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On This Day, August 9, 1869, Samuel Clemens “Marks twain in Buffalo”*

Mark Twain is for me the patron saint of colds, for whenever I get one, the first person I think of is him, enjoying every bit of his bedridden, book-reading, cigar-chomping and pampered laziness. Twain should also be Buffalo’s patron saint of our new waterfront legacy to be—even deserve a statue there to his tribute (but as the asterix in the headline suggests, we’ll discuss that at the bottom of today’s copy).
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was beginning a new life in Buffalo, starting a new job as editor and co-owner of the Buffalo Morning Express. My appeal goes out to anyone who knows the exact date of his arrival, but it is fact that it was around On This Day, August 9, in 1869.
The Clemens-Twain family home in Buffalo was a mansion given to him by his father-in-law which was located at 472 Delaware Ave. The mansion was burned by vagrants in the 1960s, but the two-story carriage house is still standing, and once housed the famous Cloister restaurant.
At the time of his arrival, his new book Innocents Abroad was becoming wildly popular. His daily carriage ride took him to work at his newspaper located at 14 Swan Street, a site where today stands the Ellicott Square Building (once the world’s largest office building). Twain had a pretty good deal for himself upon his arrival, as he wrote so himself to a friend:
“I guess I’m out of the field permanently. Have got a lovely wife, a lovely house bewitchingly furnished, a lovely carriage, and a coachman whose style and dignity are simply awe-inspiring, nothing less; and I’m making more money than necessary, by considerable, and therefore why crucify myself nightly on the platform! The subscriber will have to be excused, for the present season, at least.”
What was Twain like in Buffalo? There’s loads of quotes and letters, articles and stories from him and about him from the time period, which was the longest period of stay-put he’d yet seen in his lifetime (1869 to 1871 when he moved to Elmira). But there’s a most charming story about Mark Twain in Buffalo that was printed in the New York Times on April 18, 1909:
W. Landsittle is the grizzled foreman of The Lyons Republican, which is the Republican organ of Wayne County, N. Y.
“I’ve been in this business for fifty years now,” he said to a TIMES reporter last week as he stroked his gray mustache, “and I have seen some lazy people in my time. Yes, Sir, while the newspaper business is exacting and telling on the nerves it does harbor some real lazy folks from time to time.”
“Whom do you consider the champion lazy man of the newspaper game?” he was asked.
“That is so easy to answer,” was his reply with a wan smile. “Almost any of the real old-timers in this business would give you his name right off the bat. Why, Mark Twain holds the belt.”
The Republican’s foreman reflected.
“I was a printer’s devil on The Buffalo Express forty years ago,” he said, “and one of my duties was to sweep the room where reporters and editors worked. Every day during the time that Mark was a partner in the publication of The Express I was bribed by him in the cause of rest and ease. I would sweep every corner of that room, and when I came to Mark’s desk, on which his feet reposed, he would look me over and ask me to go away. ‘I don’t want my part of the office cleaned up.’ he would say. ‘Please don’t make me move, I’m so comfortable.’ Then he would give me a nickle to get away from him and leave him in his own corner without any of the debris of the business cleared away. He would rather die there in the dust and truck than uncross his legs or tilt his chair back so that I could sweep up.”
Brother Landsittel stopped the press long enough to find out what was chipping the corners of his pages as they were swept downward from the big rollers.
“Yes, Sir,” he ruminated, “he was certainly lazy. One day he gave me a nickle to dot an ‘i’ in his copy for him. He did certainly enjoy life, that man did.”
That’s a neat story—and imagine that a nickel in those days could buy lunch for well over a week. Here’s Mark Twain’s promise to Buffalo readers upon his arrival to editorial duties at the Buffalo Express:
“I am not going to introduce any startling reforms, or in any way attempt to make trouble. I am simply going to do my plain, unpretending duty, when I cannot get out of it…. I shall always confine myself strictly to the truth, except when it is attended with inconvenience.”—from Mark Twain’s “Salutatory,” Buffalo Express, August 21, 1869
The early months in Buffalo meant going to work or staying at home—and trying not to go out much at all. Twain preferred the solace of home (mansion) life over much public socialization. There was a time several months into his Delaware Avenue residency that on one day he noticed the house next door was billowing smoke from a second floor window. Its inhabitants were totally unaware as they sat on the front veranda. Twain had never bothered to meet them but felt obliged to inform them and crouched by their gate saying:
“My name is Clemens; we ought to have called on you before, and I beg your pardon for intruding now in this informal way, but your house is on fire.”
Twain’s writing during his Buffalo period was full of frolic and wit, a time teeming with creativity. The structural elements of his deal to be here among us were superb to say the least—there was no telling that nature would bring down havoc as it would with sickness, sadness, and death to his almost perfect world. He would leave Buffalo with scores of bits and pieces of his creativity that would fill his novels to come later. Upon leaving Buffalo, he wrote in the Galaxy Magazine:
“For the last eight months, with hardly an interval, I have had for my fellows and comrades, night and day, doctors and watchers of the sick! During these eight months death has taken two members of my home circle and malignantly threatened two others. All this I have experienced, yet all the time have been under contract to furnish humorous matter, once a month, for this magazine …. To be a pirate on a low salary and with no share of the profits in the business used to be my idea of an uncomfortable occupation, but I have other views now. To be a monthly humorist in a cheerless time is drearier.”
* Lastly, I don’t believe there is a statue of Mark Twain in Buffalo– yet. But there ought to be. And it should stand tall, overlooking our waterfront. His very name—or pseudonym—bespeaks our rich waterway history and the tasks we now have before us. “Mark twain” is a phrase that connotes both decription and warning, decribing water found to be two fathoms deep. It’s very warning connoted whether a ship would pass water deep enough for it to float or find peril.
“Mark twain, Buffalo!” That would be our Buffalo waterfront blessing at the base of his statue—heralding us to pair up together and fathom the possibilities for our future waterfront– “two fathoms of luck”—all at once a description, a warning, or a blessing—toward either safe glorious passage, or hazardous shallows.
What say then, shall we get him a statue?
And that’s the news from On This Day from Buffalo.

Written by Bill Zimmermann

Bill Zimmermann

Bill runs Seven Seas Sailing school, and is a staunch waterfront activist. He is also heavily involved with preserving, maintaining, and promoting the South Buffalo Lighthouse. When Bill first started writing for Buffalo Rising, he wrote an article a day for 365 days - each article coincided with a significant historic event that happened in Buffalo on that same day.

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