Mark Twain Comes Home to Redding

by Susan Winters
Another great event and evening in our jewel of a library!  Brought to life by the incredible Gavin Wilson, patrons were transported to a time when Mark Twain himself was here in Redding.Mark Twain Library President Jennifer Wastrom, whose all white outfit channeled Twain even before the great man himself came out, explained how Twain found Redding with the help of his biographer and town resident Albert Bigelow Paine. After having his mansion, Stormfield, built on an over 200 acre lot, Twain found he didn’t plan enough room for his book collection. He then decided to begin a town library. Originally housed in an old chapel, property was eventually donated and the foundations of the building we now enjoy were laid.

Left: Jennifer Wastrom, Library President  Right: the crowd enjoying the Stage Door reception
Twain was insistent that the institution always be an “association” library, funded by “friends” rather than town government, and would remain independent of political control. It remains that way to this day. Wastrom reminded the crowd that a generous grant comes from the town, the library needs to raise money in order to continue to run.
  • Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
Recently, the library board was looking for a special program in celebration of the town’s Sestercentennial. Past President Pam Robey had heard about Gavin Wilson, a Bermudian who brought Twain to life. She took on the task of locating and bringing Mr. Wilson to Redding.
left: Jen Wastrom, Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton, Mark Twain,
Mark Twain Library Director Beth Dominianni, State Representative Adam Dunsby
right: Mark Twain (the one who hangs around our library) State Senator Toni Boucher,
Julia Pemberton and Adam Dunsby
Wilson and his wife, Linda, were eager to visit the town the Twain loved so much. Although, Twain’s love affair with Bermuda began way before he saw Redding for the first time.Bermuda’s claim on Twain began with his first visit to the island in 1867. Forty-three years later, he took his last trip there before he returned to Redding just a few days before his death in 1910 at age 74.

Initially simply intrigued by the literary lion’s Bermuda associations, Mr. Wilson started to delve deeper into the life and work of the author.  In 1985, he saw a performance by Hal Holbrook and was captivated. As he began to study Twain, Mr Wilson — like untold millions of readers before and since — quickly fell under the spell of Redding’s leading citizen.

  • Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
Wilson has said that he was fascinated by Twain’s remarkable use of language and humor, the timelessness of his observations on human nature and behavior and his inspired interweaving of truth and moonshine into a storytelling style both playful and serious.What better place to be Mark Twain than in his namesake library?

The Wilsons spent a few days in town, meeting Twainiacs and learning more about his personal hero. They toured Twain’s last home, Stormfield, now owned by Erika and Jake DeSantis. They also visited the Lobster Pot where local artist, Susan Durkee, presented them with a Twain portrait. A performance was also given at Meadow Ridge.

Wilson said, “it was incredible holding books that were once in Mark Twain’s own hands and library.”  Gavin and Linda Wilson were both charmed and could see why Samuel Clemens loved Redding.

Wilson’s Twain is more of an inhabitation than a portrayal. He becomes Mark Twain and every person in that room quickly forgot that they were watching an actor and were sure the great man himself was there in front of them. The trademark white linen suit and deftly applied make-up ensured that Wilson’s appearance completed the illusion the great man held forth.

  • If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

“Reminiscences & Other Lies” was adapted from public talks that the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn writer gave for decades. Spending almost as much time on the lecture platform as he did wielding a pen, Twain offered audiences of his day a mixture of whimsical good humor, folksy tales stretched tall on the rack of his inspired imagination and knife-edged and still topical satirical commentaries.

Mr. Wilson has not only mastered hours of Twain’s lecture material which he draws on for his 60-minute performances but also his now-legendary stage manner: drawling delivery, precisely timed pauses, pretend lapses of memory, seemingly random but, in fact, cleverly planned digressions and even occasional spouts of weariness.

Missed it, or want to see it again? Happily, Bob Moran was there with Chris and their video cameras. Hello, Redding will let you know when the video is available.

The real Gavin Wilson with two Redding Twain fans. At left is Erika Desantis who owns Stormfield with her husband, Jake. At right is Susan Durkee, Twainiac (Mark Twain super fan) and portrai artist.
Durkee lives in the Lobster Pot, originally owned by Samuel Clemens.