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George J. Adams, member of the Latter Day Saint movement's Council of Fifty and founder of the Church of the Messiah. c. 1841. Library of Congress.
November 12, 2019

Mark Twain and the Adams Colony

American colonists followed preacher George J. Adams from New England to Ottoman-ruled Palestine on a messianic mission to prepare the Holy Land for the return of the Jews. “We are going to become practical benefactors of the land and the people,” Adams stated, “to take the lead in developing its great resources.” A year after arriving, some of these impoverished colonists wanted a ticket home. It was at that moment that author Mark Twain came to town while on a five-month pleasure trip through Europe and the Middle East. Read more

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Mark Twain, circa 1872, from American Portraits. Wikimedia Commons.
September 29, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Days 13,14,15; September 29th-October 1

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Mark Twain’s travel journal entries for his last few days in the Holy Land are rather brief, and so we’ve transcribed the full text below.  The time was spent in Jerusalem, Ramle, and Jaffa. It’s two days before he departs that he notices a discrepancy in his dating of the entries. From the Holy Land, Twain would continue onto Egypt, and ultimately return to New York by way of Bermuda.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey with us through Twain’s travel notes. Check back soon, as we’ll be sharing more great Twain articles in anticipation of the opening of the exhibition, Mark Twain and the Holy Land, at the end of October.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept 28 – Went all through the Holy Sepulchre again.

Saw the rock faces in a wall on Via Dolorosa that cried Hosanna! when Jesus passed.

Visited the Fountain of Hezekiah, where David saw the mother of Solomon bathing.

Went to the Pool of Bethesda again for water.

Got a branch from the Cedar of Lebanon planted by Godfrey de Bouillon, first King of Jerusalem about 1085 to 1099.

28 or 29

Went out by the Damascus Gate 3 PM & left for Ramleh – reached there at 8 PM. or 9. Tall, handsome Crusader’s tower. This is the valley of Ajalon, where the moon stood still.

Next morning – Sep. 30 – rode 3 hours in a gallop to Joppa – where timber for Solomon’s temple was landed

Jonah sailed from here on his mission.

Visited house of Simon the Tanner where Peter had the vision of unclean beasts.

Napoleon took this place once.

Oct. 1. – Sailed for Egypt.

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Aerial photograph of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Andrew Shiva, Wikimedia Commons.
September 28, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 12, September 28th

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Mark Twain and his Quaker City companions spent another full day touring Jerusalem, recalling many biblical events and stories from the old and new testaments, and from Muslim tradition as well. There is also mention in his journal of the crusades, in referring to Godfrey of Bouillon. The group enjoyed vast views across the land when they reached the top of the Mount of Olives and were able to take in the Jordan valley, the Dead Sea, the Mountains of Moab, and many more landmarks. Read excerpts below.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Jerusalem.

Sept. 27 – …passed Jaffa gate… crossed Hinnom Valley…. climbed the Hill of Evil Council.

….Saw where the altar of Moloch stood…. drank at Job’s well (near Sultana’s).

….The King’s Gardens all along – & the King’s well. Passed by he curious old Village of Siloam….

Virgin Mary’s Fountain.

Proceeded to the Garden of Gethsemane….

Turned up to left, past St Agnes & Virgin Mary’s Tombs & ascended to top of Mount of Olives

….saw plainly the Jordan, its valley, the Dead Sea & the Mountains of Moab.

….abreast of the Damascus gate (north), came to the noblest stateliest tree in Palestine – Godfrey de Bulloigne’s tree where he camped….

Went through the Via Dolorosa.

This video shows aerial views from the Old City of Jerusalem. Check out youtube for some great 4K and drone videos across the city and the country:

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Church of Nativity, Bethlehem. Mohammada Atta, Wikimedia Commons.
September 27, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 11, September 27th

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On this day, the Quaker City group returned to Jerusalem, via Bethlehem, stopping at the Milk Grotto, Convent of the Nativity, and Rachel’s Tomb. The rest of the day was spent back in Jerusalem, a two hour journey north from Bethlehem. Once there, Twain stopped in at the Mediterranean Hotel and then visited the Western Wall. A day filled with major historic and biblical sites.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Bethlehem.

Sept. 26 – Got up at 3 AM & traveled 2 1/2 hours… got to the enclosure of olive trees where the angels announced the birth of the Saviour to the Shepherds…..

Milk Grotto.

Then to the convent of the Nativity…. Lunched there & left. – 2 hours to Jerusalem. On the way, visited Rachel’s Tomb (authentic.)

In Jerusalem breakfasted at noon at the Mediterranean Hotel…

….Went to the Jew’s wailing place alongside the old wall of Solomon’s Temple… Many Pharisees, with a curl forward of ear.

Another part of the Temple wall, where Dr. Robinson discovered the spring of the arch which Solomon built to connect Zion Hill with the Temple…. stones are 20 feet long & 5 or 6 thick. How did they haul them with camels & jacks.

Retired to our tents outside the Damascus Gate.

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Dead Sea, Israel, 2017. Ido Avramasko, Wikimedia Commons.
September 26, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 10, September 26th

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Twain’s Quaker City group traveled south along the Jordan River, arriving at the Dead Sea. His horse apparently knew better than him; Twain upset the animal when he tried to bring it into the Dead Sea water, while he himself ended up with a blistered face and salt covered hair.

The water of the Dead Sea is not drinkable, being more than 9 times as salty as the ocean. With a high mineral content, the water can be beneficial for the skin, and the sea has been the site of health resorts reaching as far back as the time of Herod the Great. The area is also sunny year round with dry air. Having formed as part of a rift, the surface of the sea and its shores are over 1,400ft below sea level, the lowest land elevation on Earth. It’s a must-see natural wonder if you’re ever in the area.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Dead Sea.

Sept. 25 – Visited ancient Jericho & the Foundation of Elisha.

…. As usual, got up 2 hours too soon (at 2 AM) & at 4 had traversed the plain of Jericho & arrived at the

River Jordan,

….Then rode 2 hours to the Dead Sea, & took a long bath. Face blistered and hair filled with crystalized salt. – Took a horse in & he upset.

….Rode 5 1/2 hours through frightful heat, over the roughest mountain scenery, and arrived at last, brimming with gratitude, at the prodigious Covenant of Mar Saber.

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Quarantal Monastery of Jericho, 2012. Tamar Hayardeni, Wikimedia Commons.
September 25, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 9, September 25th

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Leaving Jerusalem and heading toward the Jordan Valley, the landscape became more bleak and the temperature rose. From his journal, it seems Twain was continuing to become more disenchanted with the region as he wrote, “No Second Advent – Christ been here once – will never come again… I have only one pleasant reminiscence of the Palestine excursion -time I had the cholera in Damascus.”

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 24 – Left Jerusalem at 8 AM….

Village of Bethany.

….Over mountain saw Jordan Valley, Mountains of Moab & Dead Sea

Modern 2d Jericho.

8 Arched aqueduct…

Ancient Jericho.

Many ruins still there (arches, of course), & mosaics in the brook.

….Priest only entered Holy of Holies once a year & then sent a scape goat through Golden Gate to wilderness…

….God protect the relics of Jerusalem when our tribe get there.

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Via Dolorosa, American Colony Jerusalem, 1919. Hand-colored photographs were created by the photographers of the American Colony Photo Department, located in Jerusalem. Founded in the late 1890s by Elijah Meyers, the photo agency was headed during its heyday (ca. 1903-1933) by Lewis Larsson, whose staff photographers included Erik Lind, Lars Lind, Furman Baldwin, and G. Eric Matson.
Taken from the American Colony Jerusalem Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.
September 24, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 8, September 24th

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A day full of visiting the most enviable and coveted sites to see in Jerusalem. The list of the places Mark Twain and the Quaker City travelers encountered surely speaks for itself.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 23. – Visited the Mosque of Omar….

