February 26, 2012

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts - Hartford, Conn.

Should the spirit move you ...
OK, that's not quite true.

Ghost stories creep me out. Horror movies have been known to prevent me from getting a good night's sleep for days at a time. I would certainly not hesitate to characterize myself as a wuss. 

But curiosity can often get the better of me.

If you happen to be an aspiring ghost hunter or a believer in the paranormal - or perhaps just a harmless history buff, or a lover of literature like me, it's time to get yourself to the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn., which every so often invites brave souls to embark on nighttime ghost tours at the former home of famed author Samuel Clemens - otherwise known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

That's right, the house in which Mark Twain lived and wrote the classic Huckleberry Finn is reportedly very haunted. And even 120 years after he, his family, and his servants have moved away, the house's daily visitors, tour guides, and security guards continue to come across ghosts - seeing them, hearing them, and, yes, even feeling them.

Believe it or not, two of the people in our own tour group - including my husband - reported their own brief encounters with the dead.

Built in 1874 for just $45,000, this house was what
Twain apparently was known to describe as part medieval castle, part riverboat, and part cuckoo clock.
Today's Stefcations Highlights:
  • What You'll Find: A haunted house. What could be intriguing?
  • Where You'll Find it: The Mark Twain House, at 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, Conn.
  • When to Go: Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours will return for March 30, and for April 27 and 28. Tours take place at 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and 9 p.m., and are by reservation only. Call 860-280-3130 to make a reservation. Tours regularly sell out.
  • What It'll Cost: $20 for adults age 17 and up; $16 for members of the Mark Twain House; $13 for children 16 and under. (FYI, the ghost tours are not recommended for kids under 10 years old.)

Our totally awesome tour guide.

Led by our fearless and uber-knowledgeable tour guide, Allison, our group of 18 or so wound our way past the family carriage house (also haunted) and throughout the three floors of Twain's immense home, which stands right on Farmington Avenue in Hartford.

Here, Twain lived with his wife, three daughters, and about 10 to 15 servants, from 1874 to 1891. It's said that the family was a very social bunch, regularly entertaining visitors from afar as well as folks from the surrounding neighborhood, including Twain's next-door neighbor, author Harriet Beecher Stowe (whose house, I learned last night, is haunted as well - and where ghost tours are also offered). 

With so many people in and out, the house was often buzzing with activity back in the day - children ran around causing mischief, dinner guests spent evenings listening to Twain's tales of his past adventures on the Mississippi River, and servants bustled about to keep things running smoothly.

There's always the daytime, non-ghost tours
of the Twain House ... although my cousin
Amy claims to have visited years ago as a child and
encountered an apparition then, too.
As it turns out, Twain himself was a big believer in the paranormal, and on the tour, you'll learn why. As you stroll from room to room - dimly lit to mimic the gas lighting used in the late 1800s - you'll also hear the details about who died in the house and what sort of apparitions are seen, time and time again, on each floor of the residence.

And if you're the sort of soul who tends of attract these things - as my husband apparently is - you may even be on the receiving end of some supernatural phenomena. 

That is, feeling a playful tug on his sleeve while we stood in the drawing room, my husband turned back to see what it was that I wanted - and found me instead engrossed in taking notes. Eep!

The aforementioned children, who are among those said to haunt the house, seemed to want to get his attention, because he says it happened again a few moments later as we were led into the Twains' dining room. (Let's just say I'm relieved that I don't have a knack for captivating children.)

Samuel Clemens stands watch,
in Lego form.
Consider, too, the tales we heard from one of the security guards, with whom we struck up a conversation afterward. While locking up for the night, he says he has more than once heard his name being called and, on one especially creepy occasion, he stood in the basement after hours, arming the security alarm and found himself dodging a silver tray that was thrown in his direction. 

Perhaps you're a skeptic. No matter. Join the tour for the historical information alone, and you won't be disappointed. Plus, the house itself is beautiful, with ornately carved mantelpieces, Victorian-era decor, and many cool rooms to explore. And merely walking through the home of one of America's most famous authors of all time is impressive in and of itself. 

Pondering the
coolness of Twain.
Although photography is not permitted during the indoor portion of the tour, you are invited to make use of any ghosthunting apps you might have on your smartphone. (Who knew those even existed?!)

And if you're not up for the tour, the Mark Twain House always has plenty of other activities to offer. Check out the adjoining museum, for example, or the occasional book talks or writing workshops.

Case in point: Conveniently enough, when we finished up our tour, we happened upon a party taking place in the lobby of the museum building, where the Twain House was hosting a weekend-long film festival.

Guests were enjoying drinks and passed hors d'oeuvres. An exhibit of expressive, life-size puppets from the UConn Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry lent a festive touch. The room was filled with the pleasant noise of lively conversation. It struck me that, here in his former home, this spirited, social atmosphere was exactly the sort of thing Twain himself would have loved to see.

1 comment:

  1. And then you can go over to the harriet beecher stowe museum afterwards. good memories...