August 28, 2013

Help Find This Mystery Man!

I got an e-mail from a reader asking me to help figure out who a specific man of mystery is. Since I don’t know, I thought I’d throw it out to you to see if you can help. doorknob 1

Here’s the background from RKMW:

We are looking to find out who the man on all of our door-knobs is. The house was originally built around 1850, renovated around turn of the century (doorknobs are in keeping with late 1800 to early 1900 style, so probably from turn of the century). Later renovations preserved architectural details (including the doorknobs).

We believe it was originally a single family home, but later came to be a "family hotel", and we've seen letters indicating that immediately after the 1904 fire, one of the counsel for the B&O Railroad either lived there or had offices there (or both).

The suspicion is that it is Mark Twain, and that all of the knobs were added during the early 1900’s renovation, but Twain doesn’t have a close enough connection with Baltimore for that to be the case – unless someone was a huge fan.

There’s an auction site with the same doorknob, describing it as Mark Twain, but I am still doubtful. image

Because many of the early building records were destroyed during a massive fire that leveled Baltimore in 1904, it’s often hard to find early records. The house was designed by some “famous local architects”, so once I find out who they are, I can check some of our records at the Baltimore Architecture Foundation and see if there’s any information.

Here’s another view from an auction house that lists it as “thought to be Mark Twain”.image

Usually, the images of Mark Twain have him with much wilder hair.image

So, any thoughts to help identify our mystery man?

21 comments:

  1. I have no clue but am confident that you will solve the mystery!

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  2. Oh no. Apartment therapy had this same question. as I googled famous images on door knobs and the AT post came up. any way I think it resembles Samuel Langhorn Clements we forget HE was a "rock star " in his day. The man was well, KEN BURNS , the Ken Burns made a documentary about him. Come on people ordered stuff thru Mail Order remember that one kids, Mail order catalogs!!! so this notion it had to be related to Baltimore.....get real. One interesting thing about "Mark Twain he was born when Haley's comet appeared and died in the year it reappeared 75 years later did you see the Hale Bopp comet??Oh no don't tell me your readers never heard of Haley's Comet boohooo

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    1. It was in AT, and someone suggested she get in touch with me, which she did. Since I have a lot of readers from Baltimore, and a lot of very clever readers, we thought we might be able to solve it.

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  3. If the knobs appeared on a study/library door, I could see how it might have been Twain. It's not uncommon to see famous author themes in libraries or studies in late 19th century or early 20th century houses. The room may have had decorative features (woodwork, carvings, paintings etc) that complemented the door knob that no longer survives or exists in the room. I think it seems more likely to have been Twain, or another famous person, than a private citizen even if he was well known. Just my two cents :-)

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    1. Apparently, they are on every door in the house!

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  4. I still think it must have been Mark Twain instinctively...But what about this fellow?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Abbott

    Sometimes, they didn't get the portrait correct when used for these things - and used another head in place of what was meant. He seems to fit the bill contextually. Moved to Baltimore - involved in the iron industry. Other than that, I still say Mark Twain.

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    1. That's a smart guess, but the houses don't match up. Unless this was a family member somehow.

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    1. Thought of him, but he's usually portrayed with specs on.

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  6. hmmm I am stumped by this one. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

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  7. Before reading a thing, my first thought was Albert Schweitzer because of the hair and moustache.

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  8. My gut reaction was Twain too, I wonder if the Baltimore Historical Society or some of the great salvage companies in your area could help you out? I'm intrigued now!

    Kat

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    1. I asked my friend Ben at Housewerks, and this is what he said:
      "Before I even read the background, I thought it looked like Mark Twain. Any markings on the shaft? Mark Twain was at the height of his fame in the early 20th century and the fact that there are other similar knobs would seem to support that these knobs bear his likeness. I am not so sure he needs to have a Baltimore connection in order for someone to appreciate his likeness in their home. You could also try and contact the American Doorknob Collectors Association for additional insights."

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  9. I would say Teddy Roosevelt too. I think it would be strange for anyone to have put Mark Twain on a doorknob. A president seems more likely.

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  10. I do not feel that it looks like Mark Twain. The eyes and the nose are different, and the hair. You do find the most intriguing things to keep us amused. Maybe someone with a brass company got a good price on them!!!

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  11. I agree that it's almost certainly Mark Twain. He was the huge celebrity of the time. If these doorknobs are popping up in multiple places with examples on a couple of different auction sites, that lends credence to it being him. It suggests these were not a one-off for the Baltimore house but were made in larger numbers - and therefore more likely to be a well known public figure.

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  12. This was my original post and I so appreciate the help! This has been a mystery nagging at us since we moved in. Especially since guests who use the powder room are confronted, well... face to face with one of these knobs, we are frequently asked, "so who's the guy on the doorknob?"

    I have asked the American Doorknob Collectors Association which was how I learned that the style is in keeping with turn of the century knobs. There are no markings we can find, however. So... sadly, no help.

    I've just sent an email with additional info that will hopefully help.

    Either way, solved or un-solved, it's a fun bit of mystery.

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