Showing posts with label Mark Twain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark Twain. Show all posts

01 January 2018

What's Old Is New Again

by Steve Liskow

Happy New Year. Either online or in your local newspaper, you've probably seen one of those cartoons of 2018 in a diaper and 2017 with a long white beard, so I'm going to spare you another one. It expresses the idea that the old pass the world to the young and that there's still hope for the future if we build a strong foundation in the present. One of the great practitioners of that belief was also one of my favorite writers, Mark Twain.

And to prove it, this last September saw the release of Mark Twain's newest children's book, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. Yes, it's true, a new book from Mark Twain! And it's wonderful.

The Clemens family moved to Hartford, building the Farmington Avenue house in 1873-4 and living there until 1891, leaving forever after daughter Susy died suddenly of spinal meningitis. In the cigar-smoked study on the third floor, Samuel Clemens composed Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, The Prince and the Pauper and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

He also observed the ritual of creating a nightly bedtime story for older daughters Susy and Clara.
In 1897, they made him continue a story they liked for five consecutive nights. He later jotted down notes and the first part of that story, but he never finished it. The new book includes the convoluted saga of how the partial manuscript was discovered in the Twain Archives at UCal Berkeley in 2011 and how the estate picked Caldecott winners Philip and Erin Stead to complete and illustrate the story--which they have done beautifully.

Prince Oleomargarine shows Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain at the peak of his powers, but used in a way we've never seen before. It combines elements of popular fairy tales (Jack and the Beanstalk, for one) and several quest myths with a poor boy named Jack as the unrecognized hero. We meet a chicken named Pestilence and Famine, a skunk named Susy, and a menagerie of other quirky animals, all tied together with prose that's lyrical, ironic, and often bittersweet. My favorite line: "He felt as though he carried on his back the weight of all the things he would never have."

Wow...just...wow.

I never would have heard about the book if it weren't for my wife, who has one of the coolest jobs in the universe. She is a "Living History" tour guide at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford,
which held the book launch last September. She portrays the Clemens' housemaid Lizzie Wells and shows guest the house as it "is" in 1887. She got the gig because we both worked with several of the other guides (and the script-writer) in local theater for years, and the mansion wanted to increase the number of guides and tours. The offered Barbara a spot and she grabbed it.
Virginia Wolf (her real name), my wife Barbara, Lisa Steier,
author Philip Stead, Tom Raines, and Kit Webb. We worked with
all the actors at some time or another.

According to National Geographic, the Mark Twain House and Museum is one of the ten most visited historical homes in the WORLD. In the 1920s, a developer purchased the vacant mansion, planning to raze it and erect an apartment building. A coalition formed to buy the house back--for less than that developer hoped to gain--and restore it to its former glory. Middle daughter Clara, who died in 1962 at age 88, helped track down the original furniture. She also gave Hal Holbrook a private audience when he was developing his Mark Twain impersonation and approved his performance. How's that for a reliable source?
Samuel Clemens...and
Kit Webb, who portrays him at various events

Clara and Susy showed Papa pictures from a current magazine and had him tell a story inspired by those pictures. Today, we would call that a "writing prompt," but I never heard the term until near the end of my teaching career. My wife tells of writing stories to accompany the pictures in one of her favorite childhood books--when she didn't think the story already there was good enough. Do kids still do that today? Do they get encouragement?

Clemens and his children created dozens of stories involving The Cat in the Ruff, a picture in the family's library, but none of those survive. It's only through a freakish stroke of luck that Prince Oleomargarine has come to light.

The image of a busy and often irascible father spending his evenings sharing the excitement and joy of creating fresh stories for his children is one I can't stop thinking about. We all need to pass on to our children and grandchildren the magic of creating something new, whether it's stories, music, or painting. How will they discover it for themselves if we don't show them where to look? Buy them books for Christmas and birthdays, preferably with great pictures. Read them and share them. Play games that help them make things up. Let them pretend. Help them dream.

Pass it on.

20 November 2017

Plotters and Pantsers

by Steve Liskow

Several years ago, I sat on a panel with three other writers and one of the patrons asked if we outlined or not. I said "yes," and it set off a debate that filled the rest of the evening and did little except confuse the poor woman who asked the question in the first place.

Saturday, I conducted a workshop on plotting and the same issue held the center stage for most of the afternoon. I think it's an important question, but there's not one right answer. Writing is a personal action tied to your own rhythms, thought process and voice. About half the writers I admire do outline and an equal number don't. Both approaches have advantages.

