This sign greets people fresh off the River
Trains. Steamboats. The Mississippi. Caves. Hills. Woods. It’s easy to see how Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer found their start in Hannibal, Missouri.
You can’t talk about the Mississippi River without including Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Mark Twain. You can’t talk about Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, or Mark Twain without thinking about the Mississippi. The river and the characters are intertwined and impossible to puzzle out separately.
I was conflicted about the visit to Hannibal. On the one hand you can’t explore the entire Mississippi and not go to Hannibal. I could blame Samuel Clemens almost exclusively for being on this trip to begin with - reading Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn growing up began a long fascination with the Mississippi River. I grew up near the Great Lakes but somehow they didn’t have the mystique that the River had as described in those books.
On the other hand - I was worried that the reality of present-day Hannibal would ruin the image I had conjured up over the years.
Worries Proved True
That proved true - Hannibal pretty much exists on tourism dollars coming from people seeking out that mystique in person.
There isn’t much to do for free here. We passed on the cave tours, trolley tours, and historic building tours because of the costs involved.
Swing a Dead Rat
In Tom Sawyer it mentions the boys have a dead rat on a string for a toy. You couldn’t swing that dead rat in Hannibal without hitting something with Mark Twains name on it.
I’m pretty sure we took the Mark Twain highway into town, got off on Mark Twain street, stopped at the Mark Twain visitor center, used the Mark Twain restroom, and then walked past the Mark Twain boyhood home and Mark Twain diner (home of Mark Twain Fried Chicken), the Mark Twain Bookstore, and the Mark Twain Gallery which is just up the street from the Mark Twain hotel.
In Mark Twain fashion - only a couple of those things aren’t true.
Pretty much says it all.
Tom and Huck.
A Hannibal sign.
So - the gig is to pay to see a house restored to match one from a fiction story?
Apparently all her treasures weren't in Heaven
Becky turned into quite the entrepreneur. Her chain of stores was all over town.
$11 per to enter..we passed.
Well, you know, the fence that was in the fictional book.
Tom's approach apparently still works.
A hand-carved diorama showing the death of Injun Joe. Or Native American Joseph, as the current court case is suggesting.
Hard to imagine over 1000 of these in one year here during the heyday.
A statue of the man himself. All the turns on the river must be lefts.
Fiction or History?
And maybe that’s what it is about Hannibal - it continues to mix together truth and fiction the way Twain often did. The town has historical-marker-ish signs where you read about things that Tom Sawyer did or places he visited. It has buildings restored to represent buildings from the books.
It’s easy to forget the fact that Tom Sawyer is a fictional character, a composite of several boys that Mark Twain knew.
I would have loved to do a ‘man on the street’ poll and ask a question like “Can you tell me where the Tom Sawyer gravesite is?” and see how many people would point out that he wasn’t a real person.
In the end I choose to appreciate Hannibal for what intrinsically is - a themed attraction around a set of incredibly popular books. Hannibal isn’t entirely unlike The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in that regard, except that Hannibal is still a real town for many folks, has no entrance fee, and can still be enjoyed on the cheap.
The total cost for our Hannibal visit was the purchase of a $3 lapel pin for our magnet collection.
We have crossed the river 39 times.
Have You Been?
Have you been to Hannibal? What was your take?
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