On one of her trips to Bermuda she literally followed in her literary icon’s footsteps when she explored the Crystal Cave.
For Dr. Cindy Lovell, then director of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Harford, Connecticut there was a tangible sense of connection with the past as she followed the same threadlike path taken by the author when he went to view the subterranean wonderland.
“We visited a wonderful cave, the most beautiful cave in the world, I suppose,” Twain wrote shortly after exploring the recently discovered Hamilton Parish natural landmark in 1908.
“We descended 150 steps and stood in a splendid place 250 feet long & 30 or 40 wide, with a brilliant lake of clear water under our feet and all the roof overhead splendid with shining stalactites, thousands and thousands of them as white as sugar, and thousands and thousands brown and pink and other tints.”
Caves had fascinated the renowned writer and humourist since he was a boy growing up in Hannibal, Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River.
There the young Samuel Langhorne Clemens and his brothers had spent countless hours reconnoitring the passages, mazes and vaulted chambers of McDowell’s Cave.
“The memory of a cave I used to know was always in my mind, with its lofty passages, its silence and solitude, its shrouding gloom, its sepulchral echoes, its fleeting lights, and more than all, its sudden revelations,” he reflected in Innocents Abroad, an 1869 account of the transatlantic trip which originally brought him to Bermuda and the first full-length work published under his Mark Twain pen-name.
Memories of exploring that cave informs his autobiographical writings as well as his fiction, most notably Tom Sawyer.
In that 1876 novel the youthful title character survives several days lost in “MacDougal’s Cave” with his school chum Becky Thatcher. Tom undergoes a rite of passage in its “labyrinth of crooked aisles”, entering them as a carefree boy and emerging as a young man after saving his friend’s life.
And recently the cave, now renamed after Mark Twain and a major Hannibal attraction, offered up a sudden new revelation to none other than Dr. Lovell.
The American academic, who has visited Bermuda numerous times to both research the author’s extensive ties to the island and to lecture about them, is serving as event directors of Hannibal’s bicentennial year celebrations. She had previously served as executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal.
The “Clemens” signature discovered on the wall of the Mark Twain Cave in Missouri by Dr. Cindy Lovell. Photo by David Leaning
A magnet for visitors from the time it was discovered in 1819, until the cave became a US National Natural Registered Landmark in 1972 it was customary for people to sign their names on its walls using candle smoke, pencil, paint, or berry juice.
And researchers have been looking for a boyhood Samuel Clemens’ signature for decades, while conceding it was like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack given an estimated 250,000 scrawled names adorn its passageways.
But it July Dr. Lovell stumbled upon that long-elusive pin while leading a tour through the caves. Her flashlight beam fell upon the name “Clemens” written on a wall in pencil and experts have since confirmed it matches the author’s youthful handwriting.
News of the discovery was released this week and has been making headlines both in Missouri and around the world.
“My single hope has been that someone would find it during my lifetime: we just knew it had to be in here somewhere,” Dr. Lovell told Bernews.
“I have been a ‘Twainiac’ since I first read Tom Sawyer in the fourth grade and I have been looking for his signature in the cave since my first visit to Hannibal in 1996.”
She jokingly added: “Now I want to get back to Bermuda as soon as I can and see if he also signed the wall at the Crystal Cave.”