Thursday, September 29, 2011

Let's face it...oftentimes, research feels a lot like homework. It means hours spent on the web or in the library, sometimes with no clear direction on what we're looking for, and no indication of when we've found it!

Narrowing the search criteria helps, but rabbit trails are as much a part of research as actual study, and I've learned that there are some valuable gems to be uncovered along the way. Take this priceless pearl for example:

Mark Twain video taken by Thomas Edison (video footage is silent)

This silent film footage was taken on February 16, 1909 by Thomas Edison at Stormfield (CT) at Mark Twain's estate. Twain is shown walking around his home and playing cards with his daughters Clara and Jean. The flickering is due to film deterioration, but this is the only known footage of the great author.

Another fun fact...Twain rounds the house at an impressive pace, not because he was exceptionally fast, but because film rate was different in 1909. The silly-fast walkers in old film footage are due to the frames-per-second transfer rate.

Watching this old video led me down another trail which led to this sad fact:

Stormfield, Christmas Eve, 11 A.M., 1909.


Has any one ever tried to put upon paper all the little happenings connected with a dear one--happenings of the twenty-four hours preceding the sudden and unexpected death of that dear one? Would a book contain them? Would two books contain them? I think not. They pour into the mind in a flood. They are little things that have been always happening every day, and were always so unimportant and easily forgettable before--but now!

Now, how different! how precious they are, now dear, how unforgettable, how pathetic, how sacred, how clothed with dignity!

Last night Jean, all flushed with splendid health, and I the same, from the wholesome effects of my Bermuda holiday, strolled hand in hand from the dinner-table and sat down in the library and chatted, and planned, and discussed, cheerily and happily (and how unsuspectingly!)--until nine--which is late for us--then went upstairs, Jean's friendly German dog following. At my door Jean said, "I can't kiss you good night, father: I have a cold, and you could catch it."

I bent and kissed her hand. She was moved--I saw it in her eyes--and she impulsively kissed my hand in return. Then with the usual gay "Sleep well, dear!" from
both, we parted.

At half past seven this morning I woke, and heard voices outside my door. I said to myself, "Jean is starting on her usual horseback flight to the station for the mail."

Then Katy entered, stood quaking and gasping at my bedside a moment, then found her tongue:


Possibly I know now what the soldier feels when a bullet crashes through his heart.

In her bathroom there she lay, the fair young creature, stretched upon the floor and covered with a sheet. And looking so placid, so natural, and as if asleep. We knew what had happened. She was an epileptic: she had been seized with a convulsion and heart failure in her bath. The doctor had to come several miles. His efforts, like our previous ones, failed to bring her back to life.

It is noon, now. How lovable she looks, how sweet and how tranquil! It is a noble face, and full of dignity; and that was a good heart that lies there so still. Read more...

Amazing, right? The tidbits of history to be discovered when wandering a rabbit trail? What about you? What amazing, incredible, or otherwise fascinating facts have you uncovered in your attempts at research?


  1. My absolute fav--wandering those rabbit trails. It's part of the reason why I'm so passionate about historical research. Thanks for the reminder, Sandra.

  2. Me, too, Sandra M.! Unfortunately, getting wrapped up in rabbit trails often gobbles up my writing time. LOL! Then I have to force myself to stay disciplined so I don't wander off what I'm actually looking for.


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