The Man Who Rode Halley’s Comet

I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: “Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together”  ~Samuel Clemens, 1909

 

Hannibal, Missouri – Hometown of Samuel Clemens

Born in Florida, Missouri in 1835 just 2 weeks after Halley’s Comet closest approach, Samuel Clemens was the 6th of 7 children born of Jane and John Marshall Clemens. Only four children would survive past childhood, his older brother and older sister, Orion and Pamela, and his younger sibling Henry. Though born in Florida, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri (less than 30 miles away) when he was very young. It was growing up in Hannibal, the people, the place, the experiences, that would shape his most popular works: The adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

A ‘Classic.’ A book which people praise and don’t read” 

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

Samuel Clemens, of course, was more well known by the moniker MARK TWAIN. Twain, a pen name based on a unit of measurement in riverboating, was one of many that he used. Prior to settling on Mark Twain, he signed sketches as “Josh” and was often known as the humorist Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.

A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.”

A tour through Hannibal today will lead you to many Mark Twain landmarks as the city has fully embraced itself as the home of the man William Faulkner called “the father of American Literature.” There still stands his childhood home, and even the fence that would be the inspiration to the infamous whitewashing scene in Tom Sawyer. 

Tom Sawyer’s Fence
Grab a brush, and get to work!

Just across the street you’ll find the home of Laura Hawkins; the inspiration for Becky Thatcher. One of the tiny homes that Tom Blankenship, Twain’s best friend and the basis of the character Huck Finn, has been restored and can be visited as well. 

Becky Thatcher’s Home

 

In ‘Huckleberry Finn’ I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly how he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as any boy had.”

Huckleberry Finn’s House
The home of Tom Blankenship (Huck Finn)

The museum in Hannibal offers a wonderful exhibit where you can walk through his most famous works. Including A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, Roughing It, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. As well as a look at his time on the riverboats of the Mississippi; where he got the pen name we all know him by today. 

Mark Twain was the nom de plume of one Captain Isaiah Sellers, who used to write river news over it for the New Orleans Picayune. He died in 1863 and as he could no longer need that signature, I laid violent hands upon it without asking permission of the proprietor’s remains.”

The Origin of Mark Twain

Mark Twain was well traveled doing speaking lectures — that bordered upon what we know today as Stand-Up Comedy — around the world and everywhere within North America. Within the United States, he held residence at one time or another in Missouri, Nevada, California, Connecticut, and New York (where he and his wife are buried, side by side).

 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

 

Travel is education.

It was due to his experiences growing up in a slave state in the pre-civil war era that shaped Mark Twain into the pro-emancipation, abolitionist that he was. Twain was also known to support the women’s suffrage movement and fought for worker’s rights. He also advocated for disability rights. Twain’s working partnerships and friends included people like Frederick Douglas, Helen Keller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Prudence Crandall, William Dean Howell, among others. To further his own point about travel and bigotry Mark Twain’s opinions on Indigenous people, of various lands, grew more as he ventured around the world and saw the trauma left behind by imperial colonizers.

There are many humorous things in this world; among them the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.”

All right, then, I’ll go to hell.

He was Presbyterian, but was critical of organized religion in general, especially late in life. So much so, that his most critical writings were not published until well after his death.

“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” 

Besides being a writer, a miner (which he was no good at), a riverboat pilot, a speaker, and an activist, Twain was also an inventor. He shared a friendship with Nikola Tesla and was one of only a few people who ever spent extended time in Tesla’s lab. Twain would go on to patent a few inventions of his own including one in use today: The elastic hook closure for bras. A patent which he filed under “An Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments.” He had hope that it would do away with suspenders, which he hated. 

“…for the vest, pantaloons, or other garment upon which my strap is to be used.”

During the final year of his life he would write (dictate) his autobiography. The first edition was 736 pages long, but the notes were compiled by others and the order changed from which he recited it. It was not published in its intended, non-chronological form, until 2010 and became an unexpected hit, which put Samuel Clemens, a.k.a Mark Twain, in the very limited writer’s club of having a new bestselling book in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Mark Twain died in his home just one day after Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to the Earth in April of 1910. 

