The Truth About Mark Twain And Hawaii

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The novelist, journalist and lecturer Mark Twain spent many years in the western part of America. He worked as a reporter for newspapers in Nevada (Territorial Enterprise) and California (San Francisco's Call, Alta California and the Sacramento Union), and one of his books, Roughing It, was based on his experiences in the area. But the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn also spent time in the Hawaiian Islands, visiting the tropical paradise in 1866 for the first time and falling in love with the area, according to Honolulu Magazine

Twain, who traveled extensively in his 74-year life, spent time in 35 countries, and came to the Sandwich Islands — now known as the State of Hawaii — a few months after he published his first important story under his now well-known pen name. The piece, "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog," appeared in the Nov. 18, 1865 issue of New York Saturday Press, and was based on a tale he heard when he prospected for gold. "Twain fled San Francisco as a 30-year-old bachelor, drinking and cavorting, barely keeping his head above financial disaster," said the publication.

The past few years had been full of upheaval as Twain spent time at several newspapers, enlisted in the Civil War before deserting, and tried a few other careers ,including piloting a steamboat, printing, and prospecting. He continued his reporting in Hawaii, freelancing for the Sacramento Union, which published 25 of his pieces on topics such as whaling, sugar, religion and humor. 

Mark Twain and his love for Hawaii

Twain received $20 for every article he submitted to the newspaper, and readers clamored for his exotic reports. "Twain's Hawaii teemed with ship captains, whalers, missionaries, mosquitoes, fragrant thickets of flowers and thousands of cats," said The New York Times. "...Hawaii was still in its sovereign glory, with an elected legislature and a 35-year-old king: stately, plump Kamehameha V, the last of his family dynasty. It was a land of royal pageantry, tropical splendor and a fair amount of squalor." 

The place contained wonderful, colorful stories that Twain gathered and wrote about for his articles. While in Hawaii, Twain also acted as a tourist and hit three islands, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii. He visited Diamond Head, attempted surfing, attended a hula show and spent hours viewing the land by mule and horseback. The author adored the destination and called it "the loveliest stream of islands that lies anchored in any ocean," according to the Huffington Post

Luckily for Twain, he also came with introductory letters that allowed him to meet and stay with big-name families on the Island. He enjoyed himself so much, Twain stayed four months rather than the one he intended.

When he came back to California, Twain began his career as a lecturer, giving talks about his Hawaiian experiences, according to the Mark Twain Museum. Two books about his experience would later be published: Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii and Mark Twain in Hawaii: Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands