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150th Anniversary for Mark Twain

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Henry Sweets says Samuel Clemens officially became Mark Twain on either Feb. 2 or Feb. 3 of 1863.  That’s the first time an article by Clemens was published with the famous pen name.

Sweets, who is the curator for the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, MO, says pinpointing the exact day has grown more difficult over the years.

The museum marked the 150th anniversary with a nearly hour-long lecture by Sweets.  More than 50 people turned out for the event.

Sweets says while Mark Twain was his most famous pen name, it was not the first used by Samuel Clemens.

He says Clemens started using them during a stint with his brother’s newspaper in Hannibal.

“In late 1852, (Clemens’) brother left town for a few days,” says Sweets, “which gave Samuel the chance to be the editor of the paper.  As an experiment, he wanted to use some pen names/”

Some of Clemens’ early pen names were “Rambler,” “To Be Continued,” “Grumbler,” says “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.”

Sweets says the need for anonymity prompted the use of those pen names.

“(Clemens learned) that hiding behind a pen name would give someone the ability to say something that maybe you could not say over your own name,” says Sweets.

“The ability to say some things highding behind a pen name would give someone the ability to say something that maybe you could not say over your own name.

Mark Twain - 500.jpg
Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain

Sweets believes that Mark Twain resonated with readers because many knew it as a river term designating the water was 12’ deep.

He says it’s hard to tell where Clemens’ career would have gone without the use of pen names.

There is a little mystery surrounding the name’s origin for Clemens.

Sweets says Clemens always claimed to have taken it from a deceased riverboat pilot, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain in the New Orleans area.

He says the mystery comes from the fact that the riverboat pilot was not dead when Clemens was first publish as Twain and that no articles from the New Orleans area have been attributed to the riverboat pilot.

More than 50 people turned out for Sweets’ lecture in Hannibal.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.