Mark Twain came in with Halley’s Comet. Born on November 30, 1835, the same day as the Comet’s passing, he had a special relationship to New York City. When Twain first arrived in Manhattan in 1853 at the age of 17, he was still Samuel Clemens. Having left his typesetter’s job in Hannibal, Missouri, he settled in New York for a time working as a printer for Gray and Green on Cliff Street and lived in a boarding house on Duane Street.
During this time, he spent evenings at the printers library on Chambers Street, attended the World’s Fair at the Crystal Palace and took walks up to the Croton Aqueduct just to admire it. He admitted “I have taken a liking to this abominable city and every time I get ready to leave I put it off a day”.
But leave he did, working at various jobs all over the United States. When he returned to New York in 1867 it was as Mark Twain, roving correspondent for a San Francisco newspaper. The place had changed in fourteen years. The high prices appalled him, the noise and bustle put him off and he would run with a “sporting crowd” that would land him in jail occasionally.
Still, there were a couple of watershed events in New York that would transform this frontier nomad into an eastern literary celebrity. On May 6 of that year he delivered a humorous travelogue on the Hawaiian Islands at Copper Union and the New York papers turned him into an overnight star.
In July he left on a trip of Europe and the Holy Land and filed reports with the New York Herald and when he returned in November his celebrity was through the roof. He married and moved to Hartford, Connecticut where he spent his most productive years as an author. But he was still tethered to New York as a senior partner at the publishing house of Charles L. Webster on Union Square.
The publishing company flourished for a time, but eventually went bankrupt. Twain’s poor business acumen never served him well and he poured money into a typesetting machine that failed. By 1894, Mark Twain too was bankrupt.
A worldwide lecture tour got him back on his feet and he returned to New York in 1900 living at 14 West 10th Street. He was in constant demand as a speaker at Delmonico’s, Carnegie Hall and Columbia University. He also acted as a toastmaster at the city’s more elite gentlemen’s clubs. In 1904 he moved to a house designed by James Renwick at 21 Fifth Avenue, but left the city for good in 1908 to live in Connecticut.
Here he passed away on April 21, 1910, the day after the first sighting of Halley’s Comet in 75 years.