Great Rock of Abraham’s Sacrifice (authentic) Cords of pillars & sculptures from Solomon’s Temple (authentic)….

Got some pieces of the old Temple.

….Place where they tie rags to let Mahomet know they have been there.

Mosque El Aksa.

….Walls full of relics of Solomon’s Temple plastered in for preservation – Christians would steal & take home. Thank the Mohammedans.

Beautiful old inverted pillars.

Underneath are the old monstrous arched pillars & foundations of Solomon’s Temple, preserved excellently by the ruins that lay upon them so long…. and the subterranean way of the Pool of Siloam discovered by Dr. Robinson.

Palace of Caiaphas

Pool of Bethesda.

The Gate Beautiful

and

Seat of Judgement

…. Doorway to Pilate’s House.

Place where Christ sat when people said His blood be upon us & upon our children….

Via Dolorosa….

Dives House

Lazarus House

House of Dog Moreover

Tombs of the Kings

Quarries under the City.

CALVARY.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

…. Place where Helena found the Cross

….Navel of the world in the Greek Chapel, where Adam’s dust came from.

….Crown of thorns.

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Jerusalem Old City Walls. Eitain Ferman, Wikimedia Commons.
September 23, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 7, September 23th

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Having woken the previous day at 1:00am to spend it traveling across northern Samaria, and only reaching camp at 7:00pm, it’s understandable that there is some confusion of dates, per what Twain has recorded, in his travel journal. It appears, that waking at 2:30am, Twain mistakenly recorded the day again as “Sept 22.” Toward the end of his stay in the Holy Land, he noticed the discrepancy and adjusted the date accordingly before setting sail to Egypt on October 1st.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 22….

Shiloh,

where the ark of the Covenant rested 300 years…

Beth-el

(House of God) Scene of Jacob’s Ladder Dream – nothing left now but a shapeless mass of ruins.

Villages of

Ramah,

Beroth & Mount Nebo-Samuel

where Prophet Samuel is buried….

Fountain of Beirah.

– very ancient….

All the way to Jerusalem, rocks -rocks – rocks. Roads infernal. Thought we never would get there.

Arrived at last…

bits of ruin scattered everywhere, and the ground thick with Mosaics.

Could recognize the Tower of Hippicus

Tower of Antonio

Mosque of Omar

Damascus Gate

Mount Olivet

Valley of Jehoshaphat

Garden of Gethsemane

Mount Moriah

….Loafed all afternoon in the Mediterranean Hotel.

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A view from Wadi Kana, Samaria; Israel National Parks and Nature Reserve. Jamie Levavi, March 2018.
September 22, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 6, September 22th

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From 1:00am to 7:00pm, Twain and his Quaker City companions found themselves traveling through northern Samaria. He notes its distinct terraced hills, which can be traced back to biblical times, and where then farmers and vintners continued to use and maintain these agricultural tracts through the millennia to today.

Like much of the Holy Land, Samaria is home to many notable biblical sites and filled with archaeological treasures. It is not uncommon that when ground is broken, builders come upon ancient olive and wine presses, or the remains of ancient villages and homes. Careful steps are then taken to preserve these discoveries either by the archaeological or nature authorities.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 22 –
Left Genin at 1AM. Some time before daylight, passed near another place where Joseph’s brethren pitted him.

Samaria.

About noon after passing over a succession of mountain tops (saw Mediterranean Sea 40 miles distant) & many Biblical cities (in which the inhabitants looked savage & would have liked to throw stones (women & babies with elaborate coin headdresses,) we came to the singularly terraced hills which shewed that we were out of Galilee & into

Samaria.

Climbed a hill… where the good Samaritan (the only one that ever lived there) dwelt…
….It is rough stone mud hovels & camel dung, as usual.

Tomb of St John
Nabulous.

Or Shechem. Lunched there at 2 P.M.
Ebal on the left (hill of cursing) & Gherison on the right (hill of blessing)…
Ebal is cultivated with grapes – scattering olives on the other- disproves the enthusiasts who say the accursed mountain is barren & the other blooming.

