1.06.2011

Mark Twain & my great grandfather Maurice Weidenthal

With all of the hullaballoo this week over the publishing of a “sanitized’ version of the Mark Twain classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, (in which the offensive “N” word has been replaced by the word “slave” throughout the text….) it brought to mind a rather exciting photograph and letter I came across in a box full of papers a few years back. 
Maurice Weidenthal was born in Hungary in 1856, and came to America in 1870. He held various newspaper jobs in Cleveland, including that of reporter for the Herald (which became the News), drama critic and editorial writer for the Cleveland Press, (for whom my father, also named Maurice worked for more than 30 years) and city editor for the Plain Dealer and for the Cleveland Recorder. In 1906 he became the editor of the Jewish Independent, a position he held until his death on July 21, 1917. 
Among the many things my great grandfather accomplished, he appears to have been the secretary for a dramatic organization called The Davenport Club. One day while sorting through old stuff over at my dad's house, I found a cardboard box at the bottom of a closet filled with his grandfather's memorabilia. Two items that caught my eye were a letter and photograph which appeared to be from the esteemed Mark Twain. (Or should I say, Samuel Clemens) Yeah, I know. Mind blowing.
Hartford March 24
Dear Sir:
I desire to express to you my thanks for the compliment you pay me in proposing to make me a member of the Davenport Club of Cleveland. With my best wishes for the long life & prosperity of the Club, I am
Very Truly Yours,
Samuel L. Clemens
Mr M Weidenthal
•••
Seriously??! Holy smokes!!
After coming across this lovely letter and cabinet card with a photo of a gentlemen who looked so very familiar, I wrote a note to the “Mark Twain Project” at The University of California, where they have an enormous library of the author’s papers. They were happy to learn of my discovery, asked for copies, and responded by sending me a scan of a letter which my great grandfather had sent to Samuel L. Clemens on May 8, 1876:
Davenport Club, City 
Cleveland, O., May 8th 1876 
Sam’l L. Clemens Esq.
Dear Sir 
It gives me great pleasure to notify you, that at a meeting held by the Davenport Club you was unanimously elected honorary member. Hoping that we will prove ourselves worthy of the great honor bestowed upon us by your acceptance of the membership I remain your obdt servant
M. Weidenthal Sec.
P.S. Not wishing to insinuate anything, I would like to tell you that just as a matter of information of course, that the walls of our club room contain such photographs as those of E. L. Davenport, Lawrence Barrett, Charles Sumner[,] Edwin Booth &c.
I think a picture of Mark Twain would be a splendid ornament to our room
Yours &c
M. W.
 •••
The Mark Twain Project Assoc. Editor wrote to me:
Dear Mrs. Saltzman:
We have now had a chance to examine Mark Twain's letter of 24 March 1876 to your great grandfather, Maurice Weidenthal. The following sequence of events is clear to us: Probably around mid-March 1876 your great grandfather first wrote to Mark Twain, informing him that the Davenport Club proposed to elect him a member and asking his consent. It was that letter, which does not survive, that Mark Twain answered on 24 March. Then on 8 May 1876 your grandfather wrote again, informing Mark Twain of his election and suggesting that his picture would be a welcome addition to the club's photo gallery. Mark Twain answered with a letter of 13 May, enclosing two photos, one of which presumably was put on display in the club while the other, a print of a photo taken in 1869, was retained by your great grandfather (the one you now have with Mark Twain's 24 March letter).

Unfortunately we do not have Mark Twain's 13 May 1876 letter to your great grandfather. Perhaps you will yet find it in one of your boxes of memorabilia. We only know that it was sent because we have the Davenport Club's 13 June 1876 reply to it, written by Ira C. Cartwright, your great grandfather's successor as secretary of the club. We can send you a copy of Cartwright's letter if you would like to have it.

We would be happy to have any information you could share with us about your great grandfather. Was he the journalist Maurice Weidenthal (died 1917) who was associated with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and in 1906 became editor of the Jewish Independent? Also, do your family records include any information about the Davenport Club? If a club archive has been preserved somewhere, Mark Twain's 13 May 1876 letter to your great grandfather might be in it, along with the photograph that the club apparently displayed.

As it happens, we are now editing Mark Twain's l876 letters for inclusion in the online edition of his letters that we hope to begin posting in the not to distant future. So the 24 March letter to your great grandfather surfaced at a very opportune moment. Of course, we will credit you as the owner of the original document.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Frank
Associate Editor
Mark Twain Project
•••
You can see the items online in the MTP archives by clicking here and here.
Needless to say, these items no longer reside in a musty cardboard box in my dad’s hall closet. 
Next week maybe I’ll tell you about how we came to have Albert Einstein’s and William Jennings Bryan's signatures.
Thanks for dropping by.
-Susan
Maurice Weidenthal 1853-1917

7 comments:

LazyTcrochet said...

That is so very interesting! It's fantastic that you have all of this. Thanks for sharing!

Gaynor Mann said...

This is so incredibly cool! Thank you for sharing it with us!

jewelstreet said...

Susan, that is so crazy cool! How remarkable! Know what I have from my family, nothing. lol. You are so lucky to have such history.

2 trick pony said...

see...hoarding has its upside. that is so neato. what a groovy mustache.
definitely gonna check back in for the next installment:)

Simple Elements Design said...

That is really neat.

betsy bensen said...

wow, I love that!

Karen S said...

What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!

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