HARTFORD, Conn. — Was it Tom Sawyer in Samuel Clemens’ billiard room with a revolver?
Visitors to the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford can now tour the author’s mansion while playing a live-action version of the board game “Clue.”
The idea came up in a museum staff meeting about five years ago, when someone mentioned the house has many of the same rooms as the game — including a conservatory. The Twain House teamed up with an improvisational theater troupe, Sea Tea, which stations actors around the historical home playing Mark Twain characters and house staffers. Guests try to answer the traditional three-part question to solve the mystery of who just murdered Huck Finn’s father, Pap Finn.
It is among a growing number of museums, especially historical homes, that offer novelty tours to help generate repeat visits, said Dan Yaeger, executive director of the New England Museum Association.
He said: “One of the issues these houses is face is that once you visit and have seen it, what is your incentive to come back?”
The Twain House is where the author lived while writing American classics such as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” ”The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” It began offering the Clue mystery tours on one day a year, then quarterly and this year has expanded it to every month.
Each character has two pieces of information that can each eliminate some aspect of the crime. Guests are given a clipboard with a sheet to cross off the suspects, rooms and weapons as they are guided through the house.
During one recent tour a visitor asked the character Muff Potter, the drunk from “Tom Sawyer,” if it could have been Aunt Polly in the library with a rope?
“Well, I don’t remember much, ’cause I may have been drinking,” said Potter, as portrayed by actor Allan Smith. “But I was trying on the rope as a belt, so I know it couldn’t have been the rope. As for the library, well I couldn’t say, I don’t spend much time book learnin’, and I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Aunt Polly. That woman scares me!”
Tourists cross the rope off the list and keep asking questions, moving from room-to-room. They meet in a museum classroom at the end of the tour to make their guess.
“I thought it was really cool,” said 10-year-old Emma Connell, who was visiting from Arizona. “In the beginning, when I heard the scream, it was kind of creepy.”
Connell’s grandmother bought the board game just before their vacation so Emma would be prepared for the tour. Emma said Tom Sawyer was the only character she recognized, but she recently bought a Twain anthology and plans to read other stories to learn more.
She was especially intrigued by the character Arkansas, an abrasive cowboy from the book “Roughing it,” with whom she sparred during the tour. “You’re rude!” she told him, after he made fun of her guesses.
“What better way to get a student to want to read, then for them to actually meet the characters?” said, Diedre Valentine a high school English teacher from Eustis, Florida, who also was on the tour.
Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, along the Mississippi River. He and his wife, Olivia, moved to Hartford in 1871, when it was one of the wealthiest cities in the country.
Construction on the home began in August 1873 on land next door to author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house, which also has been converted into a museum.
The Twain House also offers special tours focusing on the legend that the house is haunted and a living history tour, guided by actors portraying members of Twain’s household staff.