Mark Twain plaque stolen from his grave

A bronze plaque bearing a profile of Mark Twain has been stolen from a monument on his grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, upstate New York. The missing plaque was reported to cemetery authorities by a visitor to the grave over the holidays. It’s not clear when exactly it was stolen, but it was sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The culprit had to use a ladder to reach the one foot square plaque, so it wasn’t a random vandal, and it’s unlikely to have been stolen just for its scrap value because the plaque right below it depicting Ossip Gabrilowitsch, husband of Twain’s daughter Clara, is still in place.

Mark Twain died in 1910 and was buried in his wife Olivia Langdon’s family plot in her hometown of Elmira. The 12-foot granite monument was commissioned in 1937 by Clara to honor her father and husband. Swedish immigrant and Elmira resident Ernfred Anderson designed the piece after Clara was impressed by a bust he had made of her father. The height of the marker is a deliberate reference to the great author. Twelve feet is two fathoms, the safe depth for a steamboat. Riverboat leadsmen on the Mississippi in the 1850s would call out “mark twain” to alert the crew they were in safe waters. The young Samuel Clemens trained as a pilot aboard a steamboat on the Mighty Mississip from 1857 to 1859 and continued to pilot a riverboat until the Civil War broke out in 1861. He first signed the pen name Mark Twain to an 1863 article for the Territorial Enterprise, a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada.

Woodlawn workers did a thorough search of the cemetery grounds and adjoining woods looking for the plaque, but there was no sign of it. The Elmira community has rallied around the cause, offering reward money for any information leading to the recovery of the plaque. If worst comes to worst, the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes has pledged to donated up to $10,000 to replace the plaque. Rare bookseller and Mark Twain expert Kevin MacDonnell has offered the use of a plaster cast of Twain made by Ernfred Anderson to make a new mold for a replacement. It wouldn’t be the same as the missing piece, however, so local artist Denny Smith is working with Anderson’s family to locate the original plaster cast he used to make the bronze plaque.

Next, a foundry and a bronze artist will have to be selected. Also, the replacement plaque will need to be given a patina to match what is already on the Gabrilowitsch plaque so they look similar, she said. Finally, a decision will need to be made on who will install the plaque, she said.

“What’s been wonderful has been the community outpouring,” Hayden said. “Also, the Community Foundation is interested in the future in working with the Friends of Woodlawn to investigate the possibility of installing a security device to see that this doesn’t happen again.”

The cemetery hasn’t given up on getting the original plaque back. They’re asking for anyone who might have information on the theft to contact the Elmira Police Department at (607) 271-HALT or (607) 737-5626.

While we’re on the subject of Mark Twain-related monuments, I have to recommend the outstanding Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, where Mark, Olivia and their children lived from 1874 until money troubles forced them to move to Europe in 1891. Twain still loved the Gothic Revival masterpiece most of all, even though he never lived there again. It’s gorgeous inside and out.

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6 Comments »

Comment by Jay
2015-01-07 07:33:08

I lived in Elmira for most of the year 2000, and visited Samuel Clemens’ grave a couple of times while I was there. I do hope they find the original plaque.

 
Comment by SourceRunner
2015-01-07 10:07:23

The theft’s a shame. One would have to be a deep fan to want the plaque, but a deep fan wouldn’t want to desecrate a memorial like that… Did Clemens/Twain have a contemporary rival, like Shakespeare did? Could there be some sort of simmering multigenerational resentment that came to a head this holiday? Or perhaps someone thinks that there’s a clue inscription pointing to a secret cache of unpublished works somewhere on the plaque.

More likely that someone was just that selfish and immoral, unfortunately.

Here’s to hoping that the original plaque is found or returned.

 
Comment by Jim
2015-01-07 10:16:52

Seems a little strange given that in http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/33619 Oliver Cromwell’s grave was desecrated and and his burial plate was freely sold on the open market. Just saying….

 
Comment by Mark II
2015-01-07 11:58:44

One fathom down under = 6 ft, i.e. the correct approach might have been to bury the great man TWO fathoms down – Zween, Tween or Twain fathoms.

Hopefully, he gets at least his Mark back.

 
Comment by John Fentner
2015-01-10 00:29:52

The Mark Twain House is in the City of Hartford, not West Hartford. It’s in the Nook Farm area on Farmington Avenue

Comment by livius drusus
2015-01-10 22:55:30

You are correct, sir. I have forgotten the face of my father. I shall fix it posthaste. :thanks:

 
 
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