Mark Twain is a pillar writer in American literature. His characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are part of the collective imagination. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Mark Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, a place that greatly inspired him for his novels.
When I visited the Finger Lakes area recently, I was rather surprised that the small town of Elmira (located in the state of New York, a few kilometres north of the border with Pennsylvania) gives itself the title of “Mark Twain Village”. For me, Mark Twain evokes the Mississippi River or Connecticut where he spent his adult life. And yet, to my surprise, it was in Elmira, New York, that Mark Twain was buried.
Why? Simply because in 1870, Mark Twain married Olivia Langdon, the daughter of the best-endowed man of Elmira. Although the couple eventually settled in Connecticut, they returned to spend their summers in the small town’s family home. It is also in Elmira that the author wrote most of his books. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were born on the banks of the Chemung River, not near the Mississippi.
Mark Twain traveled a lot before the age of 30. Elmira and the family home of his in-laws therefore gave him the opportunity to settle a little, to take root in one place. Unfortunately, Twain’s family life was not so happy. Three of his four children died before him, prematurely. After the death of his daughter Suzy from meningitis in 1896, Mark Twain stopped spending his summers in Elmira.
However, he came back after his death in 1910 to be buried on the family lot of his in-laws. There is also there the grave of all his children and his wife. His daughter Clara, the only one who survived him, placed a monument in his memory near his grave.
The Elmira cemetery is huge (one of the biggest that I’ve ever visited), but finding Mark Twain’s grave is relatively easy, thanks to the signposts here and there. It is also possible to visit the small pavilion where Mark Twain wrote his works at the college of Elmira.