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Beacon Senior News

Step into Tom Sawyer's world

Apr 26, 2021 04:28PM ● By Diana Barnett
A bust of Mark Twain in front of the Mississippi River

Visit the town that inspired Mark Twain

Last summer, my daughter, grandsons and I made an emergency trip to Indiana to help my mother, who had fallen and fractured her kneecap. 

It was in the midst of COVID, so we decided that driving was the better option, even though the trip would take us two and a half days from Colorado. We planned our route based on low COVID case numbers, and found ourselves driving through many small towns due to their safer statistics. On the second night we found ourselves in Hannibal, Missouri, the town that inspired Mark Twain to write his two classics, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” It turned out to be one of the most picturesque stops on our trip.


Sailing the Mississippi

We hadn’t planned to stop for sightseeing, but this little town presented some great learning opportunities for my grandsons, Liam, 8, and Landon, 11. So, we planned a stop in Hannibal on the way home. 

 Luckily, we pulled into Hannibal just before the last riverboat made its sail down the Mississippi River for the afternoon. We took seats on the sparsely populated top deck and enjoyed our ride down the famous river that divides the nation.

Our voyage took us past the old ice plant, where ice was once cut from the river and delivered to iceboxes all over town, as well as on board boats to keep things fresh. From the ship’s deck, we also saw the entrance to the cave, which was visited by Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher in Twain’s book. Later, our excursion took us past Jackson’s Island, where Huckleberry Finn and Jim hid from the law.


The life of Samuel Clemens

The well-kept town was both quaint and colorful. Most things were within walking distance. Its well-preserved historical buildings were located in the Mark Twain Historic District, which bordered the river. 

We began our self-guided tour at the wax museum, which offered a narrated life-size display of all of Twain’s family members, as well as the locals and characters who appeared in his stories. Neither of my grandsons wanted to continue on to the haunted house section of the museum after standing too close to Injun Joe during the audio program. 

We spent most of our time at Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain’s real name) boyhood home and museum, which included access to nine sites for the price of one ticket. We were further pleased to see that only a limited number of visitors could enter at the same time.

The Clemens’ home was a modest two-story, clapboard structure. It was one of the larger historic homes in Hannibal, featuring several small rooms that had once housed the town’s most famous resident and his seven siblings. Visitors got to peek into the rooms, still furnished with furniture belonging to the family. White plaster sculptures of the author in various poses were located throughout the house, with a Twain quote by each one. Here, the author gained his inspiration for the many characters who found their way into his short stories and novels.


The author’s grandsons took a turn painting the fence made famous in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

 

Twain’s home wouldn’t have been complete without the whitewashed picket fence surrounding the property. Tom Sawyer enthusiasts will remember that he persuaded his friends into experiencing the “wonder” of painting the fence so he wouldn’t have to. The fence is always maintained, as anyone who chooses can pick up a brush and continue where the last lucky boy or girl left off. Both of my grandsons took a turn painting the fence.


River town wonders

The museum’s second story offered a replica of an old steamship steering room and a wall-sized window that looked onto the Mississippi. 

Another surprise was the museum’s large gallery of Norman Rockwell paintings. What connection did Norman Rockwell have with Mark Twain? It turns out that Rockwell had been commissioned to illustrate a second printing of “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” in 1935.

We purchased abridged versions of both of Twain’s famous books. Landon entertained us by reading them aloud on the drive back to Colorado.

While totally unexpected, we found that the stop in Hannibal was a delightful diversion from long hours spent on the road in the midst of a challenging pandemic.