A Tradition of Imagination
A wondrous journey to Hannibal, inspired by literature
It’s a journey people have taken for centuries; trekking across the country, even the globe, to trace the steps of the mighty men (and women) of literature and the characters they created. Who wouldn’t go to 221B Baker Street if they found themselves in London, or raise a toast to Hemingway in Havana? Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a plane ticket to walk in the steps of one of the world’s most famous authors. You just need to get to Missouri.
Long Ago, in a Place Not So Far Away
While you’d be hard pressed these days to find a wagon to take you to Hannibal, that’s how the town’s most famous citizen arrived—just before 1840. A four-year-old Samuel Clemens, later known by his pen name, Mark Twain, spent his formative years in the Mississippi River town. Luckily for modern travelers, the town has saved many of young Clemens’ childhood haunts, and if you’re not afraid of the dark, you can follow in the young man’s footsteps.
“‘By and by,’ someone shouted, ‘who’s ready for the cave?’”
Just like those mischievous fictional boys and girls in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, today’s adventurers can explore the labyrinth of cave passages in what is now known as The Mark Twain Cave. This one-hour guided tour blends geological fact with literary fantasy, showing guests the passages young Sam Clemens explored and later put into his famous novel. Don’t worry, your guide won’t run out of candles—the cave is electrically lit.
Many of Mark Twain’s stories have one large common plot device: the rolling, majestic Mississippi River. While in Hannibal, visitors can take a short journey on the river that provided Twain with his pen name—the term “Mark Twain” was a river term meaning the river was deep enough for a steamship to navigate safely. The Mark Twain Riverboat gives visitors the chance to have their own adventure on the Mississippi, and dream of adventures on Jackson’s Island.
Home Sweet Home
Of course, none of these adventures could have taken place had Clemens not lived at 208 Hill Street, the address of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home. The home is now part of an eight-building complex that tells the story of Twain’s life in Hannibal, the influences of the people and places that surrounded him, and the realities of growing up in a slave-holding community. Those walking in Twain’s footsteps can see how a young boy, living only steps away from the river that brought a flood of new visitors and goods daily, could manage to dream of grand adventures while teetering on the brink of poverty.
While Twain’s life carried him away from Hannibal at the age of 17, he did return several times to crowds of adoring friends and fans. On his last visit to Hannibal in 1902, Twain spoke from the steps of the newly built Rockcliffe Mansion, a “short” speech that ended up being more than two hours long. Today, you can see this majestic Gilded Age mansion boasting Tiffany windows and fixtures, along with an astonishing amount of fine American and European furnishings original to the home.
Modern Amenities with Historic Splendor
While Hannibal boasts several fine hotels, for a fully immersive experience a stay in a grand Victorian B&B, just blocks away from Twain’s Boyhood Home, completes the seamless merging of fact and fiction. You can almost imagine Twain lighting a cigar in the gentlemen’s parlor as you relax in your decadently furnished room. Reagan’s Queen Anne and the Dubach Inn delight the senses, while the Belvedere Inn’s feature room offers a 360-degree view of the river and historic downtown.
A Journey Worth Repeating
Just as a well-loved book can offer new pleasure with each reading, Hannibal provides a new adventure with each return visit. Every season brings new festivals and activities, and your travel companions add a unique dimension to every trip. So whether you come to toast Twain’s genius or to bring the kids to walk in the footsteps of Tom Sawyer, you won’t be disappointed.
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