Sixth Trip to Bermuda: Monday February 24 to Saturday April 11, 1909
February 24 Monday – The Clemens party arrived in Bermuda and Sam checked into the Princess Hotel in Hamilton, Bermuda
Isabel Lyon’s journal: We sighted land very early this morning & before ten sailed up the wonderful tiny channel between the tiny islands into Hamilton Bay.
The Hotel is full & we are scattered. Oh, so scattered, until it seems as if one of my legs were in #70 & the other in 166. 166 is the King’s room & is so small that the King says “it was intended for a cigar box, in fact it was a cigar box once.”
The most public of all Clemens’s visits to the Islands began slowly. Because the day was rainy, he and Rogers abandoned their plan of riding to Shoreby to see Mrs. Peck and Woodrow Wilson, who was spending his last day on the Islands.
Rogers and Clemens often took short rides to town, and not without attracting notice. An idler on Front Street, the Royal Gazette reported, “may see almost any afternoon, weather permitting, two quiet looking, white haired old gentlemen taking the air in an open carriage, chatting cosily and absorbing with shrewd glances from under bushy eyebrows the sights and the scenes of the street”. Their reputations preceded them—perhaps with help from Upton Sinclair. The same piece said that Sinclair, a “representative of that fast growing class, the American Socialist,” was currently rusticating in Somerset. Of the two old gentlemen that appeared on Front Street, the Gazette continued, one was known as a maker of merriment, while the other was “likewise in touch with the world but rather through their pockets than their sense of humour.” Miss Wallace maintained that Rogers, too, was a charming man “with a fund of quiet humor,” but Clemens found that his association with Rogers prompted more questions than his public attentions to schoolgirls. When asked why he befriended a man of so much tainted money, he had a ready answer. “Yes,” he said, “it’s doubly tainted: t’aint yours, and t’aint mine.”
An excursion to the aquarium, on Sunday morning, March 1, was arranged for Clemens and his party by W. Maxwell Greene, the effervescent and obliging U.S. consul, as Miss Wallace described him. Goodwin Gosling, secretary to the Bermuda Natural History Society, also came aboard; he had urged the founding of a biological station and aquarium, a project that interested the presidents of Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia. Twelve fish tanks were cleverly constructed within a masonry moat around a powder magazine the Royal Navy had declared obsolete. Open to sunlight and fresh air, the tanks were designed to be approached through dark and mysterious chambers. “The fish were very wonderful in their coloring and form,” Miss Wallace wrote, “but Mr. Clemens didn’t seem to think that they were very sociable. And it wasn’t very pleasant to see the octopus dine off a retiring and harmless crab.” Clemens, predictably, pronounced the blue and yellow angelfish his favorite.
On March 12, Twain wrote to Dorothy Quick, one of his Angelfishes, about the Crystal Cave:
Today, five of us men drove to St. George’s, over beautiful roads with charming scenery & the wonderful blue water always in sight—distance 12 miles—& we dined at the hotel. However, on the way there we visited a wonderful cave that was discovered in December by a couple of black boys—the most beautiful cave in the world, I suppose. We descended 150 steps & stood in a splendid place 250 feet long & 30 or 40 wide, with a brilliant lake of clear water under our feet & all the roof overhead splendid with shining stalactites, thousands & thousands of them as white as sugar, & thousands & thousands brown & pink & other tints. All lighted with acetylene jets.
Clemens still took pleasure along the roads he traveled in 1877 or even earlier, and found enchantment in the Crystal Cave, discovered on the Wilkinson estate not far from Walsingham. The cave and the aquarium, with what he believed “the most beautiful fish that swims,” were the two new tourist attractions of 1908. The sight again of slowly dripping water could take Clemens all the way back to Hannibal, and to McDowell’s Cave, which became the haunting “McDougal’s Cave” in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (“That drop was falling when the Pyramids were new; when Troy fell; when the foundations of Rome were laid; when Christ was crucified; when the Conquerer created the British empire; when Columbus sailed; when the massacre at Lexington was ‘news.’”) The Royal Gazette had described the Crystal Cave on January 11 as having been discovered “twelve months or so ago.” Later, however, Albert Bigelow Paine learned that it was found in March 1905 by a boy named Carl Gibbon, then fourteen. As he rested in the sun with Edgar Hollis, his friend, Carl felt a cool current of air issuing from a crevice in the hillside. The boys dug a larger opening and daringly penetrated the cave. Almost a year later, in February 1906, Louis L. Mowbray, the young but already distinguished naturalist, came upon a petrel of unknown species in a rocky nest on Castle Island. When he and Goodwin Gosling went into the Crystal Cave and descended to a pool, they matched the bird from Castle Island with fossilized bones and embedded feathers, and thereby identified it as the long-lost but periodically rediscovered Bermuda petrel (Pterodroma cahow). Hence the underground pool was named Cahow Lake. These peculiar birds were thought to have been extinguished at the beginning of the seventeenth century by hungry castaways and the early settlers. Capt. Diego Ramirez wrote of a night in 1603 when his shipwrecked crew on Spanish Point encountered the nocturnal, shrieking cahows: “More than 500 birds were brought off to the ship that night, and, having gone through hot water and been plucked, proved to be very fat and fine. Thereafter a capture was made every evening. The birds were so plentiful that 4,000 could be taken in a single bag. The men relished them enough to eat them all the time, and when we left we brought away more than 1,000 well dried and salted for the voyage.”
The long Bermuda holiday was over. Clemens and his group joined Lord Grey in boarding the Bermudian on Saturday, April 11. The ship was also carrying sixty thousand Easter lilies for Sunday, April 19, and a few Bermuda angelfish for the aquarium in Battery Park. It docked in New York on Monday. “I offered to loan Rogers $2,” Clemens told the newspapermen, “though I knew I was taking an awful risk. Rogers thought it was simply a courtesy and so did not take me up. Now I am $2 ahead.” He told of stormy seas, and standing in his white suit at the stern rail with Dorothy Sturgis, a sixteen year old from Boston whom he appointed a new angelfish. The ocean became most rude, he said, and they got drenched by a giant wave.