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Portraying the life and times of Mark Twain

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Photo by Kelly White
Sharing the life and history of Mark Twain from a first-person portrayal was Terrance Lynch during an appearance at the Green Hills Public Library in Palos Hills on Feb. 7. He presented a program called, “Between Two Comets: The Life of Mark Twain.”
By Kelly White
American novelist Mark Twain penned some of the most beloved and controversial literature of the 19th century.
He captured his audience with humorous stories of boyhood adventure and the faults of mankind, and the roots of human behavior.
Sharing the life and history of Mark Twain from a first-person portrayal was Terrance Lynch at the Green Hills Public Library, 10331 S. Interlochen Drive, Palos Hills, on Feb. 7. The program was entitled, “Between Two Comets: The Life of Mark Twain.”
“My favorite part of portraying Twain is the ease of making people laugh by simply quoting him,” said Lynch, of Orland Park. “He was such a humorist that I don’t need to write a comedy into my presentation. He has already done that for me.”
Lynch, who studied theater at Northern Illinois University, is a professional voice-over artist, actor and speaker in the Chicago area for more than 30 years. He is the co-owner of HFK Presents and Histories for Kids, Inc.
Lynch’s interest in Twain started by asking clients if they would be interested in seeing him portray Twain. With a positive response, Lynch then began to look into fleshing out Twain’s life story.
“I knew it would be interesting but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just re-telling the same old stories and quotes,” Lynch said. “With Mark Twain there is so much to talk about that I was sure I would be able to present him in a way that audiences would enjoy.”
Twain lived his life between the Halley’s Comet appearances of 1835 and 1910.
“The significance of his living between two comets comes from Twain himself,” Lynch said. “He marked his life by the appearance the year he was born and later in life said he came in with that freak of nature and he will leave with that freak of nature when it appears again. He did just that, dying shortly after the return of Haley’s Comet, something I no doubt think he enjoyed predicting. It showed not only his sense of humor but his enjoyment of working his audience.”
“Mark Twain was born just after Halley’s Comet appeared in 1835, and he passed away one day after it emerged at its brightest in 1910,” said Brittany Ramos, adult programming and graphics coordinator at the Green Hills Public Library. “As most people know, Halley’s Comet is only visible from Earth every 75 to 76 years. ​Twain even predicted leaving the world with the comet. I like weird coincidences and I can’t recall remembering this fact until I started planning this event. I love to showcase portrayals of famous figures. Bringing history to life is so cool and we’re lucky to have such a rich history to learn from.”
Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on Nov. 30, 1835 in the frontier village of Florida, Mo., and spent his youth in nearby Hannibal, on the banks of the Mississippi River. He was only 11 years old when his father died and made the decision to begin working to help provide for his family.
“He left school after only the fifth grade to help his family,” Lynch said.
After many years of working as a wandering journeyman printer, at the age of 22, Twain traveled down the Mississippi River. He became a steamboat river pilot until the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, he traveled to Nevada and found work in the world of newspapers. His love of writing led him to write a short story, “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” in 1865, which first brought him national attention.
His pen name, Mark Twain, came from a Mississippi River term meaning the second mark on the line that measured depth signified two fathoms, or 12 feet, a safe depth for the steamboat, otherwise known as “smooth sailing,” Lynch explained.
Twain continued to write and in 1870 he married Olivia Langdon. After a brief residence in upstate New York as an editor and part owner of the Buffalo Express , he moved to Hartford, Conn., where he lived for 20 years. It was in Hartford where his three daughters were born. His son, Langdon, named after his wife’s family, died as an infant.
During the reflection of Twain’s life, Lynch discussed in detail Twain’s friendship with President Ulysses S. Grant, including his decision later on in life to write and publish Grant’s autobiography.
Twain’s own account of steam boating experiences and boyhood memories of life beside the Mississippi River were eventually written into “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in 1875, and instantly captured the attention of both young and old readers alike.
From there, he wrote The Prince and the Pauper” in 1882, and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court ,” in 1889 . However , his 1885 story, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ,” in which Twain returned to the river scenes he knew best, was considered unacceptable by many of his readers.
The controversial novel discusses slavery and youth mischief. It is a narrative interpreted many ways that still stands a classic today.
“Go back and read Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer and you can see he was talking to the adults in the room, not just the kids,” Lynch said.
After The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , and the death of Twain’s wife in 1905, his writings grew bitter with “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” in 1900, which exposed corruption in a small, typical American town, and “Eve’s Diary in 1906, written in memory of his wife.
In 1906 Twain began to work on his autobiography. Portions from it were published in periodicals later that year. With the income from the excerpts of his autobiography, he built a large house in Redding, Conn., and took several trips to Bermuda to improve his declining health. He died on April 21, 1910.
“One of my favorite parts about portraying Twain is being able to have a man who died over a century ago tell you how much the social issues and problems are still the same,” Lynch said. “Maybe one day we will learn from our past. At least when I portray Mark Twain, I can give people that message in a humorous way. Hopefully people will walk away with a smile on their face and a desire to read one of his books or several of them. He had a lot to say and I love the way he said it.”

 

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