Huckleberry Finn sprang to life in a swirl of cheap cigar smoke at Mark Twain's cozy hilltop cabin in upstate New York, far from the Mississippi River.
On the centenary of the author's death, Twainiacs will swarm Hannibal, Mo., the river town of his boyhood that inspired a raft of literary gems, and Hartford, Conn., where in celebrated middle age he moved his family to a 19-room mansion transformed now into a tourist magnet.
Only a few thousand visitors typically show up in Elmira, a small city in New York's bucolic, upstate Chemung River Valley where much of his best-known fiction was actually written.
But civic boosters say this is one year when a bump in attendance is all but assured. Elmirans in period costume will ride in black, horse-drawn carriages to Woodlawn Cemetery in an April 24 centennial reenactment of Twain's burial. And Hal Holbrook will reprise his "Mark Twain Tonight!" impersonation at a renovated vaudeville theater that bears the humorist's real name, Samuel L. Clemens.
Twain was lured to Elmira by romance, marrying wealthy coal merchant's daughter Olivia Langdon in 1870. For the next 20 summers, at Quarry Hill farm atop East Hill with its entrancing view of the valley and a receding range of blue-hued hills in distant Pennsylvania, he excelled in his craft like no place else.
"The setting worked a magic on his mind in his ability to remember" his early life along a more grandiose river, said Barbara Snedecor, director of Elmira College's Center for Mark Twain Studies.
Here, he wrote virtually all of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "The Prince and the Pauper," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
"The Mississippi River is the inspirational memory, Elmira is the place that helps him tap into that memory, Hartford is where he refines all of those manuscript pages and makes them ready for publication," Snedecor said.
At his most productive, Twain practically chain-smoked cigars, and his craving for a quick burn was conspicuous at 250-acre Quarry Farm, a nest of solitude away from the social hurly-burly of Hartford.
Mindful of her health, perhaps, sister-in-law Susan Crane had a windowed study built especially for Twain in 1874 not far from her Victorian farmhouse. Equipped with a writing table, wicker chair, cot, fireplace and cat door, it was designed to resemble the pilot house of a Mississippi steamboat.
After a steak breakfast, Twain would saunter 300 feet across a lawn flecked with buttercups and black-eyed susans and climb the stone steps to a promontory where the octagonal cabin was perched. Amid the chirp and crackle of nature, overlooking a panorama he called a "foretaste of heaven," Twain often churned out as many as 2,600 words a day.
A free lecture series attracts a few dozen visitors to the farm grounds each spring and fall. The college also has a Twain archive featuring books he enjoyed with quirky notes scribbled in the margins.