1 to stand in the dining room, 75 cents to stand within earshot in the hall, and 50 cents for anyone else who wandered through the gate.
Currently, the library has 63 percent of its budget paid for by the municipality. The remainder of the budget is privately funded.
One of the reiterated phrases of the night was that the library was, for a long while, the most interesting, happening place in Redding. The train stopped in this wooded town primarily to accommodate Twain and his seemingly constant influx of guests. It was an interesting place, and it still is—and now, there’s a book full of memories to chronicle the century-old establishment.
Rosalind Kopfstein, the Chair of Redding’s Commission on Aging and a guest speaker at the event, lifted up a white-covered, hard-bound book tagged with yellow post it notes. “Oohs” and “ahhs” drifted up from the audience, and the bodies seated shifted with some excitement. The book she held was Pages Turned, a recently-printed book filled with first-hand accounts of Redding citizens who attended the library during its incipient years. The book is a result, at least in part, of the Aging Commission’s research throughout the Redding community.
Currently, the library has only two copies of Pages Turned, one which may be rented out and one that is for library use only. Both Kopfstein and Morgan said that they hoped to receive additional copies of the book in the future.
The book is a valuable resource for history buffs and Twain fans, and, from the few accounts that were read aloud Kopfstein, the book seems downright interesting, too.
“During prohibition,” read Kopfstein, “people kept bottles in their car,” during the many dance celebrations that were hosted at the library. They drank and danced all over the freshly-waxed floor.
“They moved the bookshelves out to make room,” to make room, she said. At one popular event, long ladders used for reaching top shelves were dragged out to provide more standing room.
The main attraction of the event was a 50-minute documentary, “The Mark Twain Library: 100 Years.” The film was created for the library by familiar Redding residents Mary Ann Guitar, who wrote the script; Paul Shapiro, who did the filming and editing; and Bob Morton, who acted as narrator.
The film is a personal look at the library, containing interviews of various people from around town—among them, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great-grand niece—who reminisced about Twain, the library and general Redding history.
As the documentary came to a close, the audience burst into applause. Asking no questions, the event turned over to dozens of richly-flavored cupcakes and flutes of champagne.
“I used to bring my children here when they were toddlers, back in the original children’s room,” said Douglas Arvoy, a guest who attended the event. “My children, they loved coming here; they would point out the window and say ‘ooh ooh ooh!’ I like Mark Twain. I’ve read all his books. I love the library; they have interesting shows here, and interesting speakers."
“I thought to myself, well, we’re 100, so let’s have a party,” laughed Morgan.
If you missed out on Sunday’s event, periodically check marktwainlibrary.org for upcoming events.