Carson City gearing up for Mark Twain festival

McAvoy Layne

McAvoy Layne
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Roughly 160 years ago, a young man with a talent for words left his mark on Carson City and western Nevada before becoming one of America’s preeminent writers.

“Like any good journalist, Sam Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, spent his life observing and reporting on his surroundings,” reads a biography from the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Conn. “In his writing he provided images of the romantic, the real, the strengths and weaknesses of a rapidly changing world.”

According to the organization, after heading west in 1861, after the onset of the Civil War, Clemens found himself writing for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. More than a century and a half later, Carson City organizations are coming together to celebrate the author’s legacy in the region and to have some fun. The inaugural Mark Twain Days Festival, sponsored by Carson Tahoe Health, will take place April 21-23 in downtown Carson City with a variety of free and ticketed events.

“There are two ways to look at the forthcoming festival,” said Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. “For locals, it will further address how historic this city really is. Not many may know of the Mark Twain connection, so this will be a great family event honoring one of our most illustrious citizens. This also will allow them to refamiliarize themselves with the downtown.”

Hannaman said the festival will bring visitors and a positive economic impact.

“This event will bring in many visitors who are Mark Twain fans while introducing them to our historic city,” she said. “They will stay here, dine here and spend discretionary dollars here thus helping our economy. Like most new festivals, we may start off small but can morph into a much bigger event as the years pass. The festival is a great way to showcase our unique history once again affirming that the true history of Nevada began right here.”

Hannaman maintains not enough has been made of Twain’s presence in Nevada’s capital city.

“In the evening I felt a mighty inclination to go to a party some where,” Clemens wrote in an 1863 letter from Carson City, published in the Territorial Enterprise and signed, “Yours, dreamily, Mark Twain.”

According to the Mark Twain Trail, a Nevada nonprofit, this was the first time Clemens used the now-famous pen name.

“He became Mark Twain here and is known the world over by this name instead of his birth name,” said Hannaman. “Most places I have traveled make a big fuss over Twain if he even stopped there. Until now, we haven’t, and that is a shame.”

The festival aims to change that.

“The museum is very excited to be a partner in the Mark Twain Days,” said Josh Bonde, director of the Nevada State Museum.

Bonde said the museum is working with Visit Carson City to install a mural of Twain on the south side of the museum.

“Not the historic mint building, one of the large blank yellow walls facing to the south on Robinson,” he clarified.

The museum also designed a new medallion commemorating Twain.

“If the press (Coin Press No. 1) is up, we will be minting these commemorative medallions with the distinctive Carson City ‘CC,’” Bonde said.

Debra Soule, the arts and culture program manager at Visit Carson City who spearheaded the festival, said the first year of any festival or event is tough.

“First of all, putting it together from scratch,” she said. “Second, you have no idea how many people are going to attend. It’s just a guess.”

Soule said while the festival is free, tickets for special events are going on sale, and Visit Carson City has a VIP list of visitors who get updates for special events. She expects tickets will go quickly.

For ticket information, visit

Soule said the inaugural festival will have international appeal for fans of the writer and will give businesses in downtown Carson a chance to capitalize on foot traffic. She pointed to the Fox Brewery and Pub doing a special beer for the festival as an example of creative participation.

“To be honest, the entire rationale for selecting the whole downtown area for the festival is so that it will benefit the downtown itself,” she said. “To a very large extent, they (businesses) will get out of it what they put into it.”

Soule said the objective of the festival is to have fun. She mentioned one of Twain’s sayings as a kind of motto:

“‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,’” she said.

Mark Twain Days Schedule

Italicized text indicates activities that are ongoing throughout the festival


Friday, April 21

3 to 8:30 p.m. “Twain Train” VIP Cocktail Rail Excursion - Specialty Sips and Twain Tales from costumed performers on the historic V&T Railway from Carson City to Virginia City with a stop in Virginia City for a catered reception at Piper’s Opera House

6:30 to 7:30 p.m. “Yours Dreamily, Mark Twain” - Readings of prize-winning short stories, McFadden Plaza

7 to 10 p.m. Classic Cinema Club Mark Twain film screening and music, Brewery Art Center

Other Activities:

  • Costumed Ambassadors – around town and McFadden Plaza
  • Downtown restaurants, merchants featuring Twain items and menus

Saturday, April 22

Activities taking place throughout the day:

  • Nevada State Museum - family activities / Historic Mint Tour featuring Mark Twain Medallion
  • Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada – Jumping Frogs and Twain-era games
  • Literary readings – various locations through the downtown
  • Costumed Ambassadors – around town 
  • Twain-era vendors marketplace and musical performances in Arlington Square 

Downtown restaurants, merchants featuring Twain items and menus 

Art Rocks – artist-decorated rocking chairs displayed throughout the downtown

Music and performances – McFadden Plaza

Tom and Becky from Hannibal, Mo., perform the Engagement Scene – various locations 

Frog Jumping Contests – Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada

10 to 11:30 a.m. “Walk in Sam’s Shoes” - Twain Path Interactive Walking Tour with Mary Bennett’s Costumed Performers including Clemens home, Mark Twain’s other favorite downtown area hangouts

10 to 11:30 a.m. Literary Workshop – Community Center

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Downtown Business Association Treasure Hunt

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Downtown Passport Adventure

Noon to 2 p.m. Living History Performances - McAvoy Layne/Kim Harris/DebiLynn Smith, Nashville Social Club

2:20 to 2:30 p.m. Crowd Mustache Photo Op – McFadden Plaza

2:30 to 3 p.m. “Cast of Characters” Costumed Runway Show – McFadden Plaza

3 to 4:30 p.m. Literary Workshop – Community Center

3:30 to 8 p.m. Steampunk Event - Nevada State Railroad Museum

6 to 9 p.m. Bowtie Ball - a period costume ball at the Governor’s Mansion

7 to 9 p.m. Paint and Sip, Brewery Art Center, create your masterpiece of Twain’s famous sayings

7 to 10 p.m. Classic Cinema Club screening of Bonanza episodes starring Mark Twain with period banjo music and beverages, Brewery Art Center

Sunday, April 23

Activities taking place throughout the day:

  • Downtown restaurants, merchants featuring Twain items and menus 
  • Costumed Ambassadors – around town 
  • Twain-era vendors and music – Arlington Square (corner of North Carson and Robinson streets)
  • Nevada State Museum / Historic Mint Tour featuring Twain Medallion
  • Music and performances – McFadden Plaza
  • Tom and Becky from Hannibal, Mo., perform the Engagement Scene – various locations 

10 to 11:30 a.m. “Walk in Sam’s Shoes” - Twain Path Interactive Walking Tour with Mary Bennet’s Costumed Performers including Clemens home and his other favorite downtown area hangouts

12:30 to 3 p.m. “A Tisket a Tasket” – Picnic and gift basket auction, State Legislature Grounds, and “Games on the Green” family and children’s outdoor games for the Twain era (Game of Graces, board games, fence painting, sack races, croquet, hoop and stick, cup and ball, era-based games), State Legislature Grounds

4 p.m. “Becoming Mark Twain: Sam Clemens in Nevada - a Carson City Symphony performance featuring violinist Andrew Sords, Carson City Community Center

Event map courtesy Visit Carson City 


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