Samuel Clemens lived a life so full that it encompassed two names. He was a riverboat pilot, a silver prospector, and a newspaperman?and it was in this last trade that he first used the name under which he would author some of America's greatest fiction: Mark Twain. In works such as Adventures of Tom Sawyer and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court? Twain cast a wry spotlight on the political and industrial changes of the 19th century, from westward expansion to the end of slavery to the birth of ground-breaking technology such as the mustache comb. In much the same way, the very space where Twain wrote?the Hartford home where his family lived from 1874 to 1891?illuminates the times as well as the personal life of the man behind the letters.
These days, that home is a National Historic Landmark that serves as half of The Mark Twain House and Museum. Comprised of 25 rooms, including a glass conservatory and grand library, it has been open to the public since its 100th anniversary in 1974. Inside, visitors explore not only the billiard room where Twain penned novels such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but also nearly 16,000 Twain-related artifacts, such as his last pair of spectacles and photos of his daughters putting on plays. Even more objects and information fill the nearby LEED-certified museum, where rotating exhibits focus on subjects such as the Twain family's servants.
"Her words changed the world," reads the website for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. "What will you do?" As the author of the 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe's moving prose helped expose the brutal reality of slavery in the United States. Today, her family home still stands in honor of her memory, welcoming guests as a museum and historic site.
Visitors step into the past via the front door, stopping by the front parlor to see where the Stowes gathered to take tea, play games, and debate the pressing issues of the day. The ground floor also houses some of the Stowes' original furnishings, including a dining room table and Harriet's own oil and watercolor paintings. The second floor offers a more personal look at the author's day-to-day life through touches such as her hand-painted furniture, as well as a terrarium that reflected her love of nature. Guided tours can provide further insight into the life of a woman who, in a time period marked by prejudice and turmoil, nevertheless spoke in favor of equality and change.
Founded in 1975, Real Art Ways is one of the United States' leading innovative contemporary-arts organizations. The cinema at Real Art Ways screens first-run and classic independent films seven nights a week for the viewing pleasure of card-carrying art haus-ers and visually starved celluloid fanatics alike ($9 for non-members, $5 for members). Leave the distracting 4G smart-toaster at home to put all the focus on Life 2.0, a thought-provoking film about human interaction in the digital age. Vintage hits like the horrifying Japanese 1977 flick House and the slightly less-horrifying 1955 Guys and Dolls share silver-screen space with surprising ease. Visit the calendar for a full list of show times.
Once, antique wooden carousels dominated parks around the country, delighting kids and adults with jaunty music and exquisite craftsmanship. Today, the experts at the New England Carousel Museum preserve those bygone playtimes for future generations, acquiring and restoring old-fashioned carousels and carousel memorabilia to educate the public on these vintage treasures. In addition to its restoration and exhibition work, the museum also houses an art gallery hosts educational programs for families that can include visits from collectors of other pieces of Americana such as quilts and dolls.
As a pioneer of public museums in the United States, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art remains a flagship institution, as evinced by its “Best Museum” win in the Hartford Advocate 's 2010 "Best of Hartford" Reader's Poll. Use your free admission to check out current exhibitions like American Moderns and MATRIX, or survey the Hudson River School paintings, the museum’s most celebrated collection, which captures the untouched beauty of America’s nineteenth century wilds while avoiding the herds of feral Victorians that depleted the Great Plains with their ceaseless grass chewing. A pioneer of avant-garde exhibition, the Wadsworth Museum also boasts some of the first Renaissance works acquired in the United States by Caravaggio, as well as one of the first Surrealist masterpieces by Dalí. The illustrious Spaniard’s “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach” is a wonderful example of the early 20th century discovery that brains are the same thing as pears.
Each of the five participating Connecticut Landmarks offers a glimpse inside the domestic lifestyles of the state's early settlers, patriots, and prominent citizens. Grab a three-cornered hat and a nerf musket before storming the grounds of any one of the landmarks with a compatriot, or choose the individual membership for admittance to each house as many times as desired throughout the year. Members also receive a free subscription to the Landmark News newsletter, invitations to special events, a 10% discount on all museum shops, and a discount subscription to Connecticut Explored, a magazine that chronicles Connecticut's history.