This year marks the centennial of Mark Twain’s death. There’s no better way to celebrate this great man of letters than to visit the West Hartford house he lived in for 17 years. Extend your stay by touring the home of Twain’s neighbor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’’ Downtown, the Wadsworth Atheneum is undergoing renovations until 2013. However, you can still tour the monumental works of Hudson River School painters in three refurbished galleries. You should also take time to view the museum’s exciting new exhibition, “American Moderns on Paper,’’ 100 rarely seen pieces by Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Ellsworth Kelly, and other modern masters. Finish with an Italian meal at Salute, one of the new restaurants near Bushnell Park and you have a perfect day in oft-disrespected Hartford. Who would have thought?
The Marriott Residence Inn
(942 Main St., www.marriott.com
, 860-524-5550) in the heart of downtown is currently offering a Historical Hartford Package that includes two tickets to the Mark Twain House, two tickets to the Harriett Beecher Stowe House, and two tickets to a local comedy club. Prices start at $149 for a double room.
Even if I were zipping through Hartford on my way to New York with no intention whatsoever of stopping at Twain’s House, three blocks away, I would get off Interstate 84 at exit 46 and make a beeline to Mo’s Midtown
(25 Whitney St., 860-236-7741, $2.95-$7.95). The Polish owners are known for their large, fluffy potato latkes and crispy hash browns, but I order their buttermilk pancakes every time. Take a seat at the counter or one of the booths and dive into a short stack of blueberry pancakes. One bite of this heavenly creation, chock-full of wild blueberries, and you’ll be stopping in Hartford more often than you think. In the emerging Trumbull Street neighborhood, not far from the Wadsworth Athenaeum and theater at the Hartford Stage, sits the Italian restaurant Salute
(100 Trumbull St., www.salutect.com
, 860-899-1350, entrees $16-$36). Jimmy Cosgrove, co-owner of the popular spot Hot Tomato’s, struck out on his own eight months ago. Judging from an overflowing Thursday night crowd, everyone in town followed him, including the local politicos who work at the State House up the road. Start with sweet potato ravioli, doused in a creamy sage sauce that you’ll want to soak up with that four-cheese garlic bread. Then try the zesty giobatto, a stew of sausage, veal, chicken, peppers, mushrooms, and fennel, all served over homemade egg fettuccine.
DURING THE DAY
“A full belly is little worth where the mind is starved,’’ said Twain, so let’s start with the main course, shall we? Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Twain would publish his greatest works, including “The Prince and the Pauper’’ (where the above line was found), “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’’ and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’’ while he lived here in a three-story red-brick home
(351 Farmington Ave., www.marktwainhouse.org
, 860-247-0998) from 1874 to 1891. Many scholars believe much of his writing was done in a small cottage in Elmira, N.Y., since his wife, Olivia, hated the smell of his cigars in the house. That didn’t stop Twain from having fun in his Hartford abode. If you watch the Ken Burns documentary on Twain before touring his home, you will learn that he would use the same props on the mantelpiece to tell a different story to his three young daughters every evening. Enter the house with a guide and you see his billiard room on the third floor, where he would entertain guests long after his usual four-course dinner was finished. The interior was designed by none other than Louis Comfort Tiffany and many objects, like Twain’s bedstead from Venice, where carved angels sit atop the headboard, are the writer’s original purchases.
Amazingly, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s more humble abode (77 Forest St., www.HarrietBeecherStowe.org, 860-522-9258) is just a short stroll away, under the tall hemlocks and past the expansive magnolia tree. Stowe moved here in 1873 with her preacher husband long after she had experienced world acclaim for writing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin’’ (1852) as well as the depths of sorrow after her 19-year-old son drowned on the Dartmouth College campus. Walk into the front parlor and peer at the many watercolors around the room and you’ll soon realize that Stowe was also an accomplished artist. Upstairs is a small chair, where the 4-foot-11-inch woman would sit. It was Abraham Lincoln who famously commented on her stature, stating, “So you’re the little lady who started this big war?’’ Also intriguing is a drug box inscribed with her name that includes arsenic, used at the time to lighten a woman’s complexion.
One glance at Georgia O’Keeffe’s ultra sensual “Slightly Open Clam Shell’’ (1926) and you’ll never look at a bucket of steamers the same way again. The pastel is part of 100 works on paper from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art collection on view through Jan. 17. Spanning 50 years, from 1910 to 1960, you’ll find a whole wall devoted to Edward Hopper, an unknown entity when the Wadsworth (600 Main St., www.wadsworthatheneum.org, 860-278-2670) rewarded the artist with his first solo show in 1928. Also in the show are wonderfully whimsical surrealist works by Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dalí. The Wadsworth is best known for its collection of 19th-century masterpieces by Thomas Cole, Frederick Church, and Albert Bierstadt. A sampling of those works can be found in the renovated galleries near the main lobby and should not be missed.
One of the best regional theaters in New England, the Tony-Award winning Hartford Stage (50 Church St., www.hartfordstage.org
, 860-525-5601), is staging Shakespeare’s “Anthony & Cleopatra’’ through Nov. 7. The play stars Kate Mulgrew, whom Trekkies will know as Captain Kathryn Janeway on “Star Trek: Voyager.’’
Steve Jermanok can be reached at www.ActiveTravels.com.
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