KT Dunn is a Midwest native with a lifelong interest in history and mystery.
There is an air of expectation in this sleepy old river town. Shops and cafes are open, and signboards dot the sidewalks. A trolley trundles down the street with a handful of cars in its wake. Down at the water's edge, a riverboat loaded with passengers sets off on the first excursion of the day. It’s another beautiful summer morning in Hannibal, Missouri, and the tourist season is in full swing.
It's a good day to take a little driving tour around town, and to focus on some well-known and lesser-known sites in and around Hannibal.
The Mark Twain Effect
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), the writer and humorist better known as Mark Twain, grew up in Hannibal and called upon his boyhood memories of the busy river port town when he created his best-known characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
While Hannibal is perhaps most famous for its connection to Mark Twain, the town and surrounding area offer many other things to do and see, including landmarks, museums, parks, caves, restaurants, and shopping. Tourism continues to play an important role in modern-day Hannibal's economy.
Hannibal, Missouri, is located in northeastern Missouri adjacent to the Mississippi River, with a current population of about 17,000.
The town of Hannibal today is home to artisans, industries, schools, and a regional medical center.
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum
A plaque on the fence next to Mark Twain's boyhood home indicates that in 1963 it was designated a national historic landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. The addition of 206-208 Hill Street, Hannibal, to the newly established National Register of Historic Places was completed on October 15, 1966.
The complex consists of several buildings besides the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, including the Becky Thatcher House, the John Marshall Clemens Justice of the Peace Office (John Marshall Clemens was Samuel Clemens' father), the Pilaster House, and the Huckleberry Finn House.
Some Hannibal Locations on the National Register of Historic Places
Many locations throughout Hannibal, which spans parts of both Marion and Ralls Counties, have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A few of those places include:
- Mark Twain Boyhood Home: added 1963.
- Mark Twain Historic District: added 1978.
- United States Post Office/Federal Building: added 1980.
- Rockcliffe Mansion: added 1980.
- Mark Twain Hotel (200 South Main Street): added 1986.
- Riverview Park: added 2005.
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Riverview Park is a very large forested park area with views overlooking the Mississippi River, managed by the Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department. A focal point of the park is the Samuel Clemens Memorial.
The inscription reads, in part: "His religion was humanity and a whole world mourned for him when he died."
The statue was rededicated in 2013, one hundred years after its placement in 1913. The park itself observed its one-hundredth birthday in 2009.
Old Post Office
One of the buildings listed on the National Register is the old Federal Building located at 600 Broadway in Hannibal. An example of Second Empire architecture, it was designed by architect Mifflin E. Bell. Construction was completed in 1888. Once used as a post office, it also served as a court building until 1960.
Locations called Lover's Leap generally have a myth or story attached to them, and Hannibal's Lover's Leap is no exception. The natural limestone bluff extending out over the Mississippi on Hannibal's southeast side is marked with a nearby plaque telling the story of the legend, but the origin of that legend is not well documented.
The bluff is part of a five-acre tract called Lover's Leap Park, with views of Hannibal and the Mississippi River, and is one of the 25 parks managed by Hannibal's Parks & Recreation Department.
The Rockcliffe Mansion can be seen from the overlook area.
The memorial to the three lost boys who disappeared in 1967 has also been recently relocated next to the parking area near the bluff.
The Lost Boys
One of the more enduring mysteries in Hannibal history is the disappearance of three local boys more than 50 years ago, in May 1967. Brothers Billy and Joey Hoag and their friend Craig Dowell, ages 10, 13, and 14, respectively, reportedly set out one day to explore caves in the area, but never returned home. An arduous search ensued, involving rescuers and leads from across the country, but to no avail. The memorial pictured above has been placed in Lover's Leap Park.
The stone is inscribed with the names of the three boys and the following remembrance:
“On May 10, 1967, three adventurous boys explored these hills in the footprints of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer only to never be seen again. Craig, Joey, and Billy will be remembered by rescue teams who came from coast to coast to solve the disappearance. These boys are dearly missed and loved by their families and friends, but will never be forgotten by all. This historical monument also reflects the love of the community and a nation who helped in the search.”
Another entry on the National Register is Rockcliffe Mansion. Built by John Cruikshank in 1899, the mansion sits atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and the town. Mark Twain visited here during his last trip to Hannibal in 1902.
Rockcliffe is an architectural tribute to its designers, Barnes, Haynes, & Barnett of St. Louis, and the vision of its original owner, the lumber merchant John J. Cruikshank.
Mr. Cruikshank died in 1924. Following many years of neglect, the house was rescued from the wrecking ball and today is the site of a bed and breakfast as well as popular guided tours.
There is much more history and much more to do and explore in Hannibal. Some of the possibilities include:
- Haunted Hannibal Ghost Tours
- Mark Twain Cave Complex
- Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum
- Hannibal History Museum
- Big River Train Town Museum
- Art Galleries
- Theater Performances
- Parks and Recreation
- Trolley Tours
- Riverboat Excursions
I hope this article has inspired you to add Hannibal to your travel plans. Once you have experienced for yourself the welcoming atmosphere and delightful mix of scenery, history, and legend here, you will better understand how this place came to be called America's Hometown.