Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Posts by Loren Ghiglione (view all)

Muscatine, Iowa: A site for sunsets, appropriately, on the last day of our 14,063-mile trip

If Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) were to return to Muscatine, Iowa, where he helped brother Orion put out the Journal in the early 1850s, he would find reminders of three fascinating economies in the Mississippi River … Read more >>

Chicago, Second City or second-rate?

As we follow Mark Twain’s path in 1853 north by stagecoach from Springfield, Illinois, I’m reminded of how Twain’s vision of his next stop, Chicago, changed and didn’t change. Twain insisted that a visitor always found … Read more >>

Looking in Seattle for a Dynamited Garage and Finding a Twain-Type Mississippi River Story

Alyssa Karas, Dan Tham and I piled into the backseat of John Ghiglione’s white, 2002 Saturn for the drive to the Seattle home and famous-for-a-day garage of his father, Dr. August J. Ghiglione, who served as … Read more >>

Alameda Ghigliones demonstrate the immigrant entrepreneurial spirit with produce business, trucking company

After a day in Calaveras County, home to the world-famous frog-jumping contest inspired by Mark Twain’s story, we drive west to the island of Alameda, California, to interview Frank Ghiglione, who has his own frog-jumping story. … Read more >>

Natalie Sheppard discusses being a black Mormon in the Salt Lake City area

Of all the cities and towns on Mark Twain’s route west that we visited, Salt Lake City honors him least. The city’s magnificent main library, a 240,000-sq.-ft., five-story-tall curved wedge-shaped beauty by Moshe Safdie and other … Read more >>

We drove through memorable-monikered Louisiana towns to get to a “graffiti board” in Little Rock

After a full day of interviewing at Louisiana State Penitentiary, we shot north toward Arkansas through Louisiana towns with memorable monikers: Tallulah (not named for the actress), Water Proof and Transylvania (an enormous black bat adorns … Read more >>

Remembrances of death as well as life in Unionville

To get to Unionville, Nevada, where Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) tried prospecting for silver and gold, we drive south for 17 miles from Interstate 80 along desert-like, brush land marked by yellow “Open Range” road signs, … Read more >>

Our race across the West takes us to Virginia City, Carson City and Angels Camp

We race west across Nevada and California to find places where Mark Twain worked, and we find, instead, places he sort of, kind of, well, he didn’t work. In the freezing basement of a Virginia City, … Read more >>

Ben Jaffe, heir to Preservation Hall, philosophizes about New Orleans jazz

I am listening to an intense, muscular Ben Jaffe, 40, creative director of Preservation Hall Jazz Band, talk slowly and thoughtfully about his New Orleans, his brow furrowed, his sprouting Jewfro tied behind his head. But … Read more >>

Before Occupy Wall Street there was The Greening of America

Four decades before the Occupy Wall Street message spread across America, the New Yorker published on September 26, 1970, a nearly 70-page article, “Reflections: The Greening of America,” by Yale Law School professor Charles Reich that … Read more >>

A story of hope, not hopelessness, in Julesburg, Colorado

With hours to drive before reaching the night’s Not-So-Super-8 Motel, we stopped in Julesburg, Colorado, for only one hour, the time Mark Twain spent there on his 1,700-mile stagecoach ride west in 1861 to Carson City, … Read more >>

In the middle of white Nebraska, Lexington is almost two-thirds Hispanic

“The writing was on the wall,” says Rev. Paul J. Colling, the 54-year-old pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Lexington, Nebraska, who also serves as vicar for Hispanic issues for the Grand Island diocese, 50,000 square … Read more >>

Family history abounds in Kansas

After our visit to St. Joseph’s Pony Express Museum, we head west on the Pony Express Highway (Rte. 36) for northeastern Kansas to learn about my mother’s Methodist, farm-family parents, Loren Haskin (I was named for … Read more >>

A First Birthday Party for a Great, Great, Great-Granddaughter

Mark Twain, celebrator of his siblings and children, many of whom died too young, would have joined me in appreciating what I experienced with the Ghiglione family in Seattle. I am an effete, East Coast Ghiglione, … Read more >>

We begin our westward trip at the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri

We begin our trip west by van across the Kansas plains from St. Joseph, Missouri, just as Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and his brother Orion did 150 years ago. They had paid $200 each in 1861 … Read more >>

Mexican American artist Andy Valdivia depicts overcoming violence, poverty and “Mexican Heaven”

Shortly after my Haskin grandparents left Kansas by railroad, Mexican immigrants began arriving in Kansas by railroad to escape poverty and the violence of the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920. They took unskilled jobs with railroads, mining companies … Read more >>