Joseph’s Tomb
and
Jacob’s Well

Both well authenticate…

Camped at 7PM at an Arab Village – Lubia (Libonia of the Bible). Tents behind. Slept on the ground in front of an Arab house.

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Ein Dor. Ein Dor Museum of Archaeology.
September 21, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 5, September 21th

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Today’s entry from Twain might find Star Wars fans momentarily confused and smiling. At 7:30am, the Quaker City group broke camp and “galloped across the Plain of Esdraelon to Endor…. the fierce, ragged, dirty inhabitants swarmed.”

The Plains of Esdraelon are today more commonly called the Jezreel Valley, and the local pronunciation and modern spelling of Endor, is Ein Dor, now a kibbutz. Biblical references to the Jezreel Valley, where Ein Dor is located, include major battle scenes. In Christian eschatology, part of this valley is to be the site of a great end of days battle between good and evil – perhaps another similarity to not be lost on Star Wars fans, as Endor was the location of the great battle between the light and dark sides of the Force.

But returning to Twain’s own epic adventures, he cannot help but repeatedly note how “rusty” and “nasty” the local conditions are throughout his journal. Though familiar through the bible, The Holy Land seemed to appear like another world to Twain, with it’s drastically foreign culture, extreme topography, and unusual customs; including women with tattooed faces, which he also notes more than once in his notes.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 21 – …galloped across the Plain of Esdraelon to Endor

the rustiest of all, almost – a few nasty mud cabins, – many caves & holes in the hill from which the fierce, ragged, dirty inhabitants swarmed. Pop. 250.

The Witch’s Cave

…. Endor is a fit place for a witch…. Next, to Nain… still smaller town…. place shown where corpse was passing through city wall when Chirst resurrected it.

Shunem,… where woman built shanty on wall for Elisha & he raised her dead son.

Next to Ancient Ruined Castle

celebrated in the Crusades… where Napoleon won a splendid victory over the Syrians (Turks).

City of Jezreel,

on the hill, where Ahab King of Judah lived in splendor with his awful heifer Jezebel…

Fountain of Jezreel,

Where Gideon slipped up on the Midianites & Amalekites with his 300 who lapped like dogs….

This Esdraelon is called the battle-field of the nations. 11 separate and distinct nations have fought in it…. Assyrians & Persians, the Jews & Gentiles, Crusaders & Saracens, Egyptians, Turks, Arabs, and Franks….

Next to

El Genin, where we are camped.

Women tattooed on arms, hands, chins, lips, & sometimes cheeks.

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View of the Church of the Annunciation as seen from the Salesian Church, Nazareth. Wikimedia Commons.
September 20, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 4, September 20th

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This day, Twain’s traveling group was accompanied by a man whom Twain described as “a pirate… if ever a pirate dwelt upon land.” This tall Arab man armed with a large silver scimitar was hired to guard the group from Bedouins who allegedly took pleasure in killing Christians.

Together the caravan rode to Mount Tabor, a green landmark that Twain enjoyed after trotting through what he considered monotonous desert landscape. The group climbed to the summit of the mountain with sweeping views of the region while they discussed Christ’s transfiguration that took place on the mount. After, they took a two-hour ride to Nazareth via narrow and rocky roads. “All distances in the East are measured by hours, not miles,” Twain observed.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 20 – Bathed in Galilee before breakfast. Passed through the strange old town (beautiful porphyry columns with flutings almost worn away. ) Had a wretched looking scalliwag imposed upon us for a guard by the shiek…

Mount Tabor.

Transfiguration.

….New convent & ruins of an old one built by the Crusaders. Saw XX* in it. Also ruins of Joshua’s time.

….

Then came to Nazareth, where Christ lived & carpentered till 30 of age (not allowed by Jewish law to teach sooner.

Glass windows, – some 2-story – many shops – many cone-shaped mud hovels; – camels & fantastic Arabs & dirty children – all around, the hills that were familiar to the eyes of Jesus -…. Saw the grotto of the Annunciation…. Grotto where lived Joseph Mary & infant Christ –

Workshop of Joseph & Jesus….

