When Lewis Hankins dons his white go well with to take the stage as Mark Twain, he has a long-time routine. Earlier than greeting his viewers, Lewis says a easy prayer.
“I say, ‘David, that is for you. Daddy has by no means forgotten you.”
How Lewis got here to be on stage as his favourite writer appears to be an act of future. The retired Kentucky state policeman grew up studying Twain’s works. He delved deeply into the life born as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who selected the pen identify of Mark Twain to turn into referred to as the daddy of American Literature.
Earlier than lengthy, Lewis’ siblings – who had been lecturers – persuaded him to speak to their lessons in regards to the writer. “Then I began dressing up as Mark Twain each time I’d be invited to speak about him,” he says. “One factor simply led to a different.”
Lewis turned so immersed “that I typically suppose I do know Samuel Clements higher than I do know myself,” he says with a smile. “We’re kindred spirits.”
But it surely was a tragedy in his personal life that made him really feel even nearer to the famed writer. Lewis’ younger son David was identified with leukemia.
“We tried to maintain it from him that he was dying,” Lewis says. “How do you inform a toddler that he’s dying?”
However in the future, David introduced up the topic himself. “He requested me if I’d overlook him if he died.”
Shocked, Lewis answered his son’s query with considered one of his personal. “I requested him if he would overlook me if I died.”
When the boy answered that he would always remember his father – it doesn’t matter what occurred, Lewis replied that he felt precisely the identical about his son.
The oldest of Lewis’ three sons, eight-year-old David died in 1971.
Discovering solace in Twain’s writings
Devastated past perception, Lewis discovered solace in Twain’s writings. In non-public life, Twain had suffered overwhelming sorrows. The lack of his solely son in infancy. Daughter Susy died from spinal meningitis. Daughter Joan drowned in her bathtub on account of an epileptic seizure. The loss of life of his spouse who was his fixed companion preyed closely upon Twain’s thoughts.
Lewis Hankins speaks within the first individual as Mark Twain.
“He wrote that, ‘I do know now what the soldier appears like when a bullet crashes by his coronary heart,’” Lewis says. “What impressed me was that he might use easy phrases to specific his grief. He captured my feelings precisely.”
In January 1989, Lewis stepped aboard a Delta Queen Firm riverboat in his three-piece Mark Twain white go well with and spent the subsequent 19 years entertaining and educating passengers.
Then the unthinkable occurred. The three sister boats – the Delta Queen, the Mississippi Queen and the American Queen – had been instantly gone from the river.
“I missed it a lot,” Lewis says. “After I heard that the American Queen was going to be again on the river, I wept. It represents a interval of America historical past that after was and is so vital.”
On our American Queen cruise, Lewis stepped on the stage within the Grand Saloon to talk from his coronary heart – with out notes. Easy props embrace a lectern, wing again chair and desk with a bottle of bourbon whiskey.
A easy stage setting embrace a bottle of bourbon and Mark Twain books.
In his mid 80s with a mass of white hair framing his face and a wavy white moustache, Lewis appears to be like strikingly like Mark Twain. When he opens his mouth and speaks within the first individual as Twain, the result’s riveting.
Sharing Twain’s phrases
For nearly an hour, Lewis recites strains from Twain’s writing, brings loud laughs and ends his program with the writer’s phrases about his impending loss of life.
“I got here in with Halley’s Comet in 1835,” Lewis solemnly recited Twain’s phrases. “It’s coming once more subsequent 12 months and I anticipate to exit with it. It will likely be the best disappointment of my life if I don’t exit with Halley’s Comet.
The Almighty has stated, little question: ‘Now listed here are these two unaccountable freaks. They got here in collectively. They have to exit collectively.’”
Twain’s prediction was correct He died of coronary heart failure on April 21, 1910, in the future after the comet’s closest strategy to Earth.
“In 1910,” Lewis concluded, “I took man’s most precious possession, which is his final breath.”
‘Mark Twain’ visits with American Queen passenger Logan Peters.
Photographs by Jackie Sheckler Finch
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