There is a slate of activities scheduled tonight at the historic Park Church in my hometown of Elmira to commemorate this city’s part in an episode that Mark Twain chronicled in a very short vignette called A Monument to Adam.
It seems that Twain had made an offhand comment at one point in the late 1870’s to the then minister of Park Church, Thomas K. Beecher, who was the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher and a favorite drinking buddy of the famed writer. It was in the era when the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin were taking hold of the wider population and Twain, in speaking of Darwin with Beecher, joked that the biblical Adam had altogether been overlooked by the naturalist and that he would surely soon be forgotten. He then suggested, with tongue even more firmly planted in cheek, that Elmira should erect a monument to Adam that would keep his name alive as well as serve as a great boon to local tourism.
Much to his surprise, the idea took off locally and soon he was in meetings with bankers who pledged thousands of dollars to erect the monument and began to solicit designs from all over, some from Paris, as Twain notes. Elmira was on its way to becoming a tourist mecca. Or so the locals thought.
Twain felt it was always a ridiculous idea and, in an effort to curtail its momentum, wrote a request to be read before the congress asking the federal government to erect the monument, knowing full well that once the idea was presented it would be ridiculed and would soon be forgotten. But the representative wouldn’t read it because he felt that it was so seriously written and sentimental that they might just consider it in earnest.
Of course, the idea ran out of steam and was soon set aside only to revived later as a short article by Twain. Elmira never became a tourist destination, outside of the folks who come to see Twain’s gravesite. But tonight the idea lives on again in that same church where Twain would periodically listen to the preaching of Beecher.