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” 

Mark Twain’s Desk

After his death Mark Twain went on to make appearances in television and film including Star Trek, Touched By An Angel, Holmes & Watson, and Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues**

“It is no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”

 

He lived a legendary life. He grew, he learned, he observed the world and all its good and bad. He wrote much of it, and spoke on the rest. He was not a perfect man, but he lived an extraordinary life, riding a comet through history. 

Mark Twain reading to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

“I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell – you see, I have friends in both places.”

Mark Twin on the Enterprise

**Disclaimer: Samuel Clemens may not have been the actual person portraying Mark Twain on screen.

 

“When in doubt, tell the truth.”

 

Yuma Territorial Prison

Yuma, Arizona

Welcome to the Hellhole

In the second half of the 1800’s people rushed west to claim land for themselves, to pan for gold, and to build their own prison cells. The latter wasn’t actually a plan, but it is what happened to the first of the criminals to be imprisoned in Yuma Territorial Prison. The first inmates were required to build their own cells. The prison officially opened in July of 1876. 

I think the backyard party lights really enhance the prison atmosphere.

Yuma Territorial was named Hellhole by the inmates that were incarcerated there. The average summer daytime temperature in Yuma was 110 degrees. Hellhole, indeed. Cells were open-air, with no air conditioning or heaters for the winter nights in the desert. 

 All the amenities.
Cozy 6 bedroom
The 2 bedroom model.

In it’s 33 years of operation the prison housed an assortment of criminals. 3,069 prisoners were in and out of the Hellhole population, including 29 women, and for a few years, even one child that was born at the prison by his incarcerated mother. 

Unlawful plural marriage.
A woman after his own heart… <3
“Became a media sensation…” she was very popular on Insta.
Prisoner Statistics

The prison was under constant construction during its years of operation, with most of the work being done by the inmates. I would think that building your own cage is an especially fudged up kind of prison. 

 

Prison air conditioning
Bunks built by prisoners in 1901. There were wooden bunks before, but they had to be removed due to bed bugs.

While the inmates claimed the conditions were hell, they also took advantage of various clubs, sports teams, and live music. The prison band was apparently quite good. 

Hellhole Country Club
Infirmary

Besides the dreadful heat of an Arizona summer, the Hellhole was also named with their solitary confinement in mind. The Dark Cell. The dark cell was used as solitary for prisoners misbehaving. The cell was a 10×10 dug out of the rock. Aptly named, the dark cell had no open windows, only a small vent in the ceiling that guards would drop the prisoners’ daily meal of bread and water through. At night, there was not a speck of light available to the inmate shackled in the solitary cell, wearing only his skivvies. Prisoners with an extended stay in the dark cell were often sent to the state run insane asylum in Phoenix upon their release from solitary. The dark cell is said to be haunted…and with the trauma of being left in pitch black with only the bats for company, I can see why it might be…although if I was a ghostly presence hanging out in prison in the after life, I would probably haunt the kitchen, not the dark cell. 

Hello darkness, my old friend. We’ve come to shit on you again….
The floor of the dark cell
Dark cell shackles

Due to overcrowding, Yuma Territorial Prison was shut down in 1909. The prisoners were sent to a larger prison in Florence, Arizona. After the closure of the prison, the local schools used the facility for a few years. By 1920 the empty prison was being used as shelter by the homeless, and during the depression it was transformed into temporary housing for unsheltered families. 

Yuma Territorial Prison is now a state historical park. You can attend scheduled tours by volunteers, or follow a self-guided tour through the prison campus. There are many artifacts and photographs of the years as a prison, as well as historical documents and history of individual inmates and guards. 

Ghostly apparition of a prison guard long lost to the years of Yuma Territorial Prison…or a volunteer tour guide. 

 

 

 

Golden, Oregon

Golden, Oregon – State Heritage Site

Golden, Oregon is an abandoned mining town in southern Oregon near Grants Pass. 

In contrast to other old west mining towns there was no saloon in Golden, but they did have competing churches. The first church in the community was built around 1840 by Reverend Samuel Ruble, who was a preacher for a group known as Campbellites.” Campbellites were a large religious movement in the 1800’s that were dedicated to restoring religion to “Primitive Christianity.” “Primitive Christianity” was basically a stick-in-the-mud sect of Christianity that wouldn’t even allow musical instruments to be used in churches during worship. 

