The Boyhood Home of Mark Twain
The Historic District of

Hannibal, MO

April 1, 2000

We have now completed our review of the Hannibal, MO, area and the life and times of both Mark Twain and Molly Brown. We stayed in a campground which also runs tours of the famous cave where Mark Twain's legendary character, Tom Sawyer explored with his girlfriend Becky Thatcher. Back when Samuel Clemens was a child living in Hannibal in the mid 1800s, Hannibal was a quiet river town. It is much the same today. With the exception of the tourists, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of a livelihood here. Sam Clemens was for the most part, a carefree child playing in a quiet river town several decades before the Civil War. This carefree life style came to an end in 1847 when his father died of pneumonia. At the age of 12, Sam was forced to quit school and become a "printer's devil" for Joseph Ament. He was taken on as an apprentice in exchange for the promise of two new suits a year, a pallet to sleep on, food and the opportunity to learn the printer's trade. Thus began Sam's involvement with world of the published word. Soon he moved on to become a river boat pilot. His river boat experiences would lead him to select his now world famous pen name, "Mark Twain". It is believed to have come from a call on the boat by the seaman who would measure the depth of the river and then call it out to the pilot. Mark twain would be two fathoms or 12 feet. As Mark Twain, Sam would travel the old west, the U.S. and finally the world, writing and learning the materials that would prompt the great books he would write. Yet it was his childhood experiences that would bring him most of his fame. The memorable characters of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and the life on the Mississippi. Historians have easily traced the fictitious characters of his stories to the real people in his life and the incidents that he experienced which created the events in his stories. There was a pretty little girl with blond braids, Laura Hawkins that lived in a house across from Sam Clemens. He spent many hours with her as he explored and played in Hannibal. Many years later he put Laura Hawkins in his book about Tom Sawyer, calling her Becky Thatcher. The Mississippi still rolls by and kids still toss lines from old fishing poles. The center block of the town is marked off as a historic district. There are about six buildings which had an impact on his life. There is Sam Clemens' childhood home, with Laura Hawkins' house right across the street. These are now all offered as museums with explanations as to the part they, and the people who lived in them, played in his life and in his stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It's a fun place to visit but can be greatly enhanced by reading the two volumes relating to his life here. There is a museum in the middle of town which offers a look into mid 19th century Mississippi life, complete with a pilot's wheel and whistle mounted on an imitation riverboat pilot house. There are points of interest all around the city. Just east of town, high on a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi, stands an outcrop of rock known as "lover's leap". Legend has it that many years ago an Indian brave from a tribe across the river fell in love with a beautiful maiden from the other side. When tribal elders condemned the relationship the lovers leaped off the ledge, giving rise to its name. The view of Hannibal from here is spectacular as the lazy Mississippi, with its paddlewheel river boats plying their trade, rolls on by. From here the area does seem timeless. Just a little further east is a cave, reported to be the one Mark Twain explored with his girlfriend and one of the central places in his story of Tom Sawyer. It is actually in a campground which is quite nice. The cave is open for tours. Mark Twain was born in 1835 during the time when Halley's Comet was overhead. He died April 21, 1910 at the return of the Comet. We finished up the stay with an evening of campfire beside a brook, as I rolled a couple of Adirondacks mountain meatloaves into the fire, and broke out the old harmonica. What a way to end the week.

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