Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, immortalized his quiet little hometown on the banks of the Mississippi River. This is one of the towns which has thrived because of books written long ago. Twain used the town and events and people of his growing up years as the subjects for his novels: The Adventures Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. Since Bill has taught these books in his literature classes for years it was a dream to stop there and walk in Twain’s tracks.
Hannibal in 2010 celebrated the 100th anniversary of Clemens death and the 175th anniversary of his birth with hundreds of tourists enjoying the wonderful events built around the books and the author. We enjoyed staying in the lovely old Mark Twain Cave and Campground, (800 527 0304) where we found a quiet little stream and lots of mature trees making the campsites cool and inviting, even though the asphalt could have had some repairs and some of the sites could have used some better leveling. The bathrooms and laundry were very clean, but we wished for more washers and driers as the campground stays quite full of RV’s and tent campers, most of whom are eager to tour the cave which is featured in Twain’s books. The campground and cave are open all year.
The Mark Twain Cave has been owned by the same family for over a century. It was discovered by a hunting dog in 1819 and was first toured by lantern light. Electric lights were added all along the way in 1939. Although this cave does not have stallactites or stallagmites, it is really a delightful tour to those who like caves and an almost level path makes it easy.
The tour begins at the really good gift shop at the Campground Headquarters and is not to be missed! Erin has led tours hourly for eight years and has a delightful monologue telling all about what we saw in the large and interesting dry cave and relating it to Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher and Injun Joe from the books. She also gave much of the authentic history of the cave as it was discovered and as it figured in Samuel Clemens real life’s adventures. Having grown up in Hannibal herself, Erin knew all about the author and books and made it all so interesting and enjoyable.
Liberty Tree Burr Oak planted in 1731
If you can visit Hannibal on the Fourth of July, you’ll be part of the jubilant Tom Sawyer Celebration. Each year the local seventh graders compete for the honor of becoming the local Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher for the year. The chosen couple are trained as ambassadors to act out scenes from the book and travel all over the United States and abroad to promote the Hannibal tourism… what a great idea for a town! They also get to keep the coins collected from the “bank” or wishing well in the cave.
Since the whole town is devoted to Mark Twain experiences you will want to visit the Mark Twain Museum and Boyhood Home of Clemens and the homes of the young people that were the inspiration for Twain’s Becky Thatcher and Huck Finn. You’ll learn all the history of the real people of the 1800’s in Hannibal on whom Twain based his characters and the real events which were incorporated into the delightful tales of the masterful storyteller. You’ll also see photos of the real characters. And , yes, the white picket fence is there gleaming with new whitewash…I wonder who paid for the privilege recently!!
Gift shops abound, as do theme restaurants, dinner theaters, bars, and other activities for day and night. We chose to take the dinner cruise on the Mark Twain Mississippi Riverboat (573 221 3222). We enjoyed a really delicious dinner and a relaxing two hour cruise on the grand old
Although this riverboat is not steam driven, the features are the same as the steam boat which Clemens captained. The full moon reflecting on the river was so lovely as we listened to the crooning of L.A. Suess, who sings and plays the harmonica, banjo, and guitar in the style of music enjoyed in Mark Twain’s day. On Satuday and sunday evenings the music of a five piece jazz band is featured. There are also delightful day cruises. We advise arriving a half hour before the time to set sail so the local train doesn’t block your arrival at the dock. If you are blocked by the train and have reservations call the number above and tell them your situation. It does not happen often, but it did the night we were there.
Another nearby point of interest is Lover’s Leap on the Mississippi, where the loving couple were purported to make the fatal jump instead of living apart. A trolley will take you throughout the downtown area and to and from the campground. You can walk up to the lighthouse on the hill overlooking Hannibal. You’ll be glad you visited this historic little town, and you will want to read or re-read the wonderful books.