SO, who was Mark Twain's dentist in Newcastle?
Well, the story is finally beginning to emerge through family-history research.
You remember how the famous American humorist and writer briefly passed through Newcastle on December 19, 1895, suffering from a painful tooth.
He was on his way to Scone by train to give a lecture, but during his stopover he sought relief from his agony at a local dental surgery. We know the legendary American novelist was here because he left a "thank you" letter to his Newcastle dentist, a Mr Wells.
Although this letter wasn't discovered for almost 100 years, it re-ignited the debate about the literary lion's fleeting visit and a famous local quote, possibly a myth, he is supposed to have made about our colonial township.
The background story goes like this. Between 1975 and 1980, Newcastle dentist Jim Vidler heard of some antique dental equipment for sale at a Mayfield second-hand store.
He was too late to buy the main items, but settled instead on some leather-bound dental books as mementoes and snapped up the set of 10 "for a song".
Fast-forward maybe 10 years now before he actually opened a book and out fluttered a folded and handwritten note. It was from Mark Twain. The letter and its signature were soon authenticated by a rare books agent.
Since then, former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has become a little fixated about Twain's 1895 visit, possibly because he once had the famous, now framed letter, in his possession.
Maybe that's why a fortnight ago he again pushed to rename Newcastle's Industrial Drive as Mark Twain Drive to promote our tourist profile as a dynamic, modern economy. Mark Twain, after all, remains one of the top 10 authors of all time in the US, Fischer argued.
We now know the Wells Brothers dental hospital was once on the north-west corner of King and Bolton streets, almost next door to the Herald offices.
And even without the Twain link, the Wells family was a remarkable one, boasting of six dentists all in one Hunter family, headed by the enterprising patriarch William Wells snr.
Born in 1844, this dentist had four sons and one daughter follow him to become similar "time payment" dentists, before he died in 1918.
Wells snr, his wife and family first appear in a Newcastle Herald item in November 1889.
Aged 45 years, Wells was operating an inner-city livery stable in Perkin (now Perkins) Street opposite the Victoria Theatre.
The stables were part of the later David Jones multi-storey car park.
What is revealing is that a glass plate photograph exists taken from Perkin Street on New Year's Eve 1892 by famous snapper Ralph Snowball.
It shows Wells opposite his stables and obviously branching out into more businesses as he's outside a Temperance Hotel sandwiched between the Victoria Theatre and the present Crown and Anchor pub site next door.
Here, in front of his home and "dry" hotel, William Wells snr is also advertising himself as an auctioneer and land agent. He's obviously an energetic gent.
From available evidence, Wells snr devised the idea of taking up the practice of dentistry in 1891 and was helped by a German dentist called Weir.
Wells obtained help from "qualified men" who eventually taught him and his sons the profession.
One of the family was always a travelling dentist.
By 1896, the family even had a branch at the Port Maitland Inn at Horseshoe Bend.
The chances are then that William Wells snr was Twain's dentist, but maybe not.
A son, Albert Edmund Wells (1890-1969), had his dental chair end up in a museum. He's been suggested by his Sydney relatives as being Twain's dentist, but he would have only been aged five when the American social commentator was here.
So, that leaves four other likely candidates, including another son, Arthur Henson Wells (1881-1968) who once lived at Parkway Avenue, Hamilton South.
"He was my great grandfather," Mrs Helen Brown, of Maitland, revealed this week.
"My father, Arthur John David Powell, would have known who was Twain's dentist.
"He spoke of it and knew all the family stories, but he died last December.
Arthur H. Wells built his Hamilton house about 1925 and many of the extended family lived there also.
"I remember Grandma there making up all the cough medicines," Brown said.
"I also remember Mum using the old dental instruments around the house and a big set of [probably teaching] teeth being there, as a child I was scared of them.
"It was amazing the stuff they had at the family home.
"And every time they bought a new carpet it was laid on top of the old. You could feel it underfoot.
"Then about 1977-78, there was an auction of house items. I cried. It was a shame. I was more fearful of family items later being unappreciated and thrown out by people.
"My great grandfather Arthur, though, had - and I still have - a notebook, a ledger from 1907-08, listing all patients alphabetically with comments like, 'fitted artificial teeth one pound [$2]' and accounts for horse fodder.
"As a dentist, Arthur travelled from Booral to Gloucester to Dungog and Murrurundi. All over. Then years ago, out of historical interest, I even showed this same ledger to my own dentist, Mr Vidler.
"Then one day he said, 'Look what I've got' and pointed to these old dental textbooks on the top of his surgery cupboard."
And there the story might end, except that her husband Peter, by default, later become the family historian.
A former insurance detective, his family history research led to the then Barzingahh cafe in Perkins Street, once the site of the former William Wells snr's auction house and Temperance Hotel. Wells snr is his wife's great-great grandfather.
Brown also discovered the family patriarch was born in England in 1844.
"He arrived in Victoria, aged nine years, with his parents in the vessel Derry Castle. William married in 1866 and was a woodsplitter," Peter Brown said.
"Then by 1877, aged 33 years, was a fish vendor and licensee of the Union Tavern, in St Arnaud, north-west of Bendigo, in Victoria.
"He also had horses and buggies for hire. He then had some bad luck in 1878 when tenants of a house he owned were charged with setting fire to it.
"William Wells snr unsuccessfully stood for the local borough council, but was made insolvent in 1883 with his losses blamed on floods and bad debts in St Arnaud."
By 1889, William Wells snr had popped up in Newcastle and soon was a dentist with a livery stable in Perkin Street.
He was nothing if not a great survivor, brimming with ideas.
By 1896, however, while the Bolton Street dental hospital run by the Wells Bros appeared to be fading out, the actual firm (now with five dentists) was spreading and prospering.
By 1902 it was claimed to be one of the largest dental practices in Australia.
By then, brothers Thomas Siggee Wells and Arthur H. Wells had prominent premises on the corner of Hunter and Market streets.
"From the newspaper research I've done, William Wells snr I suspect was a bit of a rogue judging from various court appearances and comments," Peter Brown added.
From 1915 on, one of his sons, Arthur Henson Wells, serviced country patients until 1961.
He carried on a tradition started as a boy when he would accompany his father and mother every second month on a 400-kilometre circuit by horse and buggy to Dungog, Gloucester, Bulahdelah and Forster, sometimes extracting teeth by the roadside.
Arthur died in 1968.
The old Wells' Temperance Hotel/later Doll's Hospital/Barzingah is no more.
The location now houses Vinyl coffee shop.
Proprietor Fiona Richards said her cafe had been there for a year but no traces were left hinting at the former dry hotel's existence. Richards had been told the former terrace-style hotel, circa 1892, had been transformed when the university bookshop did extensive remodelling more than a decade ago.
"I wish it had remained the same as it once was. It's all open-plan design on both floors now. There are even no separate rooms upstairs as there once were," she said.
But amid the vinyl-studded walls and pop posters, a lone photograph of Mr Wells outside his Temperance Hotel in late 1892 still exists as a reminder of the businesses once conducted here.
"I believe the key for staying in business is good service, being unpretentious and friendly with people," Richards said. "You look after your customers."
But the final word should go to Maitland's Helen Brown.
After all, the famous Mark Twain "thank you" letter did fall out of the family's dental textbooks many years ago.
"I don't know what has happened to Twain's letter, but I'd now love to see it publicly exhibited somewhere in the Hunter so that everyone could see it for themselves. Don't you agree?" she said.