One of America’s greatest story tellers and humorists came to Plain City Tuesday evening, June 23.
Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) was the guest speaker at the Plain City Historical Society’s annual dinner and meeting held at Der Dutchman. Twain joins other dignitaries such as Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt who have addressed the society in the past.
Twain, portrayed by Stephen Hollen, of Beavercreek, availed himself of dinner, taking time between the main course and dessert to explain to Markie DesJardins the proper way to operate a rather ornate ink pen, which elicited laughter and admiration from those seated nearby.
The business of the evening included the election of new officers. Voted by acclamation were: Karen Vance, president; Rosemary Anderson, vice president; Aggie Hall, secretary; and Annabelle Tuller, treasurer. Officers serve a term of two years.
Outgoing president Rosemary Anderson lauded the society’s achievements in the past year. Among them were the creation of a military section and a “What Is This?” section. The family history, business, and books sections were reorganized.
Programs and projects included: last summer’s “Arts-Polsion,” an October Bean Lunch; and commemoration of the Lincoln Funeral Train which passed through Plain City in 1865. That event on April 29 of this year attracted between 200 and 250 people.
School visits and tours of the Darby Township Cemetery were conducted in May as part of the Plain City Elementary School’s third grade study of local history.
Anderson noted that the society, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, achieved its stated objectives in the past year:
• To discover, collect and preserve materials, structures, and landmarks
• To establish and maintain a museum and historical research library
• To restore, furnish and maintain properties of the society
• To provide public programs of historical significance
• To provide financial support for all programs of the society
In year-end reports, Bob Baldridge, curator, expressed the society’s appreciation for Jonathan Alder High School’s contribution of trophies and photos.
When Twain took center stage, he immediately went into his commentaries on life and hard times with a touch of corn-pone humor.
He did not fail to poke good-natured fun at some of those in attendance including Rev. Alice Phillips, retired school teacher Markie DesJardins, an attorney, a nurse, and this reporter.
When Twain stated that he was born in 1835, he scanned his audience, noting their ages, and exclaimed, “Some of these folks could be exhibits in the society!”
He also pointed out the difference between himself and George Washington: “I can tell a lie.”
His instruction on choosing a ripe watermelon focused on taking a plug out of the center of a watermelon in the hope that it was red and juicy.
“If not put the plug back and go to the next one,” he advised.
Twain recounted his career as a licensed pilot on Mississippi riverboats which paid him the royal sum of $250 per month. He said that he fell in love with the river when his family returned to Hannibal, Missouri in 1857.
After the river, his career took him to newspapers, mining, publishing houses and places like Virginia City, St. Louis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and eventually New York among others.
As he became an international celebrity, Twain would conduct interviews with reporters while lying in bed.
“I did my best thinking and writing in bed,” he said, scoffing at any notion of impropriety.
Twain cast a spell over the society’s audience with tales that initially began with one premise, leap-frogged to another, sidetracked into another dimension, and eventually came back to the original premise which he went on to disprove. All the while riveting the attention of the audience and eliciting bouts of laughter and smiles as he synchronized his movements with a particular tale for emphasis and reflection.
Twain left the audience with some good ol’ corn-pone advice: “Never put off ‘til tomorrow things you can do day after tomorrow, and broken promise is better than no promise at all.”
For information on the Plain City Historical Society, go to www.plaincityhistoricalsociety.org.
Fran Odyniec, former editor of The Madison Press, is a freelance feature writer whose stories periodically appears in The Press. His e-mail address is: Francis1937@live.com.
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