Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford closed the elegant first-floor Mahogany Suite in 2005, and it stayed closed for 11 years. In that time, extensive research was done on the suite, house guests who stayed in it and decor trends when Samuel Clemens' family lived there, from 1874 to 1891.
On Sunday, Dec. 4, the Mahogany Suite reopens as part of the tour of the historic home, to show how the Clemens family treated its most honored guests.
One guest, novelist Grace King, stayed in the suite with a bedroom, dressing room and bathroom, with one window facing the conservatory. "I do feel very much like Beauty did when the beast left her alone in the palace," King wrote to her mother in 1887.
Novelist William Dean Howells was a guest, too. "He used to give me a royal chamber on the ground floor," Howells wrote in his book "My Mark Twain."
David Scott Parker, a Southport architect who oversaw the renovation, said his task was made easier by the extensive paper trail left behind by Twain and later researchers.
"Mark Twain was a writer and he was interested in his house. It's not common to see an owner so engaged with the architecture," Parker said, comparing Twain's devotion on his home with Thomas Jefferson's passion for his home, Monticello. "It's amazing in terms of historical house museums how much documentation there is on the house."
The renovation was financed by part of a $2.2 million state bonding grant received by the Twain House in 2014. The Mahogany Suite was reopened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Gov. Dannel Malloy on Nov. 29.
"This was the most important room to Twain. It was the crown jewel," said Cindy Lovell, executive director of the Twain House.
The walls of the Mahogany Suite are made of mahogany, but it is believed the suite got its nickname from a mahogany bedroom set purchased in 1875. Two pieces of that four-piece set, a bed and a mirrored bureau, are in the room. Nobody knows what became of the rocker and the table that were part of the set.
The design of the original wallpaper in the suite is not known. Parker chose bee-and-spiderweb papers for the walls and ceiling that use a design by Candace Wheeler. Wheeler, a friend of Twain, was a business partner of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The wallpaper's frieze, also designed by Wheeler, was used in the White House during the 1881-85 administration of Chester A. Arthur. The White House room in which the frieze was used as a dressing room for Arthur's daughters.
Twain's elegant bed and bureau dominate the bedroom, as does a pink marble mantlepiece. The bedroom also features period-accurate items such as a desk, a chair, an inkwell and a mahogany pedestal holding a small statue of Civil War soldiers by John Rogers of New Canaan. Twelve-foot-tall windows with white lace curtains line one wall of the suite. Over the door is a small print of Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" and over the marble fireplace another, larger print, "Hector Bidding Farewell to Andromache." On the bedside and writing tables sit copies of "The Prince & the Pauper" by Twain as well as volumes by Thackeray, Defoe, Dante and Irving.
Except for a rocking chair also was owned by Twain, the additional pieces were not Clemens family possessions, but were purchased at Brimfield Antiques Show by curator Tracy Brindle and assistant curator Mallory Howard.
In the dressing room, a gas fireplace is decorated with original tiling — aqua on the floor, multicolored on the hearth — and a pressed-tin interior decorated with gryphons and winged sea horses. A green-velvet fainting couch sits nearby, with a lady's fan and gloves on it.
"The Clemens girls used [the dressing room] as a temporary green room when they put on a show of 'The Prince and the Pauper' for the neighborhood in the mid-1880s when they were teenagers," house historian Steve Courtney said. "Twain had a small speaking role." He added that Twain's wife Livy Clemens used that room to assemble gift baskets for the poor.
In the bathroom, a book of 19th-century toilet paper made at Congress Mills in Windsor Locks is perched on the mahogany toilet. On the shelf above the sink, a bottle of "Superior Bouquet Eau du Cologne" by Sykes & Newton of Hartford sits next to clear glass bottles labeled "borine" and "glyco thymoline," a round white box of cherry-flavored toothpaste, a straight razor and bay rum after-shave.
"Indoor plumbing was a pretty new thing at the time. Most people only had an outdoor privy," said Courtney.
The bathroom facilities are not operational. The plumbing was turned off years ago, Courtney said, after a Boy Scout on a tour used the running water to splash his friends.
Lovell said she hopes that in the future the Twain House can mount a restoration of the Carriage House and possibly the second-floor female servants' quarters.
Lovell added that she hopes the restoration of the suite will attract visitors to the house. She cited that October 2016 saw the highest monthly attendance on record, 9,515 people.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is undergoing an interior renovation of its own, scheduled to be done by summer 2017. The author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" lived here from 1873 to 1896, next door to Twain's house. The improvements aren't as glamorous as those for the Mahogany Suite. They involve new climate-control and fire-suppression systems, window replacements, new carpeting and wallpaper and newly installed security cameras and lightning rods. Still, Stowe house representatives said the infrastructure upgrades will make possible new ways to exhibit historical artifacts in the collection.
"It will look different. This isn't a static historical house where you always see the same teacup sitting on the same side table in perpetuity," said Cynthia Cormier, project curator. "We will be able to make the interior more like Harriet's interiors than ever before."
Shannon Burke, director of education, said that like the Twain, the Stowe's redecorations will be backed by a lot of research. "We've learned that the color palettes in the house were way more exciting than how we've been interpreting it," she said.
Burke said the first floor will be used to tell the story of Stowe's formative years, how she was shaped by her upbringing and by her encounter with slavery. The second floor, she said, will be devoted to Stowe's adult career and her thinking patterns. Among the features planned is a "turmoil room," a multimedia space designed to place viewers virtually inside Stowe's head. "There will be a cacophony of words whipping around," Burke said. Cormier said that feature is being created in response to visitor comments. "People felt what was really missing from the tour is a feel of her own words," she said.
Other second-floor rooms will be gallery spaces to exhibit artifacts reflecting the popularity, as a book and stage show, of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The third floor will be used for storage.
The cost of the project is estimated at $3.3 million, $2.5 million of which has been raised already, from grants from public and private institutions.
Visitors to the Stowe Center can request a tour of the house while it is under renovation.
Editor's note: This article has been amended from a previous version to correct the statistic about October visitation.