Mark Twain's ghost encounters

To mark the Twain lecture (pun intended) at Samuel Clemens' house this evening by Dustin Pari (aka "The Paranormal Rock Star") and John Zaffis (aka "The Godfather of the Paranormal"), it seemed like a good idea to discuss the author's connection to the paranormal.  Not only is Twain's house in Hartford, CT, is supposedly haunted by his daughter Susie, but maybe Twain himself decided to stick around after his death. 

After all, the great American author was fascinated by ghosts and wrote about them on more than one occasion. For instance, in The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, he even wrote that, "I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that's on its mind and can't make itself understood, and so can't rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving." If that's not the account of an author who knew about ghostly sounds, what is?

So, if you're fortunate enough to attend the lecture tonight - and even if you're not (although tickets are still available) - get into the spirit of the Twain house by reading this March 1866 article from a San Francisco weekly called The Golden Era, where the author relates an encounter with mediums and ghosts:


I shall have this matter of spiritualism "down to a spot," yet, if I do not go crazy in the meantime. I stumbled upon a private fireside seance a night or two ago, where two old gentlemen and a middle-aged gentleman and his wife were communicating (as they firmly believed) with the ghosts of the departed. They have met for this purpose every week for years. They do not "investigate" - they have long since become strong believers, and further investigations are not needed by them. I knew some of these parties well enough to know that whatever deviltry was exhibited would be honest, at least, and that if there were any humbugging done they themselves would be as badly humbugged as any spectator. We kept the investigations going for three hours, and it was rare fun.

They set a little table, in the middle of the floor, and set up a dial on it which bore the letters of the alphabet instead of the figures of a clock-face. An index like the minute hand of a clock was so arranged that the tipping of the table would cause it to move around the dial and point to any desired letter, and thus spell words. The lady and two gentlemen sat at the table and rested their hands gently upon it, no other portion of their persons touching it. And the spirits, and some other mysterious agency, came and tilted the table back and forth, sometimes lifting two of its legs three or four inches from the floor and causing the minutehand to travel entirely around the dial. These persons did not move the table themselves; because when no one's hands rested upon it but the lady's it tilted just the same, and although she could have borne down her side of the table, by an effort, it was impossible for her to lift up her side with her hands simply resting top of it. And then the hands of these persons lay perfectly impassable - not rose or fell, and not a tendon grew tense or relaxed as the table tilted - whereas, when they removed their hands and I tilted the table with mine, it required such exertion that muscles and tendons rose and fell and stretched and relaxed with every movement. I do not know who tilted that table, but it was not the medium at any rate. It tired my arms to death merely to spell out four long words on the dial, but the lady and the ghosts spelled out long conversations without the least fatigue.

The first ghost that announced his presence spelled this on the dial: "My name is Thomas Tilson; I was a preacher. I have been dead many years. I know this man Mark Twain well!"

I involuntarily exclaimed: "The very devil you do?" That old dead parson took me by surprise when he spelled my name, and I felt the cold chills creep over me. Then the ghost and I continued the conversation:

"Did you know me on earth?"

"No. But I read what you write, every day, almost. I like your writings.

"Thank you. But how do you read it? - do they take the Territorial Enterprise in h___ or rather, in heaven, I beg your pardon?"

"No. I read it through my affinity."

"Who is your affinity?"

"Mac Crellish of the Alta!"

This excited some laughter, of course - and I will remark here that both ghosts and rnediums indulge in jokes, conundrums, doggerel rhymes, and laughter - when the ghost says a good thing he wags the minute hand gaily to and fro to signify laughter.

"Did Mac Crellish ever know you?"

"No. He didn't know me, and doesn't suspect that he is my affinity - but he is, nevertheless. I impress him and influence him every day. If he starts to do what I think he ought not to do, I change his mind."

This ghost then proceeded to go into certain revelations in connection which need not be printed.