When Twain arrived in New York in 1867, he had a modest reputation as a speaker and a writer of short, humorous pieces for newspapers and magazines. Now he was hungry for a book. He chanced upon an advertisement for a “pleasure cruise” to Europe and the Holy Land. The voyage was to feature an “A list” of political and social notables. Twain knew he had to book passage on the ship—not to see Europe and the Holy Land so much as to rub elbows with the wealthy and powerful who might be useful for him. He persuaded a San Francisco newspaper to underwrite a ticket, in return for which he would send back a weekly column from the journey. But reality quickly mocked Twain’s expectations. Instead of notables, he found himself largely in the company of respectable, middle-class Protestants. They became objects of satire for Twain, who preferred to play cards, smoke cigars, and drink wine with a few reprobates like himself.
The voyage of the Quaker City, the pleasure ship that carried these pilgrims across the Atlantic, was well documented, some of which can be seen in the exhibit. As the first example of organized tourism in America, the voyage included a photographer, William E. James, whose camera and images are on display. Also on view is a contemporary oil painting of the Quaker City, the passenger manifest, Twain’s correspondence, and a Dragoman costume that Charles Langdon brought back from the Ottoman Empire.