An Author and a Comet
There is a visitor these days in the night sky, Comet Neowise, which has not been through our solar system for thousands of years, and no records of its appearance have been found so far. Comets are always a wondrous sight and earlier generations felt they foretold marvels yet to come. Here is a view of that lively and symbolic sky in an early American celestial atlas in the Mercantile’s collection from 1835 by Elijah Burritt, his Atlas Designed to Illustrate the Geography of the Heavens
Halley’s Comet once foretold a marvel in arriving at the time a great American writer—perhaps the greatest—was born, Mark Twain. The favorite Missouri author always said he came in with Halley in 1835 and would go out with this regular visitor of every 75 to 76 years. Twain’s career was far from meteoric, rather steady and deliberate, and perhaps reached its apex with the two companion novels, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The Mercantile’s copy of the latter holds an interesting association—it is inscribed to another local author, Eugene Field, by Twain: “Be good and you will be lonesome.”
Twain himself acknowledged his connection to the fabled comet.  He recounted to his biographer, Albert Pain, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: “Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.” Sure enough, Twain died on April 21, 1910, when the dependable comet came calling again and was visible to an awestruck world.
Comet Neowise is now visible about an hour after sunset in the northwest sky.  Look for the Big Dipper and it should be near it. You may need binoculars to help see it, particularly in an area with a lot of street lights. NASA has a helpful web page if you’d like to learn more
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