The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg by Mark Twain

hadleyburgI’m till trying to decide just how mean this book is.

Or does the little town of Hadleyburg get what it deserves?

Hadleyburg, a small town in small town America, prides itself on its honesty.  So much so that the town’s residents have begun teaching children in the cradle that above all else, they must be honest.

Until one day….

A strange package arrives at the local bank, delivered by a mysterious stranger who is then never seen again.  The package is a sealed sack, believed to contain enough gold to make whomever it belongs to rich enough to live in luxury the rest of their days.  But who’s to get the sack?

Attached to the sack is note explaining that many years ago one of the town’s original 19 members gave a stranger twenty dollars and some solid advice.  The man who gave said advice is to have the sack.  Since the stranger never learned the man’s name, he is to be identified by writing down the advice he gave and slipping it inside the sack.  The sack is then to be opened in front of the town, the notes inside read and the sack given to the proper man.


Soon everyone realizes that they did not give a stranger twenty dollars and a piece of advice, so it must have been the one townsman who recently died.  If only they could guess what he said, they could win the sack.

Each of the supposedly upright 19 original families then gets a letter telling “only them” what the advice was as a reward for a good turn they once did the deceased, years ago.  That none of them can recall doing him such a good turn does not stop them all from slipping a note inside the sack, each sure that they will get the sack of gold in the end.

Once the sack is opened, everyone in town, and in the neighboring towns, because word of Hadleyburg’s strange turn of fortune has spread, knows that Hadleyburg’s honesty is more reputation than reality, because everyone has submitted the exact same note with the exact same incorrect message.

What was inside the sack?  That I’ll leave you to find on your own but I will say that’s what makes this story particularly mean.  The stranger’s revenge is so thorough that Hadleyburg’s reputation is ruined forever.

It’s either very mean or deliciously satisfying, I guess.

It was a little of both for me.

But it’s also a darn good story.