Synagogue where Jesus taught & from which Jews took him to throw him down the mountain, when he “passed from their presence”.

Fountain of the Virgin.

*This is Mark Twain’s usual symbol for crosses.

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Sea of Galilee, 2014. Zachi Evenor, Wikimedia Commons.
September 19, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 3, September 19th

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September 19th was a busy and full day for Mark Twain in the Holy Land. Rising at 7:00am, he and his travel companions arrived to Joseph’s Pit by 10:00am. This site is fabled to be that where Joseph’s brother’s stripped him of his multicolored coat and sold him to merchants;

“And there it will remain until the next detachment of image-breakers and tomb-desecrators arrives from the Quaker City excursion, and they will infallibly dig it up and carry it away with them,” Twain lamented in Innocents Abroad. The same pit still serves as a tourist destination in Emek Dotan.

It’s notable that in his journal, Twain sums up the group’s experience of attempting to sail the Sea of Galilee as “Tried to get a boat and didn’t.” This incident is later developed in Innocents Abroad, describing the pious Quaker City excursionists attempting to haggle with a sailor, who, offended at being rebuffed for his asking price, sailed off and did not return;

“Well, there was nothing to do but just submit and forego the privilege of voyaging on Gennesaret,” Twain lamented, “after coming half around the globe to taste that pleasure.” With no other boats nearby, the pilgrims mounted their horses and road to Magdala (near the present-day town of Migdal). “Magdala is not a beautiful place,” Twain observed. “It is thoroughly ugly, and cramped, squalid, uncomfortable, and filthy.” There, they visited one notable dwelling: a ruin that was rumored to be the home of St. Mary Magdalene. After Twain’s companions collected parts of the front wall as souvenirs, they continued to Tiberias where they spent the night.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 19 – Left our cap by he Waters of Merom at 7AM. The Arabs threw stones into the camp last night and tried to stampede the horses.

…came in site of the

Sea of Galilee

Lake Genessareth,

Sea of Tiberias.

….examined the arched pit called

Joseph’s Well,

where his brethren threw him. Then over a horrible rocky, barren desert (like Nevada,) skulls with scattering goats & shepherds… & past

Safed,

…Bethsaida

from which Christ sent his disciples in a boat, after the miracle of 5 loaves & 2 fishes….

We descended to the sea at

Capernaum

Christ’s dwelling-place….

Tried to get a boat and didn’t.

Took a bath.

….crossed a long, rich, oleander plain… to the birth-place of Mary Magdalene – the rattiest, rustiest dirtiest little collection of mud hovels, tattooed women & sore-eyed children in Palestine.

Tiberias

…another nasty mud hovel village full of Arabs, Jews & Negroes.

…. for 300 years it was the metropolis of the Jews in Palestine. It has been the abiding place of many famous and learned Jewish rabbins.

The

Warm Baths

2 miles below are mentioned by Pliny.

….

Splendid stars – when blue wave rolls nightly on Galilee.

We have seen no country between here & Damascus capable of supporting any such populations as one gathers from the Bible. The people of this region in the Bible were just as they are now – ignorant, depraved, susperstitious, dirty, lousy, thieving vagabonds.

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Image: Tel-el-Kadi; site of Dan, source of the Jordan River, between 1890 and 1900. Library of Congress.
September 18, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 2, September 18th

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While Twain’s descriptions of his Holy Land travels on September 18th start at “the largest fountain in Syria…. the banks of the stream are bordered thick with oleanders…” they quickly become more stark. The group continues on to rocky roads, encounters some local living conditions, a swamp, and finally “Lake Hula, or the Waters of Merom of bible fame.”

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

“Sept. 18. – Broke Camp at 7.15am… came to the Hill ruins & fountain of Tel’ el Kadi (Dan.)

“Dan. …a lot of Danites from Sodom, 600, came over, like a pack of adventureers… & lived there… till Abraham hazed them in after times.