Dennis Lehane and Tess Gerritsen don't outline. Gerritsen writes (or used to write) her first drafts in fountain pen in a notebook over the course of about seven months and revised for the rest of the year. Lehane used to write longhand on legal pads and type his work into the computer at the end of the day. He said that if he hit writer's block (a topic for another day), it meant he'd made a wrong choice somewhere and he had to re-read everything to find it. He would make all the necessary changes from that point on and continue. I don't know if his process has changed now that he also works in television.

Robert Crais got his start in television, writing for Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, and others. He says he still pins index cards with ideas on a cork board in his office and sorts them until he knows where he's going. Maybe having to write quickly and know the good guys will survive at the end makes that necessary. Mark Twain didn't outline but Charles Dickens did.

When I started writing (without an outline), I produced nearly 300 pages of a first novel over the course of about a year and a half. Then I got lost. I went back and discovered I had over 125 characters, many appearing only once, and lots of dialogue that went nowhere. I scrapped about 90% of what I'd written because it was all tangents and false starts. What was left looked sort of like an outline, and I've used a refined version of that approach ever since.

My thought process is far from linear (my friends prefer to call it "delusional") so plotting is hard for me. I also tend to use several point of view characters to help with pacing and to keep information away from certain people. Outlines help me keep track of who knows what. It also helps me find recurring images or themes to use along the way. I usually have a general idea of the ending, but the outline helps me figure out how to get there. It's sort of like MapQuest with a few wrong turns.

My outline is closer to a story-board, a list of scenes that name the POV character, the setting and the important action or change that takes place in that scene, all in three to five typed lines. I like to have about fifty scenes in what seems to be the right order before I write the first real text, but I never have them right. I add scenes, delete others, and move many around to get the pacing right and strengthen the cause and effect connections. That list is both my outline and my first draft. By the time I finish the first full prose version of the story, I've revised that list at least a dozen times. I think my record is 27. By the time I have the list and the completed first typed text, most of my plotting is done. Everything after it is revision.

That revision often involves going back and adding false leads or red herrings to make the ending a surprise. Occasionally, I find a more surprising ending along the way. Chris Knopf (I don't think he outlines) once told me that he writes with several possible endings in mind. When he decides which one will pack the most punch, he goes back and changes the details that lead elsewhere. I suspect other writers do that, too. I assigned Huckleberry Finn in my American lit classes for decades, and I still maintain that Twain added the scene with the dead man in the floating house (chapter 9) when he realized that Pap was an unresolved problem at the end.

People who don't outline have a sense of pacing and probably know their characters well enough (maybe in a series?) to understand where they will go and what they will do next. And, again, there's always revision. At that plotting workshop last week, I cited Jack Bickham's book Scene & Structure
with his explanation of scene and sequel. The sequel is a reflection on what has happened and what to do next. It helps with pacing and it gives pantsers a place to figure out where they will go next. They can even delete the passage later if they want to.

If you outline and it locks you up, toss it away and try writing your first scene. That will show you what your second scene should be. That will give you your third scene, and so on.

If you write from the seat of your pants and keep getting stuck, try an outline. My scene list is usually about six pages long and takes me anywhere from two to six weeks to write. Not only does it give me the action, it shows me what research I might have to do. Maybe that's another topic for a rainy day.

Remember, the only wrong way to write is not writing.

13 November 2016

Lost in the Translation

by Leigh Lundin

When it comes to translations, we monolingual North Americans are stuck with (and often stuck waiting for) translations as we catch up to the rest of the literary world. That makes us highly dependent upon the talent of the translator who, if not exactly anonymous, nonetheless wields enormous power over the final result.

The Moving Finger

Upon occasion, translators become almost cult figures. Take for example The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Wikipedia lists about twenty different attempts at translation of the famed Tentmaker’s tantra. (Knowing Wikipedia, we can assume that means between two and twice twenty-two.) Its best known English translator is Edward FitzGerald.

To me, FitzGerald represents an interpreter rather than a translator. He sought more the spirit of the original work than a literal, word-for-word conveyance, but also shaped the product in his own seductive way. Rather than translate the entire body of poetry, FitzGerald chose to transmogrify and rework only five to ten percent of key sections, gradually revising his lexical rendering over time.

The Rubáiyát became highly valued in the latter 1800s and was often printed in gorgeous, gold-illuminated editions. A jewel-encrusted copy was lost on the Titanic. In these days of Middle Eastern xenophobia, it’s worth noting the enormous influence of The Rubáiyát upon our language and culture. It’s difficult to read more than a few dozen quatrains without stumbling upon a familiar phrase such as “a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.”

