During our stay at the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, we noticed a statue of Mark Twain sitting on a bench outside of restaurant near some shops. I pondered what Mark Twain had to do with Lake Tahoe, while using Linda’s new iPad mini to document her and her mother sitting next to Twain. An e-mail to her sister, with the photo, confirmed that during Twain’s days in Carson City and Virginia City, Nevada, he had traveled up to Lake Tahoe, as a destination in it’s self (mostly with speculation on a fortune from a timber claim), or passed it on the way to Sacramento and San Francisco.
I filed this information as we went about our strolls in the area. When we took our paddle boat ride on the Tahoe Queen, I checked out the gift shop. Among the sun glasses, T-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, and Tahoe themed puzzles, were several picture books about the lake and history. One copy of Fairest Picture, Mark Twain at Lake Tahoe remained on the shelf. This would answer my inquiry. And, it was signed by the author (David C. Antonucci)!
I read a couple of chapters in the evenings and finished the text on the airplane home. The text is illustrate liberally with maps, historic photos from the 1860’s when Twain was in the area, and quotes from letters and newspaper articles, which Twain wrote, as well as excerpts from the two books in which he discussed Lake Tahoe, Roughing It and Innocents Abroad.
I liked Antonucci’s description of how he became a local historian, researcher, then author. While his career is in another field, his interest in history lead him to take a college course in which he wrote a paper about Mark Twain’s Lake Tahoe references in a couple of chapters of Roughing It. His aim was to identify the route that Twain took on his trek. This lead to more research on Twain’s activities and documentation regarding Lake Tahoe.
Unlike the amusing and grand descriptions that Twain uses regarding his travels, very much a 19th century style, Antonucci keeps a factual tone when presenting his case. He is detailed, and appears to have traveled to many of the theorized locations to verify whether Twain’s descriptions hold true.
Furthermore, various speculations about these locations have been asserted since Twains 1861 to 1869 travels. Antonucci assesses each of these, especially the “East Lake” locations, providing evidence that these do not fit as well as the “North Lake” sites. This might seem like a trivial point, until you visit the sites. Furthermore, beyond historical accuracy of such claims, some of the East Lake designations may have a financial gain to protect (i.e. “Twain slept here”).
As to the financial equation, my decision is whether to read the $2 e-reader version of Roughing It that my wife has, or to buy the $27 hardcopy edition of Roughing It and Innocents Abroad for my bookshelf and next trip to Tahoe. I suspect that Twain would encourage that I spend as much money as possible on him… He has some pulp wood to sell.