We traveled a long stretch (4 miles) of miserable rocky road… over half-green half-rusty country full of fine sheep, bulls of Bashan, and Bedouin Shepherds. The Bed’s… scorn to live in houses. Saw their tents…. riding 2 hours along a vast green swamp that occupies the whole width of the Valley, we camped at last at a fountain & mill well down abreast of Lake Hula…

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View at the remnants of the Tempel of Pan with Pan's cave at the background. The building at the slope of the cliff is the grave of Nebi Khader. Image: Gugganij, Wikimedia Commons.
September 17, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in Palestine – Day 1, September 17th

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On September 17th, Mark Twain rode into the Holy Land with a caravan of eight Quaker City passengers.

“The scenery of the Bible is about you – the customs of the patriarch are around you – the same people, in the same flowing robes, and in sandals, cross your path,” Twain described in The Innocents Abroad. “And behold, intruding upon a scene like this, comes this fantastic mob of green-spectacled Yanks, with their flapping elbows and bobbing umbrellas!”

Some of the “incorrigible pilgrims” that were his travel mates, he sadly reported, vandalized sites in order to bring home some Holy Land souvenirs. “They have been hacking and chipping these old arches here that Jesus looked upon in the flesh,” Twain verbally scolded. “Heaven protect the Sepulchre when this tribe invades Jerusalem!”

All snark aside, Twain was aware that he was entering the Holy Land and the experience moved even this highly sarcastic writer. “It seems curious enough to us to be standing on ground that was once actually pressed by the feet of the Saviour,” he concluded that day. “I cannot comprehend yet that I am sitting where a god has stood, and looking upon the brook and the mountain which that god looked upon, and am surrounded by dusky men and women whose ancestors saw him, and even talked with him, face to face, and carelessly, just as they would have done with any other stranger.”

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

“Holy Land.”

“Sept. 17. – Edged in to the Holy Land proper, to-day….”

“climbed… 1,000 feet high, which overlooks the ancient city of Cesarea Phillippi, Dan, & the great plain wherein are visible some little stream – sources of the Jordan. The mountain is in the Bashan & is covered with olives groves & the oaks…. It is crowned with the grandest old ruined castle… 1,000 feet long by 200 wide… walls and turrets have been from 30 to 60 feet high… dressed stone masonry with beveled edges… grand portcutllis… vaults, arches, dungeons… goatherd lives there now.”

“Banias.”

“This place – where we are encamped, is beautiful with olive groves, & the fountain which is the main source of the Jordan – we washed in it & drank of its waters. The fountain comes from a great grotto where the Greeks (& the Romans after them), worshiped the god Pan (hence the name, Panias)… At the same place, Herod the Great erected a marble temple to commemorate the visit of Caesar Augustus…”

“Cesarea Phillippi”

“This and Banias are one….Hoof-prints deep in old rocks. This is the first place we have ever seen, whose pavements were trodden by Jesus Christ. Here he asked… Peter who he took him to be… & Peter’s confident answer elicited that famous sentence upon which all the vast power & importance the Church of Rome arrogates to itself is founded: “Thou art Peter & upon the Rock… what thou shalt bind upon the earth shall be bound in heaven….” and near here… some caim that the Savior’s Ascension/Transfig took place.”

“Lake Hula – or the Waters of Meron.”

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“Kefr Hauwar” Howard Crosby Butler Archive, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. http://vrc.princeton.edu/archives/items/show/46801.
September 16, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in Palestine – September 16th

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In 1867, Mark Twain was on assignment from a San Francisco newspaper. He would depart New York Harbor on the steamship Quaker City for a five-and-a-half-month excursion, with stops in Europe and around the Mediterranean. This would be the first organized tourism trip of its kind in American history. During this time, he would send back humorous, revealing, and opinionated weekly reports to be published in the newspaper’s columns, documenting his travels, famous sites he visited, and the local inhabitants. The columns and notes from his travel journals would soon after be published as The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. The book was an instant success, catapulting Twain to national fame.

