Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mark Twain’s Ghost Story

While doing research about Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain, I discovered this little tidbit from a diary that held personal recollections of what happened during a performance given by Mark Twain.

This renowned author could tell a good ghost story . . .

Mark Twain embarked upon a lecture tour in the winter of 1884-85 with his friend George W. Cable. Cable was an American novelist known for his realistic portrayals of Creole life in his native Louisiana. 

This four-month tour included cities from New England to the Mississippi River, and from Kentucky into Canada.

An audience gathered on a Saturday afternoon on January 24, 1885, in the Grand Opera House on Sixth Street in Minneapolis to listen to this famous creator of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn share some of these two character’s adventures.

Saturday not being a school day, the large audience included many children. The author of this account who attended as a young boy recounted this story years later.

As the long program of readings by Mark Twain and George W. Cable was drawing to a close, the young audience waited eagerly to hear the final number, the “Ghost Story” by Mark Twain. 

The young author in his diary admits that he had no recollection of this program except for this last part-- which furnished on an unforgettable climax.

He remembered that as Mark Twain came out on the stage once more, there was a hush of expectancy broken only by his somber voice relating the story of an old woman who had died and was laid to rest in her coffin. 

The mourners had put coppers on her eyelids to hold them shut. Night had come, and her old man had gone to bed, but he kept thinking about those coppers. Temptation overcame him, so he crept cautiously in, stole the coppers, and went back to bed shivering with fright.

Then as Twain provided the sound effect of wind whistling through the cracks in a blood-curdling manner ---the audience gasped. Mark Twain then stated the old woman’s ghost appeared to her husband wailing,  “Who’s got my money? I want my money.” 

Again Twain moaned and mimicked the whistling wind. He repeated the woman’s words—“Who’s got my money? I want my money.” 

Twain proceeded to do this four more times moaning, whistling the wind, and restating the woman’s question, ever more demanding with the wind becoming more and more terrifying each time…then his voice became a whisper.

He stopped—he held a breathless silence for about two seconds. Then Twain slowly approached the stage's footlights, crouching as he came, his hands outstretched, fingers like hooked claws. The young boy heard a crash as Twain stomped both feet, threw up his hands and yelled, “BOO” at the top of his lungs. 

The author points out the effect that this had on the audience-- the shock was sufficient to leave the audience stunned at first, then everyone seemed to bounce or jump from his or her seats, and a chorus of screams filled the air.

In another post located here, I discuss jump stories. 

Imagine my delight to discover that Mark Twain had shared a traditional "ghost jump story" with his audience. 

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