The renowned author Samuel Langhorne Clemens — aka Mark Twain — gave us a memorable account of an idyllic childhood in stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. His stories live on today in our minds — and in Hannibal, Mo.
Hannibal is only about 100 miles up the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
To make sure I do not mislead you, there also is a site in Florida, Mo., to commemorate Samuel Clemens’s birthplace and still another Clemens Museum in Hartford — but Hannibal is a living memorial.
A visit to this enchanting little burg certainly will refresh your mental pictures of the adventures that Mark Twain told so eloquently. Or perhaps it will inspire memories of your own childhood.
Whenever adults gather to reminisce about the good old days, somebody always starts a sentence with “When I was a kid…” You know what I am talking about. Mark Twain did too.
Twain claimed his characters were composites of many people he knew from childhood. As it turns out, they were based more on specific people than he first let on.
Hannibal residents know exactly who the characters represented and where they lived. Tom Sawyer, of course, was the young Sam Clemens himself. Huckleberry Finn was a neighbor named Tom Blankenship and Becky Thatcher was a girl named Laura Hawkins.
I went through the home where Tom Sawyer spent his youth (now a National Historical Landmark), the tiny cottage where the Huck Finn archetype lived with his brother, and the larger home where Becky Thatcher lived. All houses are within a stone’s throw of each other, just off the main drag.
Vicariously, I lived in Hannibal too — at least for a few days.
I took a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi and saw the real Tom Sawyer’s island — actually Jackson Island.
One thing I did not do was tour the cave that played so prominently in the Tom Sawyer story. The cost to spend about 45 minutes in the cave was, alas, a little too “spendy” for me — although I still have some regrets for not paying the freight.
The Mark Twain Museum is definitely worth the admission, however. Check out the upstairs gallery. There is a collection of original Norman Rockwell paintings depicting scenes from the books.
Norman Rockwell was so flattered to have been asked to paint the pictures, he spent time in Hannibal to see the venue firsthand. As a result, his pictures are definitely superior to other artists’ renditions conjured solely from their imaginations.
The Rockwell scene of Tom Sawyer doing his best “con-job” to get his fence whitewashed could have been taken from a photograph of the actual fence. This fence is now so iconic the town has a fence painting contest every year to commemorate the scene.
Citizens of Hannibal are still living Mark Twain’s adventures. To keep the memories of this bygone era alive — and to promote tourism, of course — Hannibal produces several Tom Sawyer-related events each year.
A staple on the menu of the recurring events is a portrayal of Samuel Clemens by local actor Jim Waddell. His speech reprises Clemens’s thoughts on the Civil War in an impressive nonstop 45-minute monologue.
Mark Twain not your cup of tea? The Tom Sawyer cave is believed to have been a hideout for Jesse James. The “Unsinkable Titanic Diva,” Molly Brown, was born in Hannibal. Her birthplace and a museum commemorate her life. And the Mississippi River is a story in itself.
You will enjoy your time in Hannibal. I promise.