of us know Elmira, NY as the home of Harris Hill, the Soaring
Capital of the world. Others will tell you that Elmira has a
history of catering to prisoners that goes back as far as the
Civil War and that the Elmira area now maintains two modern-day
prisons on its northern and southern extremities. Many will
remember Elmira as having suffered two devastating floods -
one in 1946 and another in 1972 and may erroneously blame the
decline of Elmira's downtown on the latter.
But Elmira's real claim-to-fame when I was a kid
growing up there was its historical connection to Samuel Clemens,
AKA Mark Twain, author of so many entertaining and witty classics
that are part and parcel of American literature. There was nothing
like the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Twain's tales of Huckleberry
Finn to keep a kid interested in books. And Elmirans were proud
of their Mark Twain connection. So proud, in fact, that they
went to great pains to name anything of prominence in the city
after the famous author or a character in one of his books.
And so, at the grand opening on March
23, 1929, the announcement was to be expected: the new hotel
in Elmira would be named after a prominent chapter in the city's
history. The structure would be called The Mark Twain, which,
according to records dating back to the construction of the
hotel, was built by the Lowman Construction Company.
The contractor and developers of
the hotel attended that grand opening with great anticipation.
As they peered up from the street below at the tall building
just completed, they were justifiably proud and positive that
their new 250-room hotel, located just one block north of Elmira's
busy downtown corner of Main and Water Streets, would play an
invigorating role in Elmira's future. Headlines in the Star-Gazette
read "LONG CHERISHED DREAM BECOMES A SOLID REALITY."
Even the stock market crash on Wall Street which followed just
a short 6 months later couldn't keep the Mark Twain from later
fulfilling its destiny.
The corner of Main and Gray Streets was the home to the
world famous Mark Twain Hotel for many years. During my adolescence,
every major high school event, the proms, the banquets, the
formals were held there. And wedding receptions, conventions,
stockholder meetings - even grander and more memorable celebrations,
featuring big band music flooding out of the Ball Room and fancy
dinners that were served in the New Orleans Room, made for many
a lasting and wonderful memory.
Do you remember the rotating ball
in the center of the Ball Room? And those bands playing the
live music that we danced to - Bud McNaught's Big Band, The
Dick Hamlin Orchestra?
Should you be in downtown
Elmira anytime in the near future, be sure to visit the museum
that is located in the old Mark Twain building, which still
stands today, converted some time ago from a hotel to an apartment
complex for Elmira residents.
On display are many of the memorabilia
from the old hotel that I remember from our proms. The mural
of Huckleberry Finn and Jim and the riverboat which was on the
wall outside the Connecticut Yankee Room is still on display
in its original condition. A place setting from the New Orleans
Room is there. And there are postcards and photos for sale in many of
Elmira's antique shops on Maple Avenue and on Pennsylvania Avenue
on the Southside..
Marlene Swimelar Ascherl, SHS Class
of 57, on recent visits to Elmira, took these pictures and brought
back some postcards and pictures of the hotel during its grandeur.
She is the inspiration for this internet site. Marlene, thanks
so much for making these photos and postcards available to us
for this project.
This web page is dedicated to the
wonderful old Mark Twain Hotel, and the memories that still
remain strong today for those of us who were kids in the Forties
and Fifties and through the mid-Sixties. How about you? We'd
like to hear about your own memories of the Mark Twain. Any
interesting stories about what might have happened under that
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