Mark Twain

All Categories Mark Twain ALS from Wave Hill Mansion

Mark Twain

ALS from Wave Hill Mansion - 1901

ALS signed “S. L. Clemens,” one page, 4 x 6, black-bordered mourning stationery engraved 14 West 10th Street, July 29, 1901. Clemens writes to Mr. Duryea. In full: “Enclosed please find the final installment of rent for this delightful house, which I hope we are not occupying for the last time.”

SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS (1835-1910), better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, satirist, lecturer and writer. Twain is most noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has since been called the Great American Novel, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Clemens fell into a deep depression following the death of his favorite daughter Susy in 1896, likely accounting for the mourning stationery. In good condition, with staining and soiling (evidently from exposure to moisture; touching several words of text; lightly touching signature) and slight scattered fading of ink. Integral leaf intact.

Though Clemens became wealthy as a result of his major literary works, later efforts were not as rewarding. He had vigorously begun to write articles and commentary with diminishing returns to pay the bills and keep his business interests afloat, but eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1894. Clemens and his family spent most of the 1890s in Europe seeking lower living costs, as he lectured and wrote his way out of debt. When he finally returned to New York in 1900, his debts fully repaid and his income back up in the $90,000 range, the event was regarded as a national triumph.

He installed his family in a rented house, still standing, at 14 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village (the address on the stationery Clemens used for this item, though struck-through since he had just moved to Wave Hill House), and settled down to bask in the admiration of his countrymen. Two years later, for the sake of his wife Livy’s failing health, they moved to Wave Hill, a magnificent fieldstone mansion (also still standing) overlooking the Hudson in Riverdale, where Clemens had written this letter.

Wave Hill is now a renowned New York landmark and environmental center. Theodore Roosevelt’s family rented Wave Hill during the summers of 1870 and ‘71, when the future president was a youth of 12 and 13. Mark Twain leased the estate from 1901-1903, setting up a treehouse parlor in the branches of a chestnut tree on the lawn. Of winter at Wave Hill he wrote, “I believe we have the noblest roaring blasts here I have ever known on land; they sing their hoarse song through the big tree-tops with a splendid energy that thrills me and stirs me and uplifts me and makes me want to live always.”

Curious side note: In a 2002 New York Times FYI Column just before Halloween, a reader had inquired as to “the most haunted house in the city.” Writer Ed Boland, Jr., replied:

“… probably no one site is as notorious as 14 West 10th Street, west of Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village.

In 1974, a former actress turned psychic, Jan Bryant Bartell, detailed her experiences living in the house in the book ”Spindrift: Spray From a Psychic Sea.” Ms. Bartell claimed that a number of tenants had died mysteriously and that the building was haunted by spirits.

One ghost who supposedly haunts No. 14 is Mark Twain, who lived there from 1900 to 1901. According to Ms. Bartell, a mother and daughter living on the ground floor in the 1930’s found an old man with white hair in the living room one evening. When the startled mother asked him who he was, the figure replied, ”My name is Clemens, and I has a problem here I gotta settle” and disappeared. (Twain, known more formally as Samuel L. Clemens, had died in Connecticut in 1910.)…


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