Follow the Mississippi River some hundred miles northwest of St. Louis and you'll arrive at the at city of Hannibal, a place eternally linked to one name - Mark Twain. Although his family moved frequently during his childhood, the boy that would eventually become a literary figure spent 13 years in Hannibal. Today, their names go together like a pen and paper. It was in this small city of white-washed fences, river cruising steamboats and mysterious cave labyrinths that Samuel Clemens was inspired to pen his great American classics as the author Mark Twain. Today, literary-fans and travellers alike seek out the Hannibal sites that influenced such famous tales and beloved characters.
Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum
It was during Twain's youthful years in Hannibal that he mastered his craft. It was his childhood experiences in the community that he would later infuse into his writing, and his old clapboard house that would be woven into some of the most famous stories in American literature. Twain's boyhood home has since been transformed into part-museum and part-shrine to his life and works. Visitors can catch a candid glimpse into the author's humble beginnings. Although Twain's Boyhood Home is the shining star of the museum, the property actually encompasses eight different buildings. Two of them, the Interpretive Centre and the Museum Gallery, are interactive museums while the other six are of actual historical significance. Visitors can visit the former homes of the people who inspired characters such as Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher, as well as see the stone immortalization of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Spread among the properties are a number of Twain artifacts and exhibits, ranging from original editions of his books to the writer's desk and chair where he wrote them. There is also a collection of fifteen original Norman Rockwell paintings on display that were illustrated in 1935 for commemorative editions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Mark Twain Cave Complex
Cave exploration in and of itself is an exciting activity, but the Mark Twain Cave Complex outside of Hannibal is a thrilling opportunity to see what fictional characters Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and Injun Joe experienced. At the complex, which also serves as Hannibal's favourite campground, visitors will find a wealth of activities. The main attraction is the hour-long historic tour through the Mark Twain cave system that highlights several areas that were detailed in his novels. The slightly longer Lantern Tour takes visitors into the adjoining Cameron Cave that, like the name suggests, is conducted in a more primitive form via lantern lighting. Outside of the cave complex, visitors can also enjoy live daily performances of Mark Twain's life and writing. Or try your hand at sluicing for gemstones. Offering something for everyone in the family, the Mark Twain Cave Complex is much more fun than the average campground.
Mark Twain's Mississippi Riverboat
Hannibal Convention & Visitors Bureau
As a boy, Mark Twain was infatuated with the Mississippi River and the riverboats that navigated its waters. The boats were synonymous with the spectacles they brought with them: circuses, magicians and gamblers. While Twain took pleasure in the spectacles, he was also deeply fascinated by the ships themselves. Although a rarity on the river today, Hannibal has one of its very own riverboats and visitors will delight in stepping aboard. What's more, it's on the cruise that one can really begin to imagine the bygone era in which Twain's stories were born. On the Mark Twain Riverboat, visitors to Hannibal can enjoy a one hour sightseeing cruise with commentary provided on the sights, history and legends of the Mississippi River and Hannibal area. An evening dinner cruise is an alternative tour option that includes entertainment and dancing. Of course, as one of the few river boats plying the waters of the Mississippi, space is limited and fills up quickly. Be sure to make a reservation in advance.
The Town of Hannibal
In his autobiography, Twain wrote, "In the small town of Hannibal, Missouri, when I was a boy, everybody was poor but didn't know it; and everybody was comfortable and did know it."
Times have changed since Twain's Hannibal, though it is very much an iconic hard-working, blue collar Midwestern town where visitors can expect warm hospitality and friendly faces. Those who want a taste of the town's original aesthetic should head to the historic Downtown district where sturdy multi-floor brick shops sit side by side on the main thoroughfare. Duck in and out of eclectic antique shops, cellars and art galleries. Sip coffee or tea in a cafe, sit back and simply take it all in. Despite the fact that they no longer house the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker of days past, visitors will enjoy them all the same.