Mark Twain Claimed He Got His Pen Name From a Riverboat Captain

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Clemens had become widely known in Virginia City — if not necessarily widely liked — by the time the pseudonym Mark Twain first appeared in the Enterpriseon February 3, 1863. A decade later, Clemens claimed he’d appropriated his by-then-famous nom de plume from a staid Mississippi riverboat captain. However, according to more convincing Virginia City legend, Clemens acquired the nickname before it appeared in print, derived from his habit of striding into the Old Corner Saloon and calling out to the barkeep to “Mark Twain!” a phrase Mississippi river boatmen sang out with their craft in two fathoms of water, but that in Virginia City meant bring two blasts of whisky to Sam Clemens and make two chalk marks against his account on the back wall of the saloon.

Although later in life, Clemens claimed not to have had “a large experience in the matter of alcoholic drinks,” men who knew him in Virginia City remembered substantial quantities of chalk ground down to a nub on his behalf. Regardless, one of the Comstockers Clemens had become acquainted with was the quiet, industrious, up-and-coming, and largely abstemious Irishman who superintended the Milton mine — John Mackay.

Read entire article at Time Magazine

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