Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Philadelphia, PA

After leaving New York City in a huff in October 1853, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) lived and worked as a newspaper printer in Philadelphia for five months. “I like this Phila amazingly,” he wrote his brother Orion, “and the people in it.” His letters home became tourist travelogues, marked by hints of humor that would set apart his later writing. He not only visited the grave of Ben Franklin—a hero because, like Twain, he had begun his career as a printer’s apprentice—but also the “old cracked ‘Independence Bell’ and sat on the same pine bench where Washington and Franklin had sat: “I would have whittled off a chip, if I had got half a chance.” He saw a 764-pound woman advertised as “The Largest Lady in the World”: “She is a pretty extensive piece of meat, but not much to brag about; however, I suppose she would bring a fair price in the Cannibal Islands.” Orion published Twain’s letters in the Hannibal Journal and later Muscatine (Iowa) Journal. Twain spoke or read in Philadelphia in the 1860s-1890s, and his 1870 sketch “Post-Mortem Poetry” tweaks the obituary poems of Philadelphia newspapers.

October 27-October 28

Posts from Philadelphia, PA

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 >>

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 >>

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 >>