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Visit Hannibal Missouri—Mark Twain's Childhood Home

Updated on November 3, 2015
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in this Mark Twain monument in Hannibal, Missouri
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in this Mark Twain monument in Hannibal, Missouri | Source

Hannibal? The fellow who led a cavalry of jangling war elephants over the Alps? Or Hannibal, the Lector fellow who disgraced the name of the previous man by the same name?

No, I discovered a Hannibal nearer to America's hometown. This March, a road trip through the midwest landed our family in a small town in Missouri late one evening and we quickly found lodging and bedded down for the night. The next morning we read up on some brochures and found out that Mark Twain's house during his childhood was just a few blocks away, and the "very fence" that Tom Sawyer painted was right next to it! Or so said the brochure. This was the place where the fellow who said—

I could easily learn to prefer an elephant to any other vehicle, partly because of that immunity from collisions, and partly because of the fine view one has from up there, and partly because of the dignity one feels in that high place, and partly because one can look in at the windows and see what is going on privately among the family.

—the place where that fellow, spent his childhood watching trains, floating paper boats, and eating candy.

Mark Twain is most famous for his novels on the adventurous boyhoods of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, though he also wrote satirical comedies on social issues, people issues, and Christianity. His book, The Bible According to Mark Twain is particularly unabashedly blasphemous, and one wonders where the man who wrote that "to trust the God of the Bible is to trust an irascible, vindictive, fierce and ever fickle and changeful master"—ended up when he crossed the river.

Map of Hannibal, Missouri

show route and directions
A markerMark Twain Memorial Lighthouse -
601-741 Bridge St, Hannibal, MO 63401, USA
get directions

Lighthouse located high above Hannibal, Missouri on Cardiff Hill.

B markerMark Twain's Boyhood Home and Museum -
120 N Main St, Hannibal, MO 63401, USA
get directions

The house where Mark Twain spent his boyhood. It is located across the street from his father's law office.

Spring Break at Mark Twain's Boyhood Home

If you are looking for spring break ideas, consider visiting Hannibal, Missouri. It is only a day's drive from most of the midwest, and has a lovely climate during the spring. Kids will enjoy the interactive exhibits, the reenactments, and the hands-on activities surrounding the Mark Twain historicity.

Make it educational, and read passages of Mark Twain's books! Analyze his philosophy, his impact on American thought, and weigh his words to see if he wrote with truth or falseness. As with any author, inspect both what he said, and how he said it. Though he was gifted in making a sentence sing-a-ling and a story hop-a-long, is his writing worth reading for the content as well?

Your family will also enjoy the scenery and walks along the river itself, or exploring the vintage-themed shops and specialty stores in the shopping district of Hannibal.

Mark Twain's House

The childhood house of Mark Twain
The childhood house of Mark Twain | Source

There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain House

The central attraction in Hannibal is the house Mark Twain lived in as a boy. It looks small, plain, and white from the front, but is really quite long, extending past a garden, and up two very generous stories. Because Mark Twain wrote about boyhood, his own boyhood is an object of curiosity to us. Did he paint fences? Did he attend his own funeral? Did he have a happy home? Did he hunt for treasure?

The Mark Twain house is open from 9 to 5 for daily tours, and is one of the buildings included in your museum pass for all eight of the historic buildings in Hannibal. Tickets are priced thusly: Adults (18+): $10.00, Seniors (60+): $8.50, Children (6-17): $6.00, and 5 and under: Free. Get more info on the Mark Twain Boyhood Home Tours.

Just a short walk down the sidewalk leads you to the great Mississippi River, the body of water that fascinated Twain for his entire life. No doubt little Samuel Clemens heard the steamboats chug up the river as a boy, his ears ever perked for the familiar, "Mark one!" or "Mark three!" or "MARK TWAIN!" Lyrical river men were christening him night and day.

Tom Sawyer's Fence in Hannibal, Missouri

Inspect Tom Sawyer's contracted fence job when you visit Mark Twain's childhood home.
Inspect Tom Sawyer's contracted fence job when you visit Mark Twain's childhood home. | Source
Try whitewashing the fence yourself--only you must bring a "treasure" with you to pay Tom for the privilege to use his paint and bucket.
Try whitewashing the fence yourself--only you must bring a "treasure" with you to pay Tom for the privilege to use his paint and bucket. | Source

Visit the Whitewashed Fence in Hannibal Missouri

In the story of the fence in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, clever little Tom is stuck whitewashing a fence on a beautiful day when he would rather be off playing. His friends come by to taunt him for his having to work, but he pretends he is having such a fine time that nothing could persuade him to give up the job, and that Aunt Polly is so very particular about how the fence must be painted. Finally he "reluctantly" gives up the paintbrush to his pestering friend who cannot imagine a more pleasant way to spend a day, and soon a crowd gathers and a line forms.

There was no lack of material; boys happened along every little while; they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash. By the time Ben was [tired] out, Tom had traded the next chance to Billy fisher for a kite in good repair; and when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a dead rat and a string to sing it with - and so on, hour after hour. And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had, besides the things before mentioned, twelve marbles, part of a jew’s-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spoon cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar-but-no-dog, the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated window-sash.

He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while—plenty of company—and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash, he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.

Read the entire Tom Sawyer fence story here.

Mark Twain's Boyhood House

Mark Twain Historic Landmark
Mark Twain Historic Landmark | Source

Old Mark Twain Memorial Bridge in Hannibal, Missouri

Photo of the first Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, taken in 1997 before it was demolished in 2000.
Photo of the first Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, taken in 1997 before it was demolished in 2000. | Source
Bricks on the first bridge
Bricks on the first bridge | Source

Mark Twain Memorial Bridge

We enjoyed our stroll along what is remaining of the first Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. The new bridge, built in 2000, was not half so interesting as the one that had been built in 1936, but was now demolished except for a little outlook over the river. It was semi-inspiring to stand at the stub of the old bridge and watch the Mississippi promenade itself past us. Half a glance up the river was an island, of course. As a famous fellow (hint: we have been speaking of him) once said, "a river without islands is like a woman without hair."

Below is my video of the river view from the Mark Twain bridge, and the train that came by as we were standing there. If you are a young boy and like imaginary adventures, rivers, and trains, you may find the video interesting. Otherwise, you may not.

Mississippi River and Train

Other Attractions in Hannibal, Missouri: The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse

We enjoyed a brisk, short climb up to the white lighthouse. For a bright spring day such as it was, the lighthouse looked particularly brilliant, though preposterous. It was situated far above the river, and far away from the rocks below. What steamboats did it warn of the jagged boulders? What alarms did it communicate