The Rubáiyát is familiar to novelists, especially mystery writers. Many of the golden age authors titled their books or used themes in phrases written by Khayyám. Examples quoting The Rubáiyát include Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novel The Moving Finger, Stephen King’s similarly named short story The Moving Finger, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novel Some Buried Caesar, and Daphne du Maurier titled her memoir Myself when Young. Other genres, especially science fiction, have drawn from the Persian opus.

SleuthSayers
As Rob, Janice, John, Deborah, and I worked to bring this web site to fruition, we struggled to find a perfect name for our cadre. Despite rumors to the contrary, I didn’t come up with ‘SleuthSayers’, Rob Lopresti did and the rest of us burst out with an enthusiastic “Yeah!” Only afterward did it dawn on us the name contained an embedded tip o’ the hat to Dorothy L, kind of a retronym.
By Divine Hand

A couple of my college courses studied Dante’s Divine Comedy, specifically Inferno. One professor required students to purchase two translations, Sayers and Ciardi.

Dorothy Sayers is best known to mystery readers for her Lord Peter Wimsey novels and short stories. To scholars, she’s also well regarded for her analysis of La Divina Commedia. Her translation of Dante’s work focused on maintaining the original rhyming structure, which resulted in occasional idiosyncratic wording. However, her notes are considered unparalleled in their detail and accuracy.

John Ciardi, a highly respected poet, began his translation shortly after Sayers. His version became renown for capturing the spirit of The Divine Comedy. Students read Sayers for the technical aspects and Ciardi for the art. Recently, Mark Musa and Robin Kirkpatrick have published ‘more modern’ versions.

Thumbed by Twain

I often enjoy mysteries by non-English authors– French, Russian, Scandinavian, and of course the famed Argentinian, Jorge Luis Borges, who’s been mentioned in these pages. Note that Borges wrote a history of The Rubáiyát and Borges' father, Jorge Guillermo Borges, wrote a Spanish translation of the FitzGerald version of The Rubáiyát.

Sometimes translations turn out less than satisfactory. Mark Twain did a literal retranslation of one of his stories in French back into English with hilarious results. Twain made the point that we can’t always be sure how much of the author’s original sound and feel make their way into other languages. In many cases, it’s difficult to connect with a story as if trying to penetrate an unseen barrier.

The Unseen Hand

Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander / Mikael Blomkvist series (AKA the Millennium trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) impressed me so much, I haven’t yet seen the films– I didn’t want the movies to mess with the image in my mind. I credit the translator for making that bond possible.

Despite my name, I know less Swedish than Latin or even French, possibly even isiZulu. Not a lot of novels are published in Latin these days, so I require not merely an interpreter but a spirit guide.

Reg Keeland seems to be the pseudonym of translator Steven T Murray. According to his bio, Murray works not only in Swedish, but Danish, Norwegian, German, and Spanish. I can’t guess how much of a translator’s influence colors the underlying work, but I suspect less is more, the less visible the better.

I don’t doubt that takes considerable talent. North American fans owe a debt to the unseen hand that made Larsson accessible to English audiences.

Clever fans may notice the title of this article contains a double meaning. A well-done interpretation of a good novel can indeed leave an absorbed reader lost in the translation.

01 April 2015

The Man Who Ate Babies: A Parable

This has nothing to do with April Fools' Day, by the way.  

No babies were harmed in the making of this blog.  I  added the subtitle in hopes of not scaring off people who, like me, are squeamish about true crime.  This parable was written by George Harvey, the editor of Harper's Weekly, and appeared in a March 1907 issue.  I discovered it in the second volume of Mark Twain's autobiography and was struck by how relevant it seemed in light of certain events of recent years. 

Oddly enough the question that most concerned Harvey seems to have been well settled, but the underlying issue is still very much with us.  After the essay I will come back to explain the circumstances that led to Harvey's essay.  The only editing I have done to the parable is to remove its introduction and split some paragraphs for ease of reading.

-Robert Lopresti



THE MAN WHO ATE BABIES
by George Harvey

Once there was a man who had the incomparable misfortune to be afflicted with a mania for eating babies. He was an extraordinary man, of astonishing vigor, of remarkable talents, of many engaging qualities, and of prodigious industry.
 

He had education and social position; he could earn plenty of money; and the diligent exercise of his intellectual gifts made him valuable to society. There was nothing within reasonable reach of a man of his profession which he could not have, but over what should have been a splendid career hung always the shadow of his remarkable propensity.

