This Mark Twain Ghost Story Might Be Bunk, But Does it Matter?

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Last Wednesday marked the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death and while many quoted Tom Sawyer, attendees of his centennial death day party were hoping he’d come back to celebrate along with them.

John Groo/Mark Twain House

The Mark Twain House & Museum played host to some 200 paranormal hopefuls (and a few skeptics), who came to celebrate the legendary author’s life (and death) with a Victorian-style seance led by illusionist Todd Robbins, who attempted to stir up the crowd by “stopping” his heartbeat to draw the room closer to the other side while readying the room for a spiritual connection. Robbins, whose show business prowess and performance charisma seem to do more for him than his reputation as the Coney Island Illusionist (and host of New York City’s longest-running magic show Monday Night Magic) later confessed that a spooky mood wasn’t an easy achievement in the stately visitor’s center. “The success of a seance depends so much on “wigging out” the participants – for lack of a better term – and getting them in the right mind set,” he said. But a little candlelight and a few magic tricks and – voila!– instant creepiness.

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But the paranormal foreplay didn’t stop there. In 1902, eight years prior to his death, Twain wrote in to Harper’s Weekly to announce he planned on getting his affairs in order and therefore, he needed help writing his obituary. He decided to hold a contest: He’d offer up a prize to the author of the best obit, the one that expressed the most regret at his passing. One-hundred years later, this letter was read to Robbins’ audience by a gray-haired, white-suited Twain mimic, to deepen the mood.

“In order for [the spirits] to come closer to us, we must go closer to them,” said Robbins, who demonstrated this by having a woman from audience take his pulse while he “stopped my heart.” Trickery? Of course. “It’s a lovely illusion. I instructed everyone how to do this. I’ll be quite candid about it.”

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