Posts Tagged With: Bancroft Library



“All you need is ignorance and confidence and then success is sure,” quipped Mark Twain, AKA Samuel Langhorne Clemons. In truth, success didn’t come easily for Twain. He had ups and many downs; he suffered hunger, poverty, despondency and had at one time decided to take his own life over his failures. Lucky for us, news of his story’s success, “Jim Smiley And His Jumping Frog,”  reached him in time and brought him back from his depression so he failed at suicide, as well.

He was here in Calaveras County at the time. The jumping frog story was generated by a conversation in an Angels Camp bar. Gold mining was one of his failures and he tried journalism as a more profitable job. But it was a hungry, cold time for him. He wrote in his diary: “January 23, 1865. Rainy, stormy. Beans and dishwater for breakfast…dishwater & beans for dinner, & both articles warmed over for supper. January 24th. Rained all day-meals as before. Jan 25th. Same as above.”

Before moving West, he loved being a Mississippi river pilot, it was lucrative too. He once bragged he made more money than the Vice President of the United States.  But Missouri was a Confederate State, and he and his brother headed west when war was imminent.
Before he got his Mississippi River pilot’s license, he found work at a Newspaper and worked in printing as an assistant. He’d occasionally insert humorous things in the paper anonymously when the editor was absent.  He inherited his red hair from his mother and probably her sense of humor as well. He was pulled at least nine times out of the river in a “substantially drowned condition” at which she scoffed, “People who are born to be hanged are safe in the water.” She never expected the runt to live. He was always in trouble.

This bust of Twain is borrowed from the Bancroft Library along with many other artifacts in a very well done exhibit at the 3 acre Angels Camp Museum. While Mark Twain lived in Angels Camp, he met Bret Harte and other famous writers from San Francisco, where he eventually moved. He was a humorist to be sure, and he is famous for his wry quips, such as: “A classic is something that everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” And “The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” But, of course, for this community, he is of paramount importance which is why they are celebrating his many accomplishments over this weekend. Its certainly worth the drive. Especially since the Museum Committee has published all five of his various Jumping Frog story variations in one volume for sale at this event. 

This community had no paved roads in 1928. Someone suggested they have a frog jumping contest, as in the famous Mark Twain story, to raise enough money to pave Main St. Angels Camp.  And, so it was done and has evolved into the largest such frog jumping festival in the world. In fact, the Little Flower, New York’s Mayor, La Guardia ,came to see the frogs jump along with other famous people over the years.

The contest held the 3rd weekend in May attracts an average of 10,000 people to come see “the jumps.” Its old home week. kids who once jumped frogs, return in May with their children and grandchildren to try their hand at the $1,000 prize, but mostly for the camaraderie.

Gold may have been a big industry all those years ago, and established Angels Camp, but Mark Twain put Angels Camp on the map.

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