Warden Burl Cain of Louisiana State Penitentiary advocates “moral rehabilitation”

Burl Cain, 69, warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary for about 17 years, arranges for us to view the 18,000-acre prison, the largest maximum security penitentiary in America, from its Mississippi River edge. That’s the way Samuel … Read more >>

Small river towns of Keokuk, IA, and Cape Girardeau, MO, showcase Twain’s writings and letters

On the drive to Keokuk, Iowa, where a young Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) worked as a printer in the mid-1850s, we stop in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for lunch. We have Twain as an appetizer. A building … Read more >>

Money, Mississippi: A beginning place for the civil rights revolution

We have stopped at what remains of Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, Money, Mississippi, site of an incident that led to a brutal murder that helped kick-start the civil rights revolution. On August 14, 1955, Emmett … Read more >>

Ernest Withers: Civil rights photographer and FBI informant?

I remember Ernest Withers of Memphis as a distinguished civil rights photographer, whose message to journalism students at Emory and Northwestern Universities, when I invited him to speak, was more spiritual than shutter-speed, f-stop practical. Shortly … Read more >>

David Beckley transforms Rust College and its student body

In traveling the country, I’m often impressed by those who do not travel—people who stay put and devote their lives to transforming institutions. During my visit to Holly Springs, Mississippi, I visit David Beckley, in his … Read more >>

Cooking a Five-Star Twain Dream Meal at an 1831 Mansion

We spend another day driving south, today through three Mississippi river towns famous in part for their connection to the life of Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) as a steamboat pilot—what he called “the only unfettered and … Read more >>

Tri-State Defender celebrates its 60th anniversary of keeping the African-American voice alive in Memphis

We interview Bernal E. Smith II, publisher of the Tri-State Defender, the day before the Memphis weekly newspaper, which also serves nearby Arkansas and Mississippi, celebrates its sixtieth anniversary. Our conversation with Smith, which focuses on … Read more >>

Non-profit “Baby Steps” is a success story in mostly poor Okolona, Mississippi

After seven weeks of visiting places that remind us of America’s problems (prison, homeless camp, lynching site) we decide to search for places that are helping to solve the country’s problems. We discover Baby Steps, a … Read more >>

Trying to pinpoint a spy from the Freedom Summer: Our visit to Rust College in Holly Springs, MS

In 1998, while directing the journalism program at Emory University, I received a chilling telephone call from Emory law professor David J. Garrow. Garrow said that my name showed up in the recently released, 134,000-page file … Read more >>

Mark Twain and Elvis Presley: Blood Brothers?

Blame it on the music madness of Memphis—see Dan Tham’s videos of the marching-to-music ducks at the Peabody Hotel below—but a visit to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion, has me thinking that Mark Twain and Elvis the … Read more >>

Dwania Kyles talks about surviving the “N” word and more as one of the Memphis 13

A half-century has passed since Dwania Kyles, a wellness consultant in New York, made history as one of the Memphis 13, first-graders who desegregated the all-white public schools of Memphis. She has returned to Memphis for … Read more >>

Slave descendant John F. Baker Jr. teaches us about Wessyngton Plantation

The parents of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) moved with slaves to Missouri, where he was born, from Tennessee, where he was conceived. So we sought a Tennessee location where we could experience the life and death … Read more >>

Small Jamestown, Tennessee makes the most of Mark Twain

While Mark Twain never visited or lived in Jamestown, Tennessee, the town makes the most of its claim that Mark Twain was conceived somewhere, sometime within its borders. Skidmore Garrett, attorney and owner of the Mark … Read more >>

Ihsan Bagby: Islam in the United States is Islam’s Future Worldwide

An African-American born in Cleveland who “grew up in the ‘hood,” Ihsan Bagby says he had rejected Christianity by his junior year in high school. “I thought I had rejected God,” he adds, but in 1969, … Read more >>

Former Lexington Herald editor John Carroll: ‘It was really bad what the paper did’

Though best known for his ten years as editor of The Baltimore Sun and five years as editor of the Los Angeles Times (during which the staff won 13 Pulitzers), John S. Carroll can speak about … Read more >>

Cincinnati: A city of immigrants and free African Americans

For the two hours we have to spend in Cincinnati we focus on food and a photo. The photo, an amazing 1848 daguerreotype view from across the Ohio River, details two miles of the Cincinnati waterfront … Read more >>

A long drive—but with stops for an old friend, a memorial, and a dying industry town

Today’s Washington-to-Pittsburgh drive is a typical dawn-to-dusk Twain-tripper—drive three hours, interview someone, drive half an hour, visit a national memorial, drive two hours, walk a town, drive an hour, stop for the night. But the someone … Read more >>

