Tonawanda News

Features

February 28, 2013

Kenmore scholar digs into Mark Twain's days in Buffalo

Tonawanda News — Most of us recall Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain, lived in Buffalo for a short time, from 1869-71. 

The biographies and histories suggest little of note happened to him here before he moved to Hartford, Conn. Marriage, yes, to the daughter of a coal baron, but historians Delancey Ferguson and Justin Kaplan, in 1943 and 1966 biographies, respectively, mention cold weather, few friends and mediocre newspaper writing as the only connection between Twain and Buffalo. 

That has been the prevailing assumption, until now.

Enter Thomas Reigstad, semi-retired Buffalo State College English teacher of 26 years, lifelong local resident, Twain scholar and author of “Scribblin’ for a Livin’— Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period in Buffalo” to demolish that theory.

The newly—published book is a vivid picture of Samuel Clemens, a cranky, ambitious thirtysomething of a man with a growing readership, one foot in literature and the other in the newspaper business. It’s also a remarkable view of Buffalo as it turned from frontier town to boom town. The exhaustive research has become the sort of book a reader might expect when an English professor writes history.

“He rubbed shoulder with the big ones,” Reigstad said of Twain over coffee. 

Contrary to earlier reports, Reigstad says, Clemens did not develop cabin fever, did not hate Buffalo and wrote plentythat was memorable during his stay here. Coming off his first best-seller, “The Innocents Abroad,” he arrived in Buffalo to help run the Buffalo Morning Express, one of nearly a dozen local daily newspapers at the time. In 1870 he married Olivia Langdon, the daughter of businessman Jervis Langdon, and settled down in Buffalo; his father-in-law also loaned him the stake to invest in the newspaper.

A downtown boardinghouse, his first residence in Buffalo, was a hotbed of networking for young, ambitious business types, and as newspaper editor Clemens met Albrights, Sternbergs and other Buffalo high-rollers. An aging Millard Fillmore as well, of whom Clemens did not think highly.

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