As part of our celebration of the 150th anniversary of the success of his 1869 publication, we’ll be sharing daily excerpts from his travel journal – “Notebook 9” – documenting Twain’s time spent in the Holy Land. Soon to follow, the exhibition Mark Twain and the Holy Land will open at New-York Historical Society; you’ll be able to view the Shapell Manuscript Foundation items from the exhibition here.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or right here to get a daily dose of Twain in the Holy Land.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

SEP 16…

Nimrod’s Tomb. 4,000 years old. The first King.

Camped at an Arab village (Kafir Something),* where Nimrod he Mighty Hunter, the builder of Babylon & the Tower of Babel lies buried. He was a fine old Sport & a great linguist.

*Kefr Hauwar

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Netanyahu holding a cabinet meeting commemorating Ben-Gurion's passing Image: Koby Gideon, Government Press Office.
July 15, 2019

Netanyahu to Make History as Longest-Serving Israeli Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu made history in the past when he became the youngest Israeli prime minister, and the first to be born in the independent State of Israel. This week, on July 20, 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu will make history yet again by becoming Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister. Until the 19th of July, Israel’s first prime minister and founding father, David Ben-Gurion, will have held the record, serving a cumulative total of thirteen years and twenty-seven days. Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu was also elected to four terms, three of them consecutive.

In this summer of 1963 letter, written after resigning as prime minister for the second time, Ben-Gurion –  gifting himself an additional two years on top of his thirteen served – shares his insights about the appropriate length for a prime minister to remain in power. 

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April 18, 2019

1865-1956: The Emotional Aftermath on Witnesses of Lincoln’s Assassination

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln left deep scars on the American psyche and people, who had just been traumatised by four years of Civil War. The devastation also left Mary Todd Lincoln a widow, scarcely three years after the death of their second son, Willie. Mary, who had been holding hands with the president when he was shot, was never the same. But what about the other people present and witnesses to the assassination? What emotional wake did it leave in their lives?

There were only four people in the presidential box at Ford’s theatre on the night of the assassination; Abraham Lincoln, Mary Lincoln, Major Henry Reed Rathbone, and his fiance, Clara Harris. Well known is the fate of the President and the First Lady, but what of their companions?

Rathbone, who tried to apprehend Booth, was stabbed in his arm to the bone by the assassin. Despite sustaining a serious injury, Rathbone managed to pull Booth’s coat, as the latter escaped by jumping twelve feet from the box to the stage. Rathbone’s persistence may have caused Booth to break his leg when he landed awkwardly on the stage. By the time the numerous physicians who were tending to Lincoln got to Rathbone, he had lost a lot of blood due to a severed artery. Although Rathbone did physically recover, his mental health deteriorated over the years. He and Clara Harris married, and in 1882, President Chester Arthur appointed Rathbone the US Consul to Hannover, where his mental health deteriorated even further. The following year, Rathbone tried to attack his three children, and fatally shot his wife in the head as she protected them. The children were sent to live with Clara’s brother, William Harris, in the USA. Their father died in an insane asylum 28 years later, in Hildesheim, Germany.

Many of the physicians who cared for Lincoln left eyewitness reports and medical summaries of the events of the night, including his personal physician, Dr. Robert King Stone.  

The youngest eyewitness to the assassination was a five-year-old Samuel J. Seymour, who sat on his godmother’s lap in the balcony across from the presidential box. He recalls Lincoln slumping over, as well as Booth jumping to the stage. That night, “I was shot at 50 times, at least in my dreams–” and, Seymour goes on, “I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker, as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

You can see Seymour appearing on a a game show called I Have a Secret in February of 1956, less than two months before he passed away at the age of 96.

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Director of Digital Projects, Jamie Levavi.
December 9, 2018

Welcome to the New Home of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation

We’re excited to welcome you to the new online home of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. We’ve added multiple features and tools that will facilitate educators, researchers, and history enthusiasts in discovering and organizing their resources and interests.

In preserving, researching, and digitizing thousands of original manuscripts, we look forward to sharing this collection with you.

