Back to the hotel & jumped into evening dress & a fresh white shirt, & was at Mrs. Garth’s before 6. 30, in time to dine. Laura Hawkins present (school mate 62 years ago.) Smoked & talked, & was ready at 8 to go to the Opera House & deliver diplomas. (It was High-School Commencement.) Entered by the stage door & sat at the base of a great pyramid of girls dressed in white (the audience not visible, the curtain being down.) When it went up, it rose upon a packed house, & there was great enthusiasm. I listened to the essays 3 hours; then spoke 15 minutes; delivered the diplomas, & shook hands with that crowd of girls & other people an hour—then home.
In the afternoon (forgot to mention it,) the church was crowded; I was speaker No. 3, & when I stepped forward the entire house rose; & they applauded so heartily & kept it up so long, & that when they finished I had to stand silent a long minute till I could speak without my voice breaking. At the close I shook hands with everybody [MTP].
Notes: Decoration Day was then observed on May 30; now on last Monday in May as Memorial Day. The Mt. Olivet Cemetery held the graves of Sam’s parents and brother Henry Clemens. Paine gives Laura Hawkins and Helen Kercheval (now Mrs. Frazer and Mrs. Garth) as in attendance at the high school commencement at Park Theatre; and gives Saturday as the day Sam stood in the doorway of his old house. Paine quotes Clemens:
“It seems small to me,” he said, as he looked through the house; “a boy’s home is a big place to him. I suppose if I should come back again ten years from now it would be the size of a bird-house” [MTB 1167-8].
Sam’s notebook: “Present diplomas / High school—8.15 / Supper at 6 with Helen Garth & meet Mrs.
Fraser (Laura Hawkins)” [NB 45 TS 15].
Paine gives the names of some of the boys (now old men) who reunited with Sam: Will Pitts, John Briggs, Buck Brown, John RoBards, Ed Pierce, and Jimmy McDaniels, “whom so long before, sitting on the river-bank and eating gingerbread, he had first told the story of Jim Wolfe and the cats.”
They put him in a carriage, drove him far and wide, and showed the hills and resorts and rendezvous of Tom Sawyer and his marauding band.
He was entertained that evening by the Labinnah Club (whose name was achieved by a backward spelling of Hannibal), where he found most of the survivors of his youth. The news report of that occasion states that he was introduced by Father McLoughlin, and that he “responded in a very humorous and touchingly pathetic way, breaking down in tears at the conclusion. Commenting on his boyhood days and referring to his mother was too much for the great humorist. Before him as he spoke were sitting seven of his boyhood friends” [MTB 1168]. (Editorial emphasis.)
The New York Times, June 1, p.3 gives us more details for May 30 and 31:
MARK TWAIN’S VISIT
The Author Sees His Former Sweetheart in His Old Home in Missouri.
Special to The New York Times.
HANNIBAL, Mo., May 31.—“I’m afraid we’ll have to put a hoop around Mark Twain’s head before he leave Hannibal,” said Mrs. Laura Fraser, the author’s reported first sweetheart, now matron of the Home for the Friendless at Hannibal.
“I’m afraid he’ll be spoiled,” she continued; “but I suppose if there was any danger of that it would have happened long ago.”
Mrs. Fraser, who is believed to be the original of Becky Thatcher in “Tom Sawyer,” is now a matronly lady, whose memory is still clear concerning those early times. Last night [May 30] Samuel L. Clemens met Mrs. Fraser at dinner at the home of Mrs. John H. Garth and the talk reverted to the incidents and the friends of their youth. This afternoon Mr. Clemens visited Mrs. Fraser at the Home for the Friendless.
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.