The precise dimensions and particulars of it were not definitely known to many persons. A few men who had a mania like his doubtless knew absolutely; a good many other men knew
well enough; and there was practically a public property in the knowledge that he had, and gratified, cannibalistic inclinations of much greater intensity and more curious scope than those that commonly obtained among careless men.

There was an honest prejudice against him. Persons of considerable indulgence to eccentricities of deportment disliked to be in the same room with him. Sensitive stomachs instinctively rose against him. Yet he was tolerated, for, after all, nobody had ever seen him eat a baby.

One day another man—quite a worthless person—knocked him on the head, and let his pitiable spirit escape from its body. It made a great stir, for the man who was killed was very widely known, and his assailant was also notorious. There followed profuse discussion of the dead man’s character, qualities, and achievements. His record was assailed, but it was also warmly extenuated.

When it was averred that he was an ogre, the retort was that he was not a materially worse ogre than a lot of other men, and that we must take men as we find them, and make special allowances for men of talent. When it was whispered that he ate babies the answer was that that was absurd; that whatever his failings, he was the helpfulest, best-natured man in the world, and particularly fond of children, and good to them, and that if he ever did eat babies he was always careful where he got them, avoiding the nurseries of his acquaintances, and selecting common babies of ordinary stock, who were born to be eaten, anyway, and would never be missed, and who, besides, were in any cases not so young as they made out.

So the discussion went on, and waxed and waned as the months passed. But one day there was set up a great white screen, big enough for all the world to see, and over against it was placed a lantern that threw a light of wonderful intensity, and then came a person named Nemesis, with something under her arm, and took charge of the lantern. And then there fluttered forth all day on the great screen the moving picture of the poor monomaniac and a baby—how he found her, enticed her, cajoled her, and finally took her to his lair, prepared her for the table, and ate her up. Well; it was said that the picture was shocking, and that the public ought not to have been allowed to see it.  Oh yes, it was shocking; never picture more so.  But it was terribly well adapted to make it unpopular to eat babies.

Lopresti here again.  In June 1906 the famous and celebrated architect Stanford White was shot to death by millionaire Harry K. Thaw.  (These events were recalled in E.L. Doctorow's novel RAGTIME.) Thaw said he was driven to the crime by his obsession with White's earlier relationship  with Evelyn Nesbit, a model Thaw had also had an affair with, and later married. 

In court Nesbit reported that White had given her drugs and seduced her  at age fifteen.  Thaw was eventually found  not guilty by reason of insanity.  A few words from Twain's autobiography:


New York has known for years that the highly educated and elaborately accomplished Stanford Whtie was a shameless and pitiless wild beast disguised as a human being...  He had a very hearty and breezy way with him, and he had the reputation of being limitlessly generous - toward men - and kindly, accommodating, and free-handed with his money -- toward men; but he was never charged with having in his composition a single rag of pity for an unfriended woman… [Congressman] Tom Reed said, "He ranks as a good fellow, but I feel the dank air of the charnel-house when he goes by."]

And here is how George Harvey introduced his parable in Harper's:

The President of the United States [Theodore Roosevelt] thinks that the papers that give "the full, disgusting particulars of the Thaw case" ought not to be admitted to the mails. Perhaps not. Perhaps the country at large does not need all the particulars, but in our judgment New York does need most of them, and it would be not a gain, but an injury, to morals if the newspapers were restrained from printing them.

We will try to explain.

22 April 2013

Reading To Learn


Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

Like most writers I love reading. I guess I could be perfectly happy reading all day every day. I loved reading so much that my late husband, Elmer and I opened a bookstore in Austin in 1990. We titled it Mysteries and More. The "more" part was because we also had science-fiction, western, and general fiction. But all of those genre were used books. The new books were all mysteries and we had a huge number of used mysteries. I used to say we had 75% used and 25% new books. That was probably accurate. M & M was only the second mystery bookstore in Texas. Murder by the Book was the first and I think it's the only one currently still in business.

It wasn't too long that I realized that we had more books than I could ever read even if I live to be a hundred. That was a sad realization. When we liquidated the store in 1999 we had had nine years of great fun and great adventures, met a large number of mystery authors and had read a great number of books. However, we had decided to realize our dream of traveling the USA and my husband was ready to retire. We took a lot of books with us to read in the late evenings when we couldn't go sight seeing. Both of us loved to read.