Reverend Ruble’s House of Fun
These pews were so uncomfortable…hard, cold, and squeaky to make sure you didn’t nap during worship.
The empty church…Reverend Ruble’s worst nightmare.
Ruble’s Party Podium

However, another group led by Reverend Mark Davis moved into the area. Reverend Davis used the schoolhouse to lead his worship services – I would like to think that ol’ Rev. Davis allowed some pretty rockin’ music during his sermons, which was of course the inspiration behind School of Rock. This is absolutely not true, though, 

Rev. Davis’ School of Rock

Despite the bible thumping between the dueling reverends, more people moved to the area to work in the mines. By 1892 the population of Golden was just under 200. In 1896 a general store was built, which housed a post office as well. 

Golden General Store and Post Office
Stock boy needs to start hustling.
General Store and Schoolhouse
Plumbing updates?

By 1920, Golden went the way of most mining towns…devoid of gold and people. 

View out the church window…

 

Schoolhouse
Inside the Golden Schoolhouse.

Around 1950 some locals rebuilt the church. The general store, schoolhouse, carriage house, and an outhouse still stand. The State of Oregon took over Golden in 2002 and added the town to the National Register of Historic Places. 

In 2017 paranormal investigators from the Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures conducted an investigation in the town of Golden. They, of course, claimed it to be haunted…by the Reverend Ruble himself. I don’t know for sure if Golden is haunted, but if it is, it makes sense that it would be by the grumpy reverend with no appreciation for music.

Here is the church, here is the steeple, open it all up and see all the…haunted reverends. 
Golden, Oregon

 


For more information

Oregon State Parks

Travel Channel

 

Winter is Coming to…Austin, Nevada?

 

The Nevada portion of U.S. Route 50 was named the Loneliest Highway in America by America by Life Magazine in 1986. While driving across the bare land of central Nevada we noticed that people must have embraced the name and celebrated by moving away. Ranches do come into view occasionally, but the majority of the population consists of birds, reptiles, and four legged mammals. 

I looked, and behold, a white horse!

On a steep hillside above Austin, Nevada is Stokes Castle. The castle was built in 1897 by Anson Stokes as a summer home for his affluential family. The Austin area was in a mining boom, and Stokes owned several mines in the area. When the construction was finished, his family stayed in the castle for only a  month before moving away. Stokes’ adult children did return later for a short time, until they discovered that high desert winters were not all sunshine and cacti. Stokes sold the castle in 1898, but it remained empty. 

In 1956 a cousin of Anson Stokes purchased the castle, but never took up residence. Although it is still privately owned, no one has lived there since the Stokes family in 1897.

The castle has three stories, built by locally mined granite that was lifted onto the hillside with a large hand winch, which still stands near the castle. 

All natural air conditioning, but the balconies do look a little unstable.
Sadly, not the fun catapult that I thought it was. Just a winch to move gargantuan granite slabs.

The first story held the kitchen and dining area, the second and third floors consisted of two bedrooms. Each floor had a fireplace, plate glass view windows, and the upper two stories each had their own balcony. Stokes lavishly decorated the interior of the castle, and the entire building was influenced by Roman Villas in Italy. 

Nice neighborhood, doors are always unlocked…
Inside the kitchen and dining area. Who doesn’t love a fixer-upper?
2nd floor, minus the floor
Needs some roof work.

Stokes castle is an impressive sight even now. The castle is the first thing you see as you enter Austin from Highway 305. It looms high on the hillside above the town like a medieval beacon leading you to the Vale of Arryn in Westeros. 

 

And as they fled the high desert the Stokes claimed….”Winter is coming.” 

Links to more information

Stokes Castle

Nearby Campgrounds:

Hickison Petroglyph Campground – 32 miles east of Austin, NV – This is where we stayed. You can stay up to 14 days for free. About 15 – 20 campsites, and trails to Native American Petroglyphs.

Bob Scott Campground – 15 miles east of Austin, NV