Neither of us had ever been to the boyhood home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain. So we made a one-night stop in Hannibal, arriving early enough in the day to spend a few hours touring downtown.
There are statues and place names for Mark Twain all over town.
“…the extensive view up and down the river is…one of the most beautiful on the Mississippi”
We were tempted to take a cruise on the riverboat, but with limited time we decided to save that for another visit. Maybe even a dinner cruise.
This is an interesting birdhouse near the river.
Part of this historic block of buildings is being torn down. Hopefully what remains can be restored.
Parts of the neighborhood show either restoration or great care over the years. We could imagine what it must have been like when Sam Clemens lived just a block away from this downtown main street.
A few vintage cars were parked along the street.
The lighthouse up on the hill is directly above a bronze statue of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, erected in 1926. We decided not to climb the 244 steps to the lighthouse, and I didn’t get close enough for a good picture of the statue.
A ticket to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum was only $9 for seniors, and we had just enough time to go through most of it. Here’s Sam’s family’s home, a modest 2-story which we entered from the rear after going through the nice museum behind the stone wall. The sign outside reads: “Tom Sawyer’s Fence. Here stood the board fence which Tom Sawyer persuaded his gang to pay him for the privilege of whitewashing. Tom sat by and saw that it was well done.”
To prevent wear and tear, the tour goes through corridors next to the house, with several places to step inside a small viewing area to see into the rooms through plexiglass, but you don’t go far into the house. Still, it’s easy to imagine the Clemens family living in these quarters.
Quotations are in every room. This one says “A man’s experiences of life are a book. There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.” –Mark Twain’s notebook and “The Refuge of the Derelicts”
There were seven children in the family, but only four survived past childhood. This room depicts Sam climbing out the window, a scene later portrayed by Norman Rockwell (see below). The quote is “The things about me and before me made me feel like a boy again—convinced me that I was a boy again, and that I had simply been dreaming an unusually long dream…” –Life on the Mississippi
Across the street is Sam’s father’s law office.
Next door is Becky Thatcher’s nice, big home, which recently underwent a 5-year preservation and restoration. The sign outside reads “This was the home of Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer’s first sweetheart in Mark Twain’s book “Tom Sawyer.” Tom thought Becky to be the essence of all that is charming in womanhood.” The home was actually owned by a family named Hawkins, and the daughter Anna Laura Hawkins, born in 1837, was a friend and sweetheart of Sam Clemens and served as the basis for the character Becky Thatcher.
A block away is Huck Finn’s house, but we didn’t have time to visit it this time. While on the tour, we saw a bridal entourage arrive on a trolley to take pictures in the garden of the Clemens home.
Our final visit on the tour was the Mark Twain Museum Gallery.
Don took a ‘ride’ on the Overland Express.
One of the many exhibits here is a gallery of Norman Rockwell paintings related to Samuel Clemens and his writings.
The artist was already famous for his Saturday Evening Post covers when he was chosen to illustrate new editions of the great literary works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He found out that none of the previous illustrators had ever visited Hannibal. So he went there to get authentic details. Because of this, his illustrations are more true-to-life than those in previous editions.
As an example, there is a preliminary sketch that Rockwell did of Tom climbing out an upstairs window, based on the description in the book.
Upon visiting Hannibal, he discovered there were no shutters and the house had no ‘ell’ to provide the roof seen in the sketch. So he modified the illustration to reflect the details he observed, as below.
These new editions of the two books were published in 1936 and 1940, respectively.
To end our tour, we were delighted by a 40-minute performance by Jim Waddell, who brought to life Mark Twain’s personal recollections of the Civil War.
On the way home after dinner, we drove to Lover’s Leap.
Luckily there’s a sturdy fence to prevent most sane people from taking the leap.
But it was a good place for a bird’s-eye view of Hannibal.
We returned to our motorhome in the Mark Twain Cave Campground, knowing that there’s a lot more to see in Hannibal (maybe even the Cave?), so we’ll have to plan a return.