Sammy’s Idyllic Childhood – Summers at Quarles Farm – First Schooling
Brother Benjamin Died – Family Moved to Hill Street House – Murder Witnessed
Many Adventures – Cholera, Measles and Death – John Marshall Clemens Died
Sam the Printer’s Devil
Sam’s boyhood days in Hannibal, from ages four to eleven were filled with adventures, escapades and personalities many of which were to find their way into his many novels years later. Among those that might have taken place anytime during this decade were: The sale, beating and killings of slaves. Accidents on the river; Corpses washing up at Hannibal; Cave adventures, including the cadaver kept in McDowell’s Cave; Town drunks, including the Blankenship clan, Tom (b.1831?) being Sam’s model for Huck Finn. Injun Joe. Judge Clemens keeping the peace with a hammer on the head of two rowdies; Pranks at school. Sam’s claims of near drowning nine times; Rafting adventures; Hunting, fishing; Gang hangouts; Falling through the ice on the river; Steamboats arriving at the Hannibal docks; The swimming hole in Bear Creek; Jim Wolfe’s descent in his flying nightshirt into a candy pull; Sam dancing naked and “playing bear” in the moonlight while two girls watched in secret behind a shade, etc.
Most of these boyhood adventures cannot be pinned to a date, or even to a specific year. Wecter does a good job of identifying many of them, and Powers writes a powerful treatment of the psychological makeup of these boyhood years in Dangerous Waters. Some listings of Sam’s boyhood friends are found here and there. A picture taken in 1922 of Sam’s surviving childhood friends included Norval “Gull” Brady (1839-1929), Dr. B.Q. Stevens, John Ro Bards (1838-1925), Moses D. Bates Jr., Mrs. Laura Hawkins Frazer (1837-1928), and T.G. Dulaney; not pictured and deceased at that time: S.H. Honeyman, Jimmy McDaniel, B.O. Farthing, and Ed Pierce [The Fence Painter, Winter 1986/1987 Vol. VI No.4 Hannibal, Mo.]. Other friends are listed in various dated entries. See especially Feb. 6, 1870 to Will Bowen for several escapades remembered.
In his Nov. 30, 1906 A.D., Clemens recalled minstrel shows in Hannibal:
I remember the first negro-minstrel show I ever saw. It must have been in the early ‘40s. It was a new institution. In our village of Hannibal, on the banks of the Mississippi, we had not heard of it before, and it burst upon us as a glad and stunning surprise.
The show remained a week, and gave a performance every night. Church members did not attend these performances, but all the worldlings flocked to them, and were enchanted. …
The minstrels appeared with coal-black hands and faces, and their clothing was a loud and extravagant burlesque of the clothing worn by the plantation slave of the time….Standing collars were in fashion in that day, and the minstrel appeared in a collar which engulfed and hid the half of his head and projected so far forward that he could hardly see sideways over its points. His coat was sometimes made of curtain calico, with a swallow-tail that hung nearly to his heels and had buttons as big as a blacking box. His shoes were rusty, and clumsy, and cumbersome, and five or six sizes too large for him. There were many variations upon this costume, and they were all extravagant, and were by many believed to be funny.
The minstrel used a very broad negro dialect; he used it competently, and with easy facility,and it was funny—delightfully and satisfyingly funny [AMT 2: 294]. Note: see source for more.
A later work by Clemens is “Villagers of 1840-3.” The MTP says this about it:
The most intriguing of the factual works, however, is “Villagers of 1840-3,” published here in its entirety for the first time [see MTPO]. This extended series of notes about life in ante- bellum Hannibal contains over one-hundred capsule biographies of the town’s residents, including Mark Twain’s own family. Written in 1897, forty-four years after Samuel Clemens left his boyhood home, it is a remarkable feat of memory, compelling both as a historical and a literary document. Evidently Mark Twain intended to use it as a master list of possible characters for any subsequent stories he might set in St. Petersburg or Dawson’s Landing, his imaginary re-creations of Hannibal [MTPO]. Note: Sam gave his father the name of “Judge Carpenter.”
The Aberdeen (S.D.) Daily News, 4 Jan. 1905, p. 2, “Mark Twain’s Pranks” reported reminiscences by Captain H. Lacy, who was born in Hannibal in 1839. Lacy claims it was not Jim Wolfe who was the victim of the famous skeleton-in-bed prank (sometime in the 1840s), but “a tramp printer named Snell,” who “blew into Hannibal one day and was given work on the paper.” Lacy claimed to be along on the prank; his account offers not only a different victim than has been imagined (see MTL 1: 18n4; also Ch. 23 TA) but a different outcome:
He was an uncommunicative sort of fellow, but a good worker and obedient. Sam decided to bring him out of his reserve and to do it borrowed a skeleton from a doctor’s office and slipped it into the printer’s bed. Then we got around to a window about bedtime to see what was going to happen. The print pulled off his shoes, piled his clothes over on the floor and blew out the light. The next thing we supposed would be a yell and a printer shooting out of the window in his nightshirt. But there wasn’t anything of the sort. There was a sleepy yawn and:
“Get over on your own side, darn you.”
We heard the ghastly bedmate of Snell fall to the floor, and then everything was quiet except for the snoring of the sleeping printer. The joke had failed, and we went up to our rooms in disgust.
Next day Snell didn’t show up, and we began to feel a little hopeful that maybe the trick had worked after all. But we were again disappointed. Snell was in a gin mill, boiling drunk and having the time of his life.
“Killed erm man deader’n a red Injun,” he yelled, “an shell corpsus fer dollar an’ sheventy- five! Wow!”
He had rolled the skeleton up in a sheet and sold it to another doctor!
The Chapman Troupe came through Hannibal annually in the 1840s until 1847. For 35 years the troupe was perhaps the most celebrated theatrical family in the West. Mary Parks Chapman (1813-1880) was one of the seven children in the show and later had 20! children herself. Sammy Clemens undoubtedly saw one or all of the Hannibal performances as they were advertised as children welcome [MTP]. Note: see Dec. 16, 1865 for a letter from Mary to Clemens.
See “A Memory” a sketch which ran in the Galaxy for Aug. 1870, about Sammy’s relationship to his father.