April 22nd, 2016
by Brian Walker, Greg Walker and Chance Browne
Between 1874 and 1891, Mark Twain lived in a unique home in Hartford, Connecticut, designed in the American High Gothic style (shown above). Twain sold the house in 1903 and the Mark Twain Memorial, a non-profit group, rescued it from possible demolition in 1929. The building was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1962 and a visitors’ center with a museum was added in 2003.
Jerry Dumas, who began working as Mort Walker’s assistant in 1956, visited the Mark Twain house approximately five times during the late 1950s and 1960s. After one of these trips, he wrote a gag for Hi and Lois in which the Flagston family visited the house.
During his visit, Jerry purchased some post cards and brochures in the gift shop and provided this visual material to Dik Browne for reference when he drew the exterior of the building and the interior rooms of the historic home. Dik obviously put a lot of extra work into the final page.
After the episode ran in the Hartford Courant, a staff member at the Mark Twain House got in touch with King Features Syndicate and requested the original artwork, which was sent as a gift.
When Jerry Dumas visited with his family in the mid-1960s, he was surprised to see the Hi and Lois artwork framed on the wall. It was displayed in the lower floor exhibit area next to The Paige Compositor, a typesetting machine that was invented by James W. Paige. Twain invested $300,000 (over $5 million in today’s dollars) in this project, which never worked properly and lost out in the typesetting competition to the linotype machine. This and other bad investments, forced Twain to move his family to Europe, go on a lecture tour to recoup his losses, and eventually sell his house in Hartford.
– Brian Walker
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