Mark Twain had already seen much of the world’s great cities at the time he announced his favorite: Hartford, Connecticut.
It was 1868, the year after he’d traveled through Europe and the Middle East on an assignment that would ultimately turn into The Innocents Abroad, so you can’t argue that he was lacking perspective when he had this to say about Hartford: “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see this is the chief.”
He obviously had an eye out for a place to live, because the rest of this quote (much-republished in Hartford) is devoted to describing area real estate. “Each house sits in the midst of about an acre of green grass, or flower beds or ornamental shrubbery, guarded on all sides by the trimmed hedges of arbor-vitae, and by files of huge forest trees that cast a shadow like a thunder-cloud. Some of these stately dwellings are almost buried from sight in parks and forests of these noble trees. Everywhere the eye turns it is blessed with a vision of refreshing green. You do not know what beauty is if you have not been here.”
In 1874, Twain moved his family to Hartford to bask in all the beauty.
Although Twain’s house, pictured above, is certainly fetching, I’m not sure “beauty” is the first word that leaps to mind when visiting modern Hartford.
But I should also confess that the first time I visited the city, I also decided to relocate. I was a senior in high school, and at the last minute decided I simply had to leave New York City to go away to college like a Real American.
University of Hartford sent me an application and so one day, I took Amtrak from Penn Station to Hartford to investigate. I disembarked, and confidently asked at the information desk how one might take a subway or a public bus to get to campus.
I was at first puzzled by the laughter. I was 17, and it had never occurred to me that some version of New York City’s public transit system would not exist in other places that were also called “cities.” I took a very expensive taxi to campus, eventually enrolled and spent my first year of college there.
My dorm backed up against a very pretty stand of trees that were home to a raucous murder of crows. It seemed to me like a forest. I really thought that I was in the country.
Since then, of course, I have seen actual country, and lived in it, and I now know that trees and crows notwithstanding, West Hartford, Connecticut is certainly not rural.
But when I revisited the campus for the first time in a couple of decades last month, and stopped by The Mark Twain House & Museum (a place I never visited when I claimed the 06117 zip code ) I related to the fondness in his description of Hartford.
Even if I cannot, in good conscience, endorse his specific adjectives.