By Woodrow Polston
FLORIDA, Mo.—A ceremony was held last Thursday at the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site to unveil the original restored Mark Twain manuscript of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
The conservation lab, part of the State Archives, a division within the secretary of state’s office, recently repaired the historic manuscript, and returned it to Mark Twain’s birthplace for display. The Missouri Secretary of State’s Office conservators repaired this state treasure at no charge. Since the repairs have been finished, the manuscript has been in Missouri State Park’s archive room, waiting for its unveiling.
“We were fortunate enough to purchase a new display case,” said David Kelly, director of Missouri State Parks. “This new case is temperature-, light- and humidity-controlled to a much greater extent, which will help prolong the manuscript’s life.” he added.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was present for the unveiling of the restored historic document. He said that it was his love of the author that brought him out for the special event.
“I’m here because I love Mark Twain, and I just heard that we had done this, and I thought it was so incredible,” said Ashcroft. “I had not known that you had the manuscript. I am so thankful that you brought our office in to help with that, because Mark Twain is (not only) part of the history of Missouri but it’s also part of the history of our country,” he added.
Written in 1876, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” was placed at the historic site by a special act of the Missouri State Legislature when the museum opened in 1960, and has been on display ever since. After taking some museum conservation courses, park team members at the historic site became concerned about the long-term effect that artificial lighting was having on the manuscript. The main conservator on this project was Kaitlin Keyes. A conservator partner of hers, Jennie Phelps, said that the restoration of the document can be just as important as the work done to preserve such items in a museum.
“Preserving the document is also very important,” Phelps said. “Whether we’re treating them as information containers where we want to preserve the document because we want to preserve the information in it, or like with this, where the document is historically important in and of itself,” she added.
After the manuscript was unveiled, members of the public were allowed to view the historic document up close.