Mexican-American Washington Post videographer connects with “others”

Evelio Contreras, a Washington Post videographer, grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas, across the Rio Grande from Piedras Negras, Mexico, “with a divided understanding” of himself. He was a first-generation Mexican American with, he said, a … Read more >>

Joanna Hernandez, president of Unity, tackles challenge of diversity in newsrooms

Joanna Hernandez, multiplatform editor of The Washington Post, grew up in the projects of New York, then moved to Hell’s Kitchen, once a gritty midtown Manhattan neighborhood of walk-ups that “West Side Story” made famous. Her … Read more >>

Maitre d’ bans us from dining room for wearing jeans

Before our interview of William A. Davis, Jr., president of Davis Property Ventures, Inc., he kindly invited the three of us to his club, the University Club of Washington, D.C., for breakfast. Upon entering the Taft … Read more >>

Juan Williams: A political analyst whose writing provokes a “ludicrous” charge

The writings and remarks of Juan Williams, Fox News political analyst and provocateur, have a habit of generating controversy. He titled his recent tribute on The Root to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, after 20 years … Read more >>

Reminiscing with a former Southbridge (and current New York Times) reporter after a decade

Raymond Hernandez, 45, and I reminisced over coffee at a Starbucks in Chevy Chase, Md., about a career that has taken him from cub reporter for a 6,000-circulation, Massachusetts-mill-town daily to Washington-based investigative reporter for The … Read more >>

Diversity: A Blind Spot in College History?

As a graduate of Haverford College in 1963, when the student body of 450 was all male and virtually all white (James B. MacRae Jr., was the only black student in our class), I was curious … Read more >>

Would Mark Twain have tweaked the Paul Revere House restoration?

Mark Twain mocked New Englanders’ reverence for their early ancestors and symbols of those ancestors. He jokingly suggested that they disband their New England societies and “get up an auction and sell Plymouth Rock!” One can … Read more >>

Mark Twain’s Favorite Siamese Twins on View in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum

Twinship—dual identity, two selves inhabiting the same body—intrigued Mark Twain and flooded his fiction. He was fascinated by an exhibition of Giacomo and Giovanni Tocci, Italian brothers conjoined at the rib cage with one set of … Read more >>

‘Who Is The Other?’ Interviews at the Yale School of Drama

What makes a woman The Other? Race? Ethnicity? Sexual orientation? Skin color? Wanting a family, not a career, first? Or does a woman become The Other by just being a woman, not a man? I’m asking … Read more >>

Two Memorable Philadelphia Symbols: Of Freedom & Freedom’s Absence

After leaving New York City in a huff in October 1853, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) worked as a printer in Philadelphia for five months. He visited the “old cracked ‘Independence Bell’” and sat on the same … Read more >>

Visiting the oldest “Glamour Girl” Ghiglione

It’s Sunday, Oct. 23, my first day off from the Twain trip. I’m spending it in Scituate, Mass., with my wife, Nancy; younger daughter, Laura; son-in-law Mike MacMillan; and their three children. Infant Joy (who is … Read more >>

Memories of a mill town: Simple acts of kindness in Southbridge

Videos on YouTube portray Southbridge, Mass., as a dying mill town of loonies and losers. A snippet from producer Rod Murphy’s “Greater Southbridge” documentary makes Jerry Sciesnewski, a stuttering collector of empty soda and beer cans, … Read more >>

Unbanning a Twain book…more than a century later

As his 40th birthday approached, Mark Twain joined walking buddy Rev. Joe Twichell on a hundred-mile hike from Hartford to Boston. They walked 35 miles to North Ashford, Conn., before Twain’s aching knee joints and the … Read more >>

“The shame is ours”: the unlikely history of diversity at Yale Law School

When Mark Twain visited Yale in 1885 to lecture, Warner T. McGuinn, one of the first African-American students at Yale Law School, served as his campus guide and introduced him at a public meeting. Impressed by … Read more >>

A 45-year search for my great-grandfather ends with a taxi ride around Staten Island

Columbus Day, what better day to recall the story about Mark Twain and his prankster pals hoodwinking an Italian tourist guide, who believed American travelers wanted to know the tiniest tidbit about “Christo Columbo.” When the … Read more >>

Red Rooster restaurant—Multicultural, not monochromatic

From its owner and art to its food, staff and clientele, the Red Rooster Harlem restaurant, our first stop in New York City, sends a multicultural message. Owner-celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia, orphaned at … Read more >>

Two Elmira residents worthy of museums

Elmira, Ny.—a rust-belt railroad and manufacturing town of 29,200 that has lost 40 percent of its population since 1950—promotes itself as Mark Twain Country. Home to Twain’s burial site and the Quarry Farm study where he … Read more >>

Immigration: The key to Buffalo’s success and Cleveland’s decline?

