The Adventures of Mark Twain: How He Launched a Literary Career in Hawai‘i

We recount Mark Twain’s adventures in the Islands as a young rascal, 150 years ago, and the impact that Hawai‘i had on the rest of his career.


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Could This be a Photo of Mark Twain in Hawai‘i?

Mark Twain Hawaii

The mustachioed man fourth from the right: A possible Twain?


Photo: Courtesy of Lori Cagwin, descendant of jessie cagwin phelps, 1870 


It’s long been believed that no photos exist of Mark Twain’s visit to Hawai‘i, but this image, found in a photo album owned by the Cagwin family of California, may depict just that.


Dorothy King De Mare, a family friend of the Cagwins, presents several arguments for its authenticity:


First, a handwritten note in the album beside the photo reads, “Mark Twain and Party/Hawaiian Islands.”


Secondly, many of the other photos in the album were taken by the Sutterley brothers, James Kemble and Clement, who were friends of both Mark Twain and the Cagwins. In the 1870s, Jessie Mae Cagwin ran a drugstore in Ukiah, Calif., next door to the Sutterley’s gallery, and it’s thought that the photo album was given as a gift when Jessie Mae married Fred Phelps.


And lastly, the print itself appears to date to the year Twain was in the Islands.


Not everyone is convinced, however. Bishop Museum historian DeSoto Brown hasn’t seen the full photo album but, based on several other photos he has seen from the album, featuring definitively non-Hawaiian cottages, questions whether the photo was taken in Hawai‘i at all.


If we assume that the photos all go together and were taken at the same time and place, Brown says, “Based on the photo of the houses, these are not photographs taken in Hawai‘i, and thus the man identified as Twain is not him while he was in Hawai‘i. Men in this time cultivated large batches of facial hair, and just because this guy has a big moustache, as Twain did, doesn’t make him Mark Twain.” —Michael Keany


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Honolulu Magazine September 2018
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