I learned a lot about writing by reading. I read books about how-to-write and books about how to market and how to find an agent. I had reference books galore when I still had my house. But after three summers of RV traveling we decided to live full-time in our fifth-wheel, RV. That meant I had to give up about three thousand books I had kept from the store. It was sad to leave "good" friends and I do mean friends because books have always been my friend.

Books took me to far-away places that I'd never be able to travel to and I learned how to do so many neat things from my friends. Besides how to write, I learned how to collect depression glass, old mason fruit jars, stamps and coins. I learned how to make quilts, make cookies & candies, how to make jelly and jam and how to make a Better Than Sex Cake. I learned how to identify wildflowers, how to look for constellations in the stars and the capitols of every state in the union. As Elmer used to always say, "You can learn how to do almost anything, if you can read."

The intriguing thing to me is how you can learn many things about writing from reading other writer's books. I often stop and marvel at a well-turned sentence that somehow seems to say so much. It might be a character description or the way a place looks that immediately puts you there. I don't copy them down but I know they park themselves in the file cabinet in my mind. Not to plagiarize but to remember that there are way to construct a sentence or to construct the character who always lies or the construction of the faded dress worn by the mother of your suspect.

To remember "good" writing especially when you think yours is lacking. I remember a writer friend who wrote children's mysteries telling me once that you must engage the senses on every page. Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste because that will capture a child's imagination. It will also capture the imagination of anyone, no matter their age.

When I first saw the Mississippi River, I was in my thirties and my mind went back to reading Huckleberry Finn. That mighty old river had been so strong in my mind, the sound, the sight, the smell that Mark Twain brought to the pages of his book made me catch my breath. That old river was familiar because I had read so much about it.

Another way to learn from reading is to volunteer to read for awards or contests. The Edgars and the Shamus nominees and winners are books read by writers who themselves have been published. By a jury of peers as it were. There are contests given by the Private Eye Writers, by the Agatha writers, by the Thriller writers and probably even by the Romance writers. Those contests often offer a prize of publication. If you belong to one of these organizations, volunteer to read for the awards or contest. You might be surprised at how much you learn.

Another opportunity might offer a chance for a writer to help an aspiring writer. Our local Sisters-in-Crime chapter has a mentoring program for aspiring writers. This program is to honor Barbara Burnett Smith, who was tragically killed in 2005. She often mentored aspiring writers and each year aspiring writers can turn in a couple of chapters and a synopsis. These partial manuscripts are read by published authors from our chapter and critiqued. Then after our May Mystery Month meeting the author and aspiring writer have a chance to talk and sometimes the mentor will continue to help the aspiring writer complete their work. No prizes are given but just having your work critiqued by a published author is priceless.

Through the years I've read for awards, contest and for our mentoring program. You read the opening of a book and realize how a writer has "hooked you." Right from the first paragraph. Suddenly you realize what's wrong with your own work in progress. You haven't hooked anyone in the first paragraph or even the first page. Wow. I've always known this, but somehow forgot it when I started this manuscript, you tell yourself.

More likely you'll read a character description that blows you away. Maybe it's short but, so pointed, so precise that you can actually see that character walking down the street. And you see what you need to do to a character who moves the plot along. Maybe a fight scene comes to life and helps you understand your own scene.

There is so much to learn from reading. In fact, I'm going to sign off and get back to the book I'm currently reading, one that I'm sure will help me with my own. I suggest y'all go and do likewise.

01 April 2013

A Hoax of a Ghost Hoax

By Fran Rizer



On March 29, 2013, R. T. gave us a good look at fools and their history, especially on April's Fool's Day, which happens to be today.  He sent me looking on the Internet for famous hoaxes.  One that intrigued me was the Cardiff Giant Petrified Man in the 1860's. Here's what Wikipedia had to say about the Cardiff Giant.




The Cardiff Giant
Creation and discovery

The giant was the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument at a Methodist revival meeting about the passage in Genesis 6:4 stating that there were giants who once lived on Earth.

The idea of a petrified man did not originate with Hull, however. In 1858 the newspaper Alta California had published a bogus letter claiming that a prospector had been petrified when he had drunk a liquid within a geode. Some other newspapers also had published stories of supposedly petrified people.

The much publicized the discovery of the Petrified Giant.
Hull hired men to carve out a 10-foot-4.5-inch-long (3.2 m) block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument to Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired Edward Burghardt, a German stonecutter, to carve it into the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy.

Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weathered, and the giant's surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. In November 1868, Hull transported the giant by rail to the farm of William Newell, his cousin. By then, he had spent US$2,600 on the hoax.

Nearly a year later, Newell hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well, and on October 16, 1869 they found the giant. One of the men reportedly exclaimed, "I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!"

Exhibition and exposure as fraud

Newell set up a tent over the giant and charged 25¢ for people who wanted to see it. Two days later he increased the price to 50¢. People came by the wagon load.

Archaeological scholars pronounced the giant a fake and some geologists even noticed that there was no good reason to try to dig a well in the exact spot the giant had been found. Yale palaeontologist Othniel C. Marsh called it "a most decided humbug". Some Christian fundamentalists and preachers, however, defended its authenticity.

The Cardiff Giant on display
Eventually, Hull sold his part-interest for $23,000 (equivalent to $423,000 in 2013) to a syndicate of five men headed by David Hannum. They moved it to Syracuse, New York, for exhibition. The giant drew such crowds that showman P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the giant. When the syndicate turned him down, he hired a man to model the giant's shape covertly in wax and create a plaster replica. He put his giant on display in New York, claiming that his was the real giant and the Cardiff Giant was a fake.

As the newspapers reported Barnum's version of the story, David Hannum was quoted as saying, "There's a sucker born every minute" in reference to spectators paying to see Barnum's giant. Over time, the quotation has been misattributed to Barnum himself.

Hannum sued Barnum for calling his giant a fake, but the judge told him to get his giant to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable injunction.

On December 10, Hull confessed to the press. On February 2, 1870 both giants were revealed as fakes in court. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake giant a fake.

Ten feet "sounds" tall, but seeing the Giant with normal
sized women really illustrates how large it is.
Current resting place

The Cardiff Giant appeared in the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, but did not attract much attention.

An Iowa publisher bought it later to adorn his basement rumpus room as a coffee table and conversation piece. In 1947 he sold it to the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York, where it is still on display.

Why did this fascinate me?  Mark Twain captured me with Huckleberry Finn the summer between second and third grade, and I still love to read his works.  His short story, "A Ghost Story," was familiar to me, but never having heard of the Cardiff Giant before R.T. sent me seeking famous hoaxes, I'd always assumed the story was ALL fiction.  We frequently discuss origins of story ideas, and many authors suggest their stories spin off from news items. Before you read this story, may I remind you that Mark Twain was born in 1835 and died in 1910.  He would have been thirty-four years old when the Cardiff Giant was "discovered" and thirty-five when the hoax was revealed. Twain wrote this story in 1903.

Since the story is now public domain, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you "A Ghost Story."  Enjoy! 



     I took a large room, far up Broadway, in a huge old building whose upper stories had been wholly unoccupied for years until I came. The place had long been given up to dust and cobwebs, to solitude and silence. I seemed groping among the tombs and invading the privacy of the dead, that first night I climbed up to my quarters. For the first time in my life a superstitious dread came over me; and as I turned a dark angle of the stairway and an invisible cobweb swung its slazy woof in my face and clung there, I shuddered as one who had encountered a phantom.

     I was glad enough when I reached my room and locked out the mold and the darkness. A cheery fire was burning in the grate, and I sat down before it with a comforting sense of relief. For two hours I sat there, thinking of bygone times; recalling old scenes, and summoning half- forgotten faces out of the mists of the past; listening, in fancy, to voices that long ago grew silent for all time, and to once familiar songs that nobody sings now. And as my reverie softened down to a sadder and sadder pathos, the shrieking of the winds outside softened to a wail, the angry beating of the rain against the panes diminished to a tranquil patter, and one by one the noises in the street subsided, until the hurrying footsteps of the last belated straggler died away in the distance and left no sound behind.

     The fire had burned low. A sense of loneliness crept over me. I arose and undressed, moving on tiptoe about the room, doing stealthily what I had to do, as if I were environed by sleeping enemies whose slumbers it would be fatal to break. I covered up in bed, and lay listening to the rain and wind and the faint creaking of distant shutters, till they lulled me to sleep.

     I slept profoundly, but how long I do not know. All at once I found myself awake, and filled with a shuddering expectancy. All was still. All but my own heart--I could hear it beat. Presently the bedclothes began to slip away slowly toward the foot of the bed, as if some one were pulling them! I could not stir; I could not speak. Still the blankets slipped deliberately away, till my breast was uncovered. Then with a great effort I seized them and drew them over my head. I waited, listened, waited. Once more that steady pull began, and once more I lay torpid a century of dragging seconds till my breast was naked again.

