Mark Twain (a.k.a. Jon Decles) entertained a delighted crowd of about 70 people Saturday from a stage inside the historic Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station in Old Sacramento.
The Twain avatar's appearance was one of several national celebrations marking the launch of the U.S. Postal Service's commemorative Forever postage stamp honoring "the father of American literature" (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens).
"I have been pulled through time for this occasion," Decles told the amused gathering. "But there's been a terrible mistake. I understand from the Post Office that you have to be dead to be put on a stamp, and I can assure you that the reports of my death are vastly exaggerated."
The 44-cent Twain stamp went on sale Saturday. A limited-edition run of 500 illustrated "commemorative cachet envelopes" bearing the canceled stamp sold briskly for $3 apiece. Volunteer stamp collectors from the Sacramento Philatelic Society hand-canceled the stamps with an inked "stamp" of another kind, one saying, "Mark Twain Station / First Day of Sale / June 25, 2011 / Sacramento CA 95814."
Acting as emcee of the brief event was Paul Hammond, director of the California State Railroad Museum.
The crowed cheered and whooped when Twain and Sacramento's acting postmaster, Jeff Lelevich, unveiled a 2-by-3-foot blowup of the stamp. It depicts an image of Twain in his later years, designed and drawn by artists Phil Jordan and Gregory Manchess, based on a 1907 photo of Twain.
In the audience was Barbara Reynolds, retired from the state Legislature. "My father was a stamp collector and I've kept an interest in it," she said. "I heard about this event and it seemed like a perfect way to spend part of a Saturday. And Twain is one of my favorite authors, of course."
"I like Mark Twain and Old Sacramento, and I just wanted to be a part of this piece of history," said Joe Power, retired from a career in corporate travel management.
Maureen Schlimgen of Citrus Heights, who works for Wells Fargo Bank, said, "My brother-in-law is a stamp collector who doesn't live locally, so I thought the Mark Twain stamp would be a perfect Christmas gift for him. No, I'm not a Twain reader, but I think I'm going to be. His autobiography looks very interesting."
Sacramento wasn't alone in commemorating the Twain stamp, the newest edition in the USPS' Literary Arts series (it's the 27th entry). Cities around the U.S. held similar ceremonies Saturday, led by Hannibal, Mo., Twain's boyhood home. That's where his two most famous novels are set "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (1876) and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1884).
Sacramento, the Sierra and San Francisco are Twain-connected, as well, though not to the extent that is popularly believed.
The riverboat pilot-turned-journalist (and gold prospector) wandered the West between 1861 and 1866, spending some time in Sacramento (primarily in its hotels and saloons, it is believed), Angels Camp, Lake Tahoe and San Francisco. His 1872 book, "Roughing It," recalled those years. He visited the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1866 as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union.
In May, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names refused a proposal to name an inlet on the Nevada shore of Lake Tahoe after him. Essentially, the idea was based on speculation that Twain had made camp on the inlet's beach in 1861, but it was ruled there wasn't enough proof of that.