In 1869, Mark Twain published The Innocents Abroad, a recounting of his tour to Europe and the Holy Land. Part of his book discusses his view of tour guides, which is not flattering. As a Historic Interpreter for the Mark Twain House, I would like to take equal time to rebut his charges. It seems fair game to discuss our interactions with certain of our visitors and guests.
I had been working as a Historic Interpreter at the Mark Twain house for only six months in 1992 when I was assigned to accompany a strange group who wished to tour the house. As the group assembled outside the building, I noticed that their name tags included not only their names but a logo of a black cauldron with a tipped witches hat for a lid and a broom with which to stir the pot.
I naturally asked the group to identify themselves and they did so. They were representatives of The Society For The Preservation Of Organized Kauldron-Stirrers, or SPOOKS. They were on their way to Salem to attend a convention commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. As we approached the doors leading into the large open front hall, one of the visitors, Rosemary, said that she felt strange "vibes" emanating from the house. Rosemary who sported hooded eyes overshadowed by protruding brows frowned as she stepped onto the porch. She was muscular, big, and seemed bad-tempered. Agatha, a thin woman with a nose that could slice cheese and a face that displayed a grayish pallor, glared at her. "Yes," she said bitingly. "For once I agree with you. There is definitely a specter here." Rosemary and Agatha stared at each other their eyes locked in open warfare.
The guests formed an irregular group as they entered the dimly-lit front hall. As I began my tour, Rosemary kept interrupting with questions about whether the house had been exorcised. I could hardly get a word in edgewise. Agatha pushed her hair back, the better to glower at Rosemary.
When Rosemary wasn't talking, Agatha picked up the slack. Each kept trying to interrupt the other. At one point Agatha, flailed her scrawny, bracelet, beaded, and charm-laden arms. I asked her what she was doing and she responded that she was "clearing the air of spirits."
Unable to continue with my planned lecture, I gave up when Agatha repeatedly asked if anyone had ever stayed overnight in the house. I must confess that at this point, I couldn't resist. The devil made me do it. I said that I usually didn't discuss this with visitors but since they asked, I would tell them what happened to me. I told them the following story:
One night when the power went out due to a hurricane, I was asked to stay over and watch the house since all the security systems were off. Reluctantly I agreed. As midnight approached, I felt a cold chill in the air.
"Must be the ectoplasm," said Rosemary. "Chills are a sign of the presence of an approaching apparition. Perhaps the shade of Mark Twain."
"No! You're wrong," answered Agatha. "Chills indicate the presence of the etheric body."
"No, you're wrong," answered Rosemary.
"Anyway," I continued, interrupting the argument. "I smelt the strange odor of cigar smoke. It seemed to come from the third floor. I ascended the stairs and as I approached the billiard room, I heard a strange clacking sound. When I entered the billiard room, I noticed that the cue stick and the balls were misplaced, as if someone had been playing.
"Then I heard sounds of tinkling glass and silverware clattering against dinnerware coming from the dining room. I ran down stairs only to hear uproarious laughter coming from behind the screen hiding the kitchen door. As I ran to the room I saw a mysterious glowing light disappear into the kitchen."
Rosemary and Agatha were quiet for the first time since they started the tour. "I know what is wrong," said Agatha. "Mark Twain needs his aura fluffed."
"That will never work. Aura fluffing is only for use in an immediate emergency situation. When the client needs quick help from possession. What this house needs is an exorcist." Rosemary stood defiantly with her arms crossed.
"Oh, and I suppose you plan on doing that?" said Agatha.
"Why not? I'm certified," responded Rosemary.
"Certified by who? That flim-flam school you went to? On the other hand, I have many satisfied customers who have benefited from my aura fluffing."
"What is aura fluffing?" I asked her.
"Aura fluffing is when you flick your fingers through the human aura. Smoothes out the aura's wrinkles. It works like this." She stood behind me and flicked her fingers a few inches away from my head. "Good for clearing the aura and unruffles out the energy fields. I may be able to help even though I don't have all my equipment here."
"Nor all your brains," muttered Rosemary.
"Well how can that help Mark Twain now? He's been dead since 1910," I asked.
"It's easy," She answered. "You do it to his picture." She walked over to a wall where a large portrait was hanging. She stood in front of it and pulled out a wooden comb of willow wood. "You need willow wood not metal so the electromagnetic forces won't contaminate the comb."
She sang a mysterious chant. She then yelled loudly that Mark Twain could go home to his final rest and that he should join the other spirits who were waiting for him. "Depart! You shade!" she screamed. She then stared silently for several seconds and began flicking her fingers in front of the portrait. She swept the comb in front of the picture several times. Rosemary began screeching at her.
Meanwhile another tour group had entered the house and hearing the commotion, came over to see what was going on. Unfortunately for both Rosemary and Agatha, there happened to be a psychiatrist in the other tour group. Observing a yelling woman flicking her fingers and waving a comb in front of a portrait with another woman screeching at her, he immediately called 911 for an emergency commitment. As the white coats dragged away the two women, they continued their howling. Meantime I continued the tour.