     At last I roused my energies and snatched the covers back to their place and held them with a strong grip. I waited. By and by I felt a faint tug, and took a fresh grip. The tug strengthened to a steady strain--it grew stronger and stronger. My hold parted, and for the third time the blankets slid away. I groaned. An answering groan came from the foot of the bed! Beaded drops of sweat stood upon my forehead. I was more dead than alive. Presently I heard a heavy footstep in my room--the step of an elephant, it seemed to me--it was not like anything human. But it was moving from me--there was relief in that. I heard it approach the door-- pass out without moving bolt or lock--and wander away among the dismal corridors, straining the floors and joists till they creaked again as it passed--and then silence reigned once more.

     When my excitement had calmed, I said to myself, "This is a dream--simply a hideous dream." And so I lay thinking it over until I convinced myself that it was a dream, and then a comforting laugh relaxed my lips and I was happy again. I got up and struck a light; and when I found that the locks and bolts were just as I had left them, another soothing laugh welled in my heart and rippled from my lips. I took my pipe and lit it, and was just sitting down before the fire, when-down went the pipe out of my nerveless fingers, the blood forsook my cheeks, and my placid breathing was cut short with a gasp! In the ashes on the hearth, side by side with my own bare footprint, was another, so vast that in comparison mine was but an infant's! Then I had had a visitor, and the elephant tread was explained.

     I put out the light and returned to bed, palsied with fear. I lay a long time, peering into the darkness, and listening.--Then I heard a grating noise overhead, like the dragging of a heavy body across the floor; then the throwing down of the body, and the shaking of my windows in response to the concussion. In distant parts of the building I heard the muffled slamming of doors. I heard, at intervals, stealthy footsteps creeping in and out among the corridors, and up and down the stairs.

     Sometimes these noises approached my door, hesitated, and went away again. I heard the clanking of chains faintly, in remote passages, and listened while the clanking grew nearer--while it wearily climbed the stairways, marking each move by the loose surplus of chain that fell with an accented rattle upon each succeeding step as the goblin that bore it advanced. I heard muttered sentences; half-uttered screams that seemed smothered violently; and the swish of invisible garments, the rush of invisible wings. Then I became conscious that my chamber was invaded--that I was not alone. I heard sighs and breathings about my bed, and mysterious whisperings. Three little spheres of soft phosphorescent light appeared on the ceiling directly over my head, clung and glowed there a moment, and then dropped --two of them upon my face and one upon the pillow. They, spattered, liquidly, and felt warm. Intuition told me they had--turned to gouts of blood as they fell--I needed no light to satisfy myself of that. Then I saw pallid faces, dimly luminous, and white uplifted hands, floating bodiless in the air--floating a moment and then disappearing. The whispering ceased, and the voices and the sounds, anal a solemn stillness followed. I waited and listened. I felt that I must have light or die. I was weak with fear. I slowly raised myself toward a sitting posture, and my face came in contact with a clammy hand! All strength went from me apparently, and I fell back like a stricken invalid. Then I heard the rustle of a garment it seemed to pass to the door and go out.

     When everything was still once more, I crept out of bed, sick and feeble, and lit the gas with a hand that trembled as if it were aged with a hundred years. The light brought some little cheer to my spirits. I sat down and fell into a dreamy contemplation of that great footprint in the ashes. By and by its outlines began to waver and grow dim. I glanced up and the broad gas-flame was slowly wilting away. In the same moment I heard that elephantine tread again. I noted its approach, nearer and nearer, along the musty halls, and dimmer and dimmer the light waned. The tread reached my very door and paused--the light had dwindled to a sickly blue, and all things about me lay in a spectral twilight. The door did not open, and yet I felt a faint gust of air fan my cheek, and presently was conscious of a huge, cloudy presence before me. I watched it with fascinated eyes. A pale glow stole over the Thing; gradually its cloudy folds took shape--an arm appeared, then legs, then a body, and last a great sad face looked out of the vapor. Stripped of its filmy housings, naked, muscular and comely, the majestic Cardiff Giant loomed above me!

     All my misery vanished--for a child might know that no harm could come with that benignant countenance. My cheerful spirits returned at once, and in sympathy with them the gas flamed up brightly again. Never a lonely outcast was so glad to welcome company as I was to greet the friendly giant. I said:

     "Why, is it nobody but you? Do you know, I have been scared to death for the last two or three hours? I am most honestly glad to see you. I wish I had a chair--Here, here, don't try to sit down in that thing--"

     But it was too late. He was in it before I could stop him and down he went--I never saw a chair shivered so in my life.

     "Stop, stop, you'll ruin ev--"

     Too late again. There was another crash, and another chair was resolved into its original elements.

     "Confound it, haven't you got any judgment at' all? Do you want to ruin all the furniture on the place? Here, here, you petrified fool--"

     But it was no use. Before I could arrest him he had sat down on the bed, and it was a melancholy ruin.

     "Now what sort of a way is that to do? First you come lumbering about the place bringing a legion of vagabond goblins along with you to worry me to death, and then when I overlook an indelicacy of costume which would not be tolerated anywhere by cultivated people except in a respectable theater, and not even there if the nudity were of your sex, you repay me by wrecking all the furniture you can find to sit down on. And why will you? You damage yourself as much as you do me. You have broken off the end of your spinal column, and littered up the floor with chips of your hams till the place looks like a marble yard. You ought to be ashamed of yourself--you are big enough to know better."
Mark Twain

     "Well, I will not break any more furniture. But what am I to do? I have not had a chance to sit down for a century." And the tears came into his eyes.

     "Poor devil," I said, "I should not have been so harsh with you. And you are an orphan, too, no doubt. But sit down on the floor here--nothing else can stand your weight--and besides, we cannot be sociable with you away up there above me; I want you down where I can perch on this high counting-house stool and gossip with you face to face." So he sat down on the floor, and lit a pipe which I gave him, threw one of my red blankets over his shoulders, inverted my sitz-bath on his head, helmet fashion, and made himself picturesque and comfortable. Then he crossed his ankles, while I renewed the fire, and exposed the flat, honeycombed bottoms of his prodigious feet to the grateful warmth.

     "What is the matter with the bottom of your feet and the back of your legs, that they are gouged up so?"

     "Infernal chilblains--I caught them clear up to the back of my head, roosting out there under Newell's farm. But I love the place; I love it as one loves his old home. There is no peace for me like the peace I feel when I am there."

     We talked along for half an hour, and then I noticed that he looked tired, and spoke of it.

     "Tired?" he said. "Well, I should think so. And now I will tell you all about it, since you have treated me so well. I am the spirit of the Petrified Man that lies across the street there in the museum. I am the ghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have no rest, no peace, till they have given that poor body burial again. Now what was the most natural thing for me to do, to make men satisfy this wish? Terrify them into it! haunt the place where the body lay! So I haunted the museum night after night. I even got other spirits to help me. But it did no good, for nobody ever came to the museum at midnight. Then it occurred to me to come over the way and haunt this place a little. I felt that if I ever got a hearing I must succeed, for I had the most efficient company that perdition could furnish. Night after night we have shivered around through these mildewed halls, dragging chains, groaning, whispering, tramping up and down stairs, till, to tell you the truth, I am almost worn out. But when I saw a light in your room to-night I roused my energies again and went at it with a deal of the old freshness. But I am tired out--entirely fagged out. Give me, I beseech you, give me some hope!" I lit off my perch in a burst of excitement, and exclaimed:

     "This transcends everything! everything that ever did occur! Why you poor blundering old fossil, you have had all your trouble for nothing-- you have been haunting a plaster cast of yourself--the real Cardiff Giant is in Albany!--[A fact. The original fraud was ingeniously and fraudfully duplicated, and exhibited in New York as the "only genuine" Cardiff Giant (to the unspeakable disgust of the owners of the real colossus) at the very same time that the latter was drawing crowds at a museum is Albany,]--Confound it, don't you know your own remains?"

Even after the hoax was exposed,
shows at fairs and carnivals advertised
their giants as the Cardiff Giant.
     I never saw such an eloquent look of shame, of pitiable humiliation, overspread a countenance before.

     The Petrified Man rose slowly to his feet, and said:
"Honestly, is that true?"

     "As true as I am sitting here."

     He took the pipe from his mouth and laid it on the mantel, then stood irresolute a moment (unconsciously, from old habit, thrusting his hands where his pantaloons pockets should have been, and meditatively dropping his chin on his breast); and finally said:
"Well-I never felt so absurd before. The Petrified Man has sold everybody else, and now the mean fraud has ended by selling its own ghost! My son, if there is any charity left in your heart for a poor friendless phantom like me, don't let this get out. Think how you would feel if you had made such an ass of yourself."

     I heard his stately tramp die away, step by step down the stairs and out into the deserted street, and felt sorry that he was gone, poor fellow-- and sorrier still that he had carried off my red blanket and my bath-tub.



                                                                         THE END

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