Tucked away on the serene yet mighty Mississippi River is northeastern Missouri's darling Hannibal. It's a pure slice of Americana whose white-washed fences and limestone caves inspired the narratives of one of America’s greatest storytellers: Mark Twain.
Samuel Clemens' formative years were spent in Hannibal (Twain is his pen name) and they provided him a wealth of inspiration for his later novels. To this day, the echoes of Twain’s characters still linger in Hannibal, enticing visitors to chase them on an adventure all their own.
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum
By Andrew Balet - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Danielle Kellogg, Flickr
Location: 208 Hill Street
April 1– January 4: Mon– Sun: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
January 5– March 31: Mon –Sun: 10 a.m.– 4 p.m.
Price: $6 - $11 USD
Although born in the small hamlet of Florida, Missouri, the young Sam Clemens and his family moved into this small white-washed house in 1844. In this home, he would spend 13 years living, learning, and exploring Hannibal.
Twain would ultimately use many of the events that transpired in and around the neighbourhood as inspiration for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Not only was Tom Sawyer a mirror of Twain's own boyhood self, but his Aunt Polly was based on his mother.
Admission to Mark Twain's Boyhood Home & Museum also grants visitors admission to other character sites in Hannibal, including Becky Thatcher's house (across the street where Twain's real childhood friend Laura Hawkins and her family lived) and Huck Finn's House (down the way), where Twain's poorer friend Tom Blankenship hailed from.
Mark Twain Cave Complex
Mark Twain Cave
Location: 300 Cave Hollow Road
Hours: Mon-Sun: 9 a.m. –6 p.m.
Price: $4 - $19 USD
Everyone knows Mark Twain appreciated riverboats, but he also enjoyed mysterious limestone caves. The Mark Twain Cave lies just south of town and has appeared in five of his novels. The Mark Twain Cave, originally called McDowell's Cave, mirrors the infamous MacDougal's Cave in The Adventure of Tom Sawyer where Tom and Becky find themselves endangered by Injun Joe.
Although a popular destination for tourists today, one can still feel the thrill of what it must have been like for young Sam Clemens and his friends to explore this hideout steeped in mystery and legend.
Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center
Huck Finn Freedom Center
Location: 509 North 3rd Street
Friday & Saturday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
During Clemen's childhood, slavery was still legal in Missouri and he grew up in a slave-owning family. Twain would later go on to say that back in those days, "No one thought much of it." Today, we obviously think a lot of it. Twain also observed, “Civilization began when slavery was abolished." His sentiments about slavery spilled into his narratives; most unforgettably, in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where Huck Finn runs off to sail the Mississippi with escaped slave, Jim. In his novel, Twain used satire and wit to teach a very important lesson on racism.
Today, the Huck Finn Freedom Center details the African American experience in Hannibal and profiles Daniel Quarries, the man who inspired Twain's most complex character.
Mark Twain Riverboat
Mark Twain Riverboat
Location: Center Street Landing
Memorial Day – Labor Day: 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m.
Dinner – daily: 6:30 p.m.
Seasonal hours run April - November
Price: Sightseeing Cruise: $11 - $18 USD; Dinner Cruise: $21 - $40 USD
Throughout many of Mark Twain's novels readers can sense the distinct connection the man had with the Mississippi River. And it all started in Hannibal. It's a connection that was bonded by leisure time spent on the riverbanks and time spent working as a steamboat captain.
While cruising on this old-style, nostalgic riverboat or enjoying a longer dinner cruise, visitors are sure to get a taste of why Twain described becoming a steamboatman was the only permanent ambition between him and his friends.
Character Brews at the Mark Twain Brewery
Mark Twain Brewery
Location: 422 North Main Street
Mon–Thurs: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri & Sat: 11 a.m. – 1:30 a.m.;
Sun: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Not all of Mark Twain’s characters need to be chased through the historic sites of their real world inspirations. You can find his characters in places you might not expect...like the bottom of pint from the Mark Twain Brewery.
How about sampling the spicy-sweet but down-to-earth personification of Huck Finn in a Habanero Apricot Wheat? Or the creator himself in the Clemens Kolsch? Imbibe both the care and the character that went into creating this brewery’s playful creations.
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