The Shapell Manuscript Collection is a private holding of primary source documents relating to various events and historic figures in American, Jewish, and Holy Land history from the 19th and 20th centuries. Included in the collection are signed documents, photographs, rare books, and other artifacts. It is particularly rich with items from the American Civil War era, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Israeli leaders.

In addition to a focus on world-renowned individuals, the collection frequently relates to the history of Jewish American life. These manuscripts explore such topics as the lives of Jewish soldiers during the American Civil War, and reveal aspects of American Jewish influence and contribution to society.

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U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves just before the attempted assassination on Monday, March 30, 1981. In raincoat is secret service agent Jerry Parr, who pushed Reagan into the limousine. Wikimedia Commons.
August 22, 2018

Jerry Parr: The Man Who Saved Ronald Reagan

At 2:35 pm on March 30, 1981, seventy days into his presidency, Ronald Reagan exited the presidential limousine, buttoned his suit jacket, walked 45 feet towards the George Washington Hospital Emergency Room, and promptly collapsed. Five minutes earlier, six shots had rung out, and unbeknownst to himself nor his security detail, one bullet had ricocheted off the limousine, flattening into a disc, and then entered Reagan’s chest as he had lifted his arms instinctively upon hearing the shots. The bullet had lodged itself in Reagan’s lung, less than an inch away from his heart, in the moment that the Special Agent in Charge threw him into the limousine. In the tumult after the shooting outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, the seemingly unscathed Reagan was set to head back to the White House. Yet within 80 seconds of the shooting, one man overrode that decision; making Reagan the fifth president to be shot and the only to survive it. That man’s name was Jerry Parr, and the story of his journey to becoming the head of the Secret Service and saving Ronald Reagan’s life is as cinematic as it was serendipitous.

Jerry Parr’s interest in a career in the secret service was ignited, when, as a boy, he saw the 1939 film Code of the Secret Service several times. The nine-year-old Parr knew he wanted to be just like agent “Brass” Bancroft, played in the film by Ronald Reagan. Reagan called the film the “worst picture I ever made,” even remarking that “never had an egg of such dimensions been laid.”  Amazingly, forty-two years later, Parr, now Special Agent in Charge, would find himself saving the life of the man who had inspired that dream: the President of the United States.

Parr was born in 1930, and grew up during the Depression with an unemployed alcoholic father (who took him to the movies), and a life further interrupted by his mother’s subsequent two marriages to abusive men. Though born in Alabama, he spent most of his turbulent childhood in Florida, and after struggling through high school, Parr took a job with Florida Power and Light, becoming a lineman. This job was highly dangerous and required quick-thinking; Parr, who survived several near-death incidents on the job, served as pallbearer for eight of his colleagues.

Parr became the first member of his family to attend university when he moved to Nashville in 1959 and enrolled at Vanderbilt. It was the same year he married Carolyn Miller, who would later become a judge. By the time Parr graduated in 1962 with a degree in philosophy, he was a father. Later that year, a recruiter for the Secret Service came to town, and Parr, having experienced serious occupational hazards as a lineman, was undeterred by the risk involved in becoming an agent; at 32, he was the oldest rookie in his class.

Parr served in the Secret Service for twenty-three years, protecting presidents, vice presidents, and over fifty foreign heads of state. At the time of John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, Parr, fifty at the time, was Special Agent in Charge and Head of the White House Detail, and supervised over 100 agents a day. For some inexplicable reason, on March 30, 1981, Parr decided to ride with the president.

During his tenure as Assistant Director of the Secret Service, Parr began a Master’s program in Pastoral Counseling, and eventually founded the Festival Church after his ordination in 1989. In his written statement of the assassination attack, Parr wrote “while I went in with a Democrat and out with a Republican, it didn’t make much difference to me—they were both Presidents of the United States.” In a twist of Reagan being Parr’s boyhood hero, written at the top of  Parr’s accounting of the Reagan assassination attempt, Reagan inscribed “Jerry Parr is my hero!” Parr died in October of 2015 of heart congestion in a hospice near his home.

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