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Mark Twain's Home May Close

GUY RAZ, host:

Mark Twain's 19-room Victorian mansion in Hartford, Connecticut may be the birthplace of the modern literary voice. There he spent 17 of his happiest, most productive years.

Catie Talarski from member station WNPR reports that the house, now a museum, is running out of money and soon may have to shut its doors.

CATIE TALARSKI: The name Mark Twain brings back memories of white washed fences and boat trips down the Mississippi. But what do people really know about Samuel Clemens?

Unidentified Man: "Huck Finn," "Tom Sawyer," I mean, pretty much me and everybody else, the books, everybody read them when they were a kid. I know that he was, you know, a good writer and a character, and a pretty interesting person.

TALARSKI: And if you live in Connecticut, you've most likely been to the Twain house on a third grade field trip and you've never been back. Nowadays, people picture Mark Twain as he was portrayed by actor Hal Holbrook pacing with his white suit, puffing on a cigar.

(Soundbite of TV show "Mark Twain Tonight!")

Mr. HAL HOLBROOK (Actor): (As Mark Twain) Ladies and gentlemen, how solemn and beautiful is the thought that the earliest pioneer of civilization is never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the missionary, but whiskey.

TALARSKI: If Clemens were alive today, he would need a stiff drink unless the non-profit that runs his house and museum can raise some money fast. It could be forced to close down within a month.

Twain House tour guide Rebecca Floyd(ph) said it's due to financial mismanagement. In 2003, the Twain House operators spent $19 million on a new museum and visitor center, almost double what they could afford. It's a lot like how Twain handled his own investments.

Ms. REBECCA FLOYD (Tour Guide, The Mark Twain House): Always thinking that everything's going to work out. Keep pouring more money into it and eventually it'll be a huge success.

TALARSKI: Like how he sunk his fortune into the page compositor; an automatic type-setting machine with 18,000 parts. He thought this was the next great invention of his time. It wasn't and Twain almost went bankrupt because of it.

Ms. FLOYD: Hopefully our museum (inaudible) turn out better than that.

Mr. JEFFERY NICHOLS (Executive Director, The Mark Twain House): One of, you know, Mark Twain's maxims, one of his sayings is a lack of money is the root of all evil. And so we're trying to raise more money and avoid what will be really a terrible thing if the Mark Twain House closed.

TALARSKI: Executive director Jeffrey Nichols should heed another maxim as well. To succeed in business, Twain said one must avoid my example.

For NPR News, I'm Catie Talarski in Hartford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Catie Talarski