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The Day Mark Twain Wore Black

Twain in Portsmouth, NH/ SeacoastNh.comBAD BOY BAILEY

Twain loved his friend TB Aldrich. Aldrich, Twain said, was brilliant, sarcastic, ironical and merciless in private, but sophisticated and genteel on the outside. But Twain hated Aldrcih’s wife Lillian and called her a "strange and vanity-devoured, detestable woman!" In 1908 the elderly cranky Twain came to Portsmout, NH to dedicate a museum, designed by Lillian, to honor her husband. Here’s how it went.




More on Bad Boy Aldrich

The young Samuel Clemens / SeacoastNH.comThe tawny-haired young man in the sealskin coat and cap was stinking drunk. He stumbled and slurred and Lillian Aldrich wasn't about to have some scruffy rum-dum off the Boston streets stay for dinner. Her husband was the respected author Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and even if he was inclined to be hospitable to common gutter trash, she was not. So she booted the boozer out.

"How could you have brought a man like that to your home?" she screamed at her husband.

"Why dear, did you not know who he was?" responded Aldrich. When he told her there was a sudden silence. According to her own account, Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich began screaming the name repeatedly like a riverboat pilot measuring the depth of the Mississippi. She had thrown out the most famous man in America.

"Mark Twain!" she sobbed hysterically. "Mark Twain!"

As members of the Boston and New York literati, the Aldriches had entertained them all -- from Harriet Beecher Stowe (whom Lillian also could not stand), to favorites like actor Edwin Booth, author Bret Harte, painter James McNeil Whistler, even poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Despite being kicked out of the Aldrich house, Samuel Longhorn Clemens, aka Mark Twain and Aldrich became fast friends. Twain described his friend as endlessly witty. "When he speaks," Twain once remarked of Aldrich, "the diamonds flash... He was always brilliant, he will always be brilliant, he will be brilliant in hell -- you will see."

Thomas Bailey Aldrich just before his death in 1907 / SeacoastNH.comTwain often noted that Thomas Bailey Aldrich's most famous book "The Story of a Bad Boy (1869) helped inspire him to his own great account of a boy named Tom Sawyer. Aldrich’s book told the story of his of his own mischievous childhood in Portsmouth, NH. After his death in 1907, Mrs. Aldrich spearheaded a plan to turn her husband's boyhood house on Court Street into the Aldrich Memorial. Today it is part of Strawbery Banke Museum. Among those who spoke at the dedication, held at the Portsmouth Music Hall in July 1908, was Mark Twain himself.

A thousand people turned out on a hot day for the star-studded event, thick with eulogies from writers and politicians whose names are unfamiliar today. Then Mayor Hackett introduced the one man in town who needed no introduction. At 73, still sharp and sarcastic, Twain had been toasted by kings and presidents. He was internationally known for his shock-white mane of hair, his white hat and crisp white suit. But today, hot as it was, Mark Twain was dressed in a dark coat and hat. He had been told by his family, he said, to wear black and act respectful for a change while dedicating the Aldrich Memorial.


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