Mark Twain, the Hartford Baseball Crank

Samuel L. Clemens, also known by his pen name, Mark Twain once boasted about Hartford, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief.” Twain and his family were proud Hartford residents from 1874 to 1891. When the Hartford Dark Blues joined the first iteration of the National League in 1874, Twain frequented games at Hartford Base Ball Grounds, a 2,000-seat stadium at the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendrixon Avenue.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) regularly attended Hartford ballgames and took notes of the action on personal stationary.

While attending a game between the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Hartford Dark Blues, Twain’s umbrella went missing. In response to the suspected theft, Twain published a reward in the Hartford Daily Courant on May 20, 1875:

TWO HUNDRED AND FIVE DOLLARS REWARD — At the great base ball match on Tuesday, while I engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk UMBRELLA belonging to me and forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of the umbrella in good condition to my house on Farmington Avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains.

-Samuel L. Clemens
Twain’s advertisement in the Hartford Courant, May 20, 1875.
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), 1870 (c.)

The humorous advertisement led to a morbid prank. A local medical student left one of his case studies — the corpse of a boy — on Twain’s porch, along with a note claiming the reward. A nervous Twain thought he might be suspected of murder, until the janitor of the medical college came to claim the body and clear the author. Despite the scare, Twain’s support of baseball in Hartford continued for more than a decade. In fact, Twain became a shareholder of the Hartford baseball club in 1887.

The Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut.

After a lackluster 1886 season in the Eastern League, in which the Hartford team traded Connie Mack to the Washington Nationals, a new joint stock company assumed ownership of the Hartford club. Among investors of the Hartford Amusement Association were Samuel Clemens and Mayor of Hartford, Morgan G. Bulkeley. The stakeholders hired Charles F. Daniels, a professional umpire from Colchester, Connecticut, as manager. Hartford finished third place in the Eastern League. Twain’s ownership stake only lasted a year.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), 1885 (c.)
Members of the Hartford Amusement Association, 1887.
Morgan G. Bulkeley, 1890 (c.)

Later on April 8, 1889, Mark Twain dined with baseball’s “who’s who” at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City. The grand event was a night to remember, drawing heavy publicity. The Testimonial Banquet was held in honor of Albert Spalding and baseball players of the “Tour Around the World”. Twain was among the guest speakers and gave a rousing speech to the banquet of ballplayers and dignitaries of tnhe world tour. His comedic prose garnered a standing ovation.

“Tour Around the World” brochure cover at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.
“Tour Around the World” brochure at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.

“Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.”

-Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), April 8, 1889.
Testimonial Banquet at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.
Delmonico’s Menu, New York, 1889.

That same year, Twain completed writing A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court while living in Hartford. The novel is about a man from East Hartford who time travels to 6th-century medieval England. The book’s main character, Hank Morgan meets King Arthur and teaches noblemen to play baseball. While living in Hartford, Twain also wrote such works as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

“There was no joy in life for poor Tom. He put away his bat and his ball and dragged himself through each day.”

– Mark Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1885.
A knight in armor playing baseball, 1889.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889.
Mark Twain at his 70th birthday celebration, Delmonico’s, New York, 1905
Samuel Clemens, 1907.

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