'A true gentleman' recalled

Jervis Langdon Jr., grandnephew of Mark Twain, dies

Star-Gazette file photo
Hillary Rodham Clinton talks with Jervis Langdon Jr. and his wife, Irene, at Quarry Farm in 1999 when Clinton visited Elmira. Quarry Farm was the summer retreat of Mark Twain, and Jervis Langdon, who died Monday, was his grandnephew.


Elmira Star-Gazette Corning Bureau
February 20, 2004

Jervis Langdon Jr., 99, a legendary American railroad executive and a grandnephew of author Mark Twain, died Monday at his home in Elmira.

Mr. Langdon served as the top executive of three major American railroads -- the Penn Central, the Baltimore and Ohio and the Rock Island -- in a career that spanned 50 years.

Mr. Langdon's grandfather was a brother of Elmiran Olivia Langdon, who married Twain in 1870. The family connection gave Mr. Langdon a lifelong interest in Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens.

"He was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about Sam Clemens and his relationship with Elmira," said his son, Halsey Langdon of Linthicum, Md.

In 1982, Mr. Langdon donated the family retreat and sometime home -- Quarry Farm on East Hill -- to Elmira College for use as a center for Mark Twain studies. Twain spent summers at the farm where he wrote "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

"He was worried about the future of Quarry Farm," said his wife, Irene Langdon. "He made it as secure as he knew how."

Thomas K. Meier, president of Elmira College, said in a statement that the college community is saddened by Mr. Langdon's death. He said Mr. Langdon and other members of his family have been benefactors of the college.

"Mr. Langdon's gift of Quarry Farm to the college fostered the study of Mark Twain's life, his times and his substantial influence on American culture," Meier said. "Because of this gift, Elmira College and the Center for Mark Twain Studies are now recognized internationally among the most important resources for the study of Mark Twain."

Born in Elmira in 1905, Mr. Langdon did undergraduate work at Cornell University and graduated from Cornell's law school in 1930. He was editor of the student newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun.

"He was something of a party boy at Cornell," said his son, Jervis "Jerry" Langdon III of Potomac, Md. "They had two competing drinking societies and I think he joined them both."

Mr. Langdon's roots in Elmira were deep. His great-grandfather -- the first Jervis Langdon -- helped found The Park Church in Elmira and was a financial supporter of the underground railroad.

His father, Jervis Langdon Sr., was the only family member at Twain's bedside when the author died in 1910.

"He loved this town more than anywhere else he ever lived," Halsey Langdon said.

A veteran of World War II, Mr. Langdon served in the air transport division of the Army Air Corps. He was commissioned a captain and later promoted to colonel. He became chief of staff to the U.S. commander in the Philippines.

Mr. Langdon lived in New York, Georgetown and Maryland during his railroad career. But he came back to Elmira for good in 1989.

"He had the fondest memories of growing up here," Irene Langdon said.

Family members said Mr. Langdon had a reputation for courtesy, kindness and generosity.

"He was polite and considerate with everyone -- a true gentleman in every sense of the word," Halsey Langdon said. "He set a wonderful example for his children to live by."

Jervis Langdon III enjoyed flying with his father, who continued to pilot airplanes into his 80s.

"He was a very caring father," he said. "I view him with a mixture of love and respect."

Robert H. Hirst, who heads the Mark Twain Project of Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley, said Mr. Langdon was a strong supporter of Twain studies throughout the country.

"He brought moral support, which is very hard to come by in this field," Hirst said. "He knew it was important to do this. He would lobby for me in various places and he made several trips out here to see me. He was very good about making family documents available."

Mr. Langdon worked at many of the nation's most storied railroads, including the Lehigh Valley, the New York Central and Southern Railroad. He became president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1961 and played a key role in its merger with the Chesapeake & Ohio in 1964. A year later, he became chairman and chief operating officer of the Rock Island Railroad.

In 1970, Mr. Langdon was appointed a trustee of the failing Penn Central Railroad. He later became its president. That was also the year he was named "Railroad Man of the Year" by Modern Railroads Magazine, edging out the presidents of the Southern Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad -- two of the nation's most prosperous -- for the honor.

He retired in 1976, but continued to work as a consultant for several railroad companies and to serve on boards of directors.

In 1990, he was named to the Railroad Hall of Fame in Baltimore.

Mr. Langdon participated in civic affairs after his return to Elmira. A letter he wrote in 1990 persuaded Conrail to cut the speed of trains passing through Elmira from 50 mph to 30 mph -- a change local officials had been unable to achieve.

He also became a backer of Elmira's John W. Jones Museum, which will tell the story of the former slave who helped hundreds of others escape from slavery and buried Confederate soldiers who died at Elmira's Civil War prison camp.

Mr. Langdon is also survived by a son, Charles Langdon of Pasadena, Md.; a daughter, Lee Kiesling of Elmira; two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Halsey Langdon said his father enjoyed good health until shortly before his death Monday. There will be no calling hours. Mr. Langdon's body will be cremated and a memorial service will be held at The Park Church at a date to be determined.