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Retro: When author Mark Twain visited Baltimore

Mark Twain, shown in an undated photo, rode a carriage through the streets of Baltimore in 1907.

The afternoon train from New York chugged into Camden Station where an eager crowd, led by the governor of Maryland, awaited a famed arrival. When Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) debarked that day in May 1907, admirers besieged him, box cameras clicked and reporters hung on the white-haired author’s every word. Twain, whom The Sun called “the first, last and all-the-time American humorist,” had come to Maryland for a spell.

There, on the train platform, he regaled the crowd with his homespun wit. Asked about reports that, on a recent voyage, he’d been lost at sea, he remarked, “I really did not know I was drowned until I arrived in New York and people asked me about it.”

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Onlookers roared.

“Twain spoke in his slow, comfortable drawl that gives every word a chance to be well-pronounced,” The Sun reported. “His listeners were as attentive as a mouse to a cat.”

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Then the 72-year-old pundit, who’d gifted the world with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, set out for Annapolis with his host, Gov. Edwin Warfield, who’d invited Twain for a stay.

“This is a beautiful, quaint old city you have here, Governor,” he said during a walking tour of the capital.

“[Twain] was so awed by the evident antiquity of the buildings and streets that, for a little while, he forgot to be funny,” a Sun scribe wrote.

Later, in the governor’s mansion bedecked with roses, lilies and dogwood blossoms for the occasion, a gala homestyle dinner was served. Twain presumably ate his fill.

”They don’t know how to fry chicken north of here,” he declared.

For several days, Twain drank in the sights: a cruise on the Chesapeake Bay and a tour of the Naval Academy, where his habitual cigar-smoking caused some embarrassment. Puffing away, he was approached by a U.S. Marine.

“The man in uniform tapped [Twain] on the shoulder and, with a shade of deep regret in his voice, informed him that smoking on the grounds was [forbidden],” The Sun reported.

The author dashed the cigar but, moments later, like one of his mischievous protagonists, he lit another. A second Marine moved in.

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“Arrested again,” Twain sighed.

That evening, the celebrated orator donned his familiar white suit and gave a public lecture and reading. The event was originally planned for the governor’s residence, but burgeoning attendance moved it to the more spacious State House. Afterward, shaking hands with the crowd, Twain told one effusive guest, “I’ll appoint you one of my pallbearers. That’s the best way I know of returning favors.”

When three young ladies fawned in concert over Twain, The Sun reported, he attempted to corral the lot:

“So entranced was he with their beauty that the humorist tried to hug all of them at the same time.”

Returning to Baltimore, Twain rode a carriage through the streets of the city, still rebuilding after the fire of 1904. He liked what he saw, calling it “the city of the new spirit, new force and energy.”

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He couldn’t leave town without a trip to The Sun building. There, accompanied by Warfield, the onetime newsman toured the editorial room and library.

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“Beautiful! Fine!” he exclaimed. “My, what an evolution! This is a sanctuary, not a sanctum. I guess I am beyond dispute the oldest journalist in the country [but] I even believe I could write something good here myself!”

Then Twain lit a cigar and, hoisting a leg over a desk, “he seated [himself] upon the flat top and breathed the balm of contentment.”

Two years later, he returned to Baltimore to attend the 1909 commencement exercises at St. Timothy’s School, in Catonsville, for a young lady whose family he’d met on a cruise to England. At the girls school, Twain spoke to the graduates, tongue-in-cheek:

”First, girls, don’t smoke to excess. I smoke in moderation, only one cigar at a time. Also, never drink to excess. The third admonition is, don’t marry — to excess.”

A year later, when Twain died, an editorial in The Sun captured his essence:

“The natural grace and innocence [and] the freshness of youth delight him. For in him, the spirit of youth is undying. Mark Twain discovered the magic fountain that Ponce de Leon sought in vain.”


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