When it doubt, go with Twain for development plan
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Mark Twain once called Hartford ”beautiful.”
That was 130 years ago, before his neighborhood’s leafy vistas were taken over by check-cashing places and fast-food joints.
In an attempt to restore some of the city’s fallen grandeur, Twain’s name is being invoked as the likely title of a shiny waterfront development, with a convention center, shops and other attractions.
Cashing in on Twain’s legacy is big business – business that the literary lion with the silver mane would have understood but may not have endorsed.
Twain experts differ on whether Sam Clemens would approve of his pen name being used for commercial purposes. But they concur that if he were alive today, he would have plenty to say about it. ”I don’t think he would want to see any tacky commercial use of his name,” said Michael Frank, an editor with the Mark Twain Project at University of California at Berkeley. ”People have been cashing in on his image for various reasons for years.”
There’s a Mark Twain Dinette and a Twainland Cheesecake Co. in Twain’s childhood home of Hannibal, Mo. A paddle steamboat at Disneyland is named after the former Mississippi River pilot.
Missouri also has a Mark Twain National Forest and a Mark Twain Lake. There’s a Mark Twain housing subdivision in Nevada, where the writer tried his hand at newspaper reporting and silver mining.
Children from Hartford to Los Angeles read ”Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in schools named after their author.
Hartford also has a Mark Twain branch of the public library, a restaurant with a Mark Twain room and an apartment complex named ”Clemens Place,” all on the same street as The Mark Twain House, his residence for 20 years and now a major tourist attraction.
The latest commercial plan to be considered for the Twain name is a development along the Connecticut River with shops, a hotel, a convention center and a sports arena.
The development originally was dubbed Adriaen’s Landing, after the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, who landed at Hartford in 1614 and later found Block Island off Rhode Island.
Gov. John G. Rowland and others say a name like ”Twain’s Landing” is a better idea: Not only is it easier to spell, but people actually know who Twain is.
John Boyer, the executive director of The Mark Twain House, said naming the development after Twain is a great idea from a marketing and historical standpoint.
Twain’s legacy pulls in tourist dollars, and the site of the development is fitting with the writer’s lifelong love of rivers. He also loved the city and his house, where he wrote ”A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” and ”Life on the Mississippi,” among other titles.
Also, Sam Clemens was not adverse to using his pen name for commercial purposes, Boyer and other experts said.
He trademarked the name ”Mark Twain” and used it to sell everything from cigars to scrapbooks as he looked for get-rich-quick schemes and other ways to amass a fortune.
”He recognized how valuable an asset his name had become,” Boyer said. ”He wanted to exploit every asset at his disposal, including his own name – his own pseudonym.”
Peter Salwen, a self-described ”Twain worshipper” who guides Twain history tours in New York City, said Twain would understand the cash appeal of his name.
He also would want to help Hartford, the place where he had his most productive years and where he may have spent the rest of his life had his daughter’s death in the house not put an inconsolable sadness on the place, Salwen said.
”When you get right down to it, he loved the place,” Salwen said. ”If he was watching and knew that his name could help the town get back on its feet, he would grin from ear to ear.”
Frank noted that Twain was jealous of his name and reputation, and would probably want to have some say in whatever was proposed to be named after him.
And, he would want to know what was in it for him, Boyer said.
”I think one of the things he’d want to explore is what’s his percentage,” Boyer said with a laugh.