Mark Twain penned some of the greatest novels in American history. His most famous stories related to the goings-on along the Mississippi River. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huck Finn” touched the hearts and childhoods of many folk.
Before he was Mark Twain, the white-haired and mustachioed man grew up as Samuel Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri. The northeastern river town is proud to call him a native son. The town has a museum complex and many other attractions named after Mark Twain.
The museum complex was our main reason for visiting Hannibal, a small city of almost 18,000 people. When Samuel Clemens was a child, it probably ranged around 1500-2000 people.
Clemens and people he knew were the basis for characters his “Huck Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” stories. Tom Sawyer was based on Clemens, himself. Huck Finn was based on friend Tom Blankenship. Becky Thatcher was based on Laura Hawkins. Side characters portraying a slave and a Native American were based on real people, as well.
The museum complex, which consists of the children’s homes, a museum and gallery and a couple of other buildings available for external viewing, costs $11 per adult. But, the admission is worth the trip back into our childhood and the childhood of one of the greatest writers to pick up a pen.
The interpretive center (museum’s entrance) offers a look back at Hannibal and a timeline of Clemens’ life there. The family moved to Hannibal when Clemens was very young. He was born in nearby Florida, Missouri. He was one of five children in the family. Three of his siblings died in childhood from illnesses.
His father passed away in 1847, when Clemens was 11. He had to work as an apprentice to a printer. An old printer and typesetting device are located in the interpretive center. He moved away when he was 18 and worked as a printer in New York and Philadelphia.
Clemens also worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, a silver miner and a journalist.
The Clemens’ home was a nice view. It’s located next to a stone building that was built during the Great Depression by the WPA (Works projects Administration). You can get a great view of what the rooms in the house looked like. I commented that the house was fairly nice sized for that time. Then, Lisa read aloud that the house was considered small, because the family was not upper class. Either way, I thought it looked nice.
The main floor had a sitting room and kitchen.
The bedrooms were located on the higher floor.
Outside the house stands the famous white fence, waiting to be whitewashed. A bucket and brush are available for photo opportunities. A young boy looked disappointed there wasn’t any paint in the bucket, but he tried to paint anyway, while his family took pictures. Lisa’s uncle was with us, and he was willing to pose for some photos with the brush.
A short walk from the visitors center was Huck’s house (the Blankenship home). It was a small two-room house.
Becky Thatcher’s house also subs as a gift shop. It reopened not long ago after having renovation work completed. The foundation and flooring had to be fixed.
James M. Clemens, Sam’s father, was a lawyer and justice of the peace. His law office was across the street from the family home. You can view the office from outside.
Next door, along the main street is Grant’s Drug Store. It, too, can be viewed from outside. It requires some infrastructure work.
You can walk a couple clocks down the street to the Mark Twain and Gallery. This was our favorite part of the visit, related to checking out Clemens’ memorabilia up close.
Visitors are greeted by Clemens’ favorite desk for writing at. It has a bookshelf backdrop.
On the backside is a display featuring Mark Twain reading to two young boys. You can only imagine the stories he’s telling them.
The main floor of the museum features five of Twain’s books in an interactive display. “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” featured items mentioned in the book, such as a baseball bat.
The exhibits featured large displays related to the books’ titles.
“The Adventures of Huck Finn” featured a wooden raft in front of a movie screen featuring clips from the movie. A cave is also located at the exhibit.
The staircase to the second floor resembles the bridge and deck of a steamboat. A pilot’s wheel looks out at the Mississippi River.
The second floor has several personal items on display that belonged to Samuel Clemens and his wife. Clemens had a special organ built and it’s on display. A piano that belonged to the family can be viewed.
Mark Twain’s famous white jacket can be viewed.
I loved seeing a pipe that belonged to the great author.
Norman Rockwell did a series of tribute drawings based on Twain’s character drawing.
Once you finish your visit at the Mark Twain museum, don’t stop checking out other things related to Sam Clemens.
We walked toward the Mississippi River, which is a couple of blocks from the museum and gallery. You can take a riverboat ride, as well as walk along a paved trail to a Mark Twain river boat pilot statue.
Near the museum complex is a statue of Huck and Tom. It is definitely a must-see when in town.
Our biggest challenge was accessing the Mark Twain memorial lighthouse. It was a “short” stroll up 244 very steep set of stairs. It was actually fun, as the closer you thought you were getting, the farther away the lighthouse looked. Oh, if you want, you can actually drive up a couple of side streets toward the lighthouse and take a few steps.
The view from the top was impressive. When doesn’t the Mississippi River look amazing?
We spent almost two hours on our Mark Twain tour. It can be done in 1-1 ½ hours, as well.
We’ll need to stop back in Hannibal to check out more attractions. The city has a Mark Twain cave, as well as the home of the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown (she of Titanic fame). Molly was born in Hannibal. There is a Hannibal History Museum. Also, ghost tours are offered there. That smells like a Halloween-themed visit.
Whether you are a Mark Twain fan, a fan of great books, or love the off the beaten path attractions, Hannibal has something to offer everyone. I’m a huge fan of history. I love knowing that someone famous walked in the same area that I’m standing, etc. Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens give that to visitors.
For more information on the Mark Twain Museum, please visit www.marktwainmuseum.org.
For more information on Hannibal, please visit www.visithannibal.com.