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November 29, 2007 | 5 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
Kinky Friedman, the once gubernatorial candidate of Texas and All-American Humorist, tells a story that he visited the home of Mark Twain and went into the billiard room and asked if he could shoot a few and was told that he couldn't because Garrison Keillor once broke so hard that a few of the balls exploded. Any truth to this story?

Bill H. Aurora, CO

I'm afraid it's true. We did a live broadcast from Mark Twain's fabulous house in West Hartford and as part of the show, Roy Blount and I went up to the third floor to shoot pool, the first actual game of pool on live radio, to the best of my knowledge, and I broke and the cue ball shattered. It just simply disintegrated. I doubt that it was Mr. Twain's cue ball, but I don't know. It was old, that's for sure. Of course, I apologized up one side and down the other, and the curator said, "Oh, pshaw," or words to that effect, and now I see I have become part of the legacy of the home, as a vandal and despoiler. Oh well. It's a great old house and if you're up that way, you should go see it. It's worth an hour or two. What I take away from it is the bleak tragedy of his later years, starting with his stubborn faith in the Paige typesetting machine, which led to his bankruptcy, which led to the family's decamping for Europe, and then the wretched death of his beloved daughter Susie of meningitis there in the house. The young woman was alone, as I understand it, hallucinating, wandering through empty rooms, and died in her parents' bed where she had played as a child. It's hard to forget that, once you've been in the house and heard the story.


Perhaps the ball was made of celluloid, a substance used in the past but abandoned since it was volatile, highly flammable and sometimes exploded.

The Mark Twain house is actually in Hartford. West Hartford does have the Noah Webster house, however.

Jim Liddle
West Hartford

Speaking of that broadcast, that show is the reason I am a fan of PHC today. Is there any way for me to get a recording of that show? I absolutely love the reading of the king and the duke scene from Huck Finn. And the music box that wouldn't quit!


Having been born in Sam Clemens' hometown of Hannibal, MO I of course perked up on mention of his pen name, and I'm wondering if you've ever considered bringing PHC to Missouri? Others connected to NPR have appeared at MU in Columbia, etc., and I'd definitely like to see PHC appear somewhere in the 'Show-Me' state.

I'm concerned that Garrison's history of Mark Twain, and particuarly Susy Clemens, are inncorrect.

Susie wasn't alone when she died. Family friends Katy Leary, Susan Crane and Twichells came to the house when they knew about Susy's illness. Susy's hallucinations were caused by meningitis. Unfortunately, antibiotics weren't invented until at least 30 years later.

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