Villified today by some as America’s enemies, immigrants and refugees actually may be saviors of the nation’s disintegrating cities. The Rust Belt cities of Cleveland, Ohio, and Buffalo, Ny., among the poorest in America, have in … Read more >>

Road food. Favorite food. Did I mention food?

Yes, today’s interviews at agencies serving the poor and homeless of Cleveland are enlightening. But I really appreciate the break from the tragedy and trauma for lunch at Presti’s Bakery, 12101 Mayfield Road, a fixture on … Read more >>

Revisiting lynchings in Marion, Indiana

Whatever the upbringing of Mark Twain (Sam Clemens) in slave-state Missouri, he was a critic of lynching by adulthood. In “Only a Nigger,”—an August 26, 1869, Buffalo Express column attributed to him—he told of the rape … Read more >>

A visit to Barack’s barbershop

Chicago’s Hyde Park Hair Salon, 5234-B South Blackstone, bills itself as the official barbershop of President Barack Obama. True, the president has been going to the barbershop for at least 20 years (though security now requires … Read more >>

Notes from the road

Sorry, world, beginning today, Oct. 2, I’ve decided to report on our daily misadventures, however insignificant, complete with sexy starlet sightings (just kidding). Our 13 hours of driving begin at 7 a.m. in Chicago with Alyssa … Read more >>

Are Italian-Americans black or white?

I kept thinking about race as we walked along Taylor Street in what’s left of Chicago’s Little Italy. Where Italian businesses once stood, LA Tan, Yummy Thai, CousCous and an Irish bar, Drum & Monkey, now … Read more >>

The St. Louis Ghigliones: Secular Saints vs. Saloonkeepers

The search for the Ghigliones, what I like to think of as a representative immigrant family from Mark Twain’s era, began for me in St. Louis. There I discovered two branches of the local Ghigliones, the … Read more >>

Boyhood Museum’s treatment of slavery evolves

In 1996 Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin, editor of the Oxford Mark Twain and author of Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices, wrote a skeptic’s critique of Hannibal and its Mark Twain Boyhood … Read more >>

Captain Steve Terry embodies Twain’s riverboat spirit

Think of Captain Steve Terry, the 52-year-old pilot-owner of the Mark Twain Riverboat, as a 21st-century Twain. Terry, as did Twain, loves life on the Mississippi. He earned his license at age 19, becoming the youngest … Read more >>

Small town newspaper editor decides to ‘publish dead deer photos again’

I managed to resist much of Hannibal’s historic-site hucksterism—the souvenir Mark Twain t-shirts and the ride on the Too-Too Twain. But I succumbed to the Mark Twain Dinette’s 12-foot-tall rotating mug of root beer atop a … Read more >>

Being gay in America’s Hometown

What’s it like to be gay in Hannibal, Missouri, a town of 17,606 that bills itself as America’s hometown? Mary Lou Montgomery, editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post, says sexual orientation is not discussed: “It’s pretty quiet—not … Read more >>

Zagat’s Missed This Restaurant in Paris—Paris, MO

We visited Paris, Mo., to see a recently restored wall mural in the town’s post office titled “The Arrival of the Clemens Family in Florida.” The mural, completed by Fred Green Carpenter in 1940, shows the … Read more >>

Mark Twain birthplace museum acknowledges family’s slave holding past

Smiles and laughter come easily to Connie Ritter, 61, the second of 10 children born and raised in Monroe City, Missouri. But her face turns stern when she recalls the playground beside the Mark Twain birthplace … Read more >>

Cahokia Mounds

When Dave Smith, 59, was a boy, he used to sled down the backside of 10-story-tall Monks Mound. The same Monks Mound, from which 1,000 years ago a Native American chief ruled a six-square-mile community of … Read more >>

A Twain hat becomes a trip essential

Food cooler for the van, check. Extra batteries for cameras, check. Twain hat for head, check. Well, okay, a Twain hat isn’t normally regarded as essential for a three-month trip, but I’m a hat guy. My … Read more >>

How it all began: From motorcycle fantasy to road-trip reality

Here’s how this trip began:  Mark Twain and I—he with narrowed blue-green eyes, exploding shock of red hair and white flannel suit, I with black, smoke-lens sunglasses, black helmet and black leather jacket—decided to go, as … Read more >>

Who is the American?

“Are you an American?” Mark Twain once wrote in his notebook: “No, I am not an American, I am the American.” Twain was willing to compare Americans—however arrogant or ignorant—to smug, cultured Europeans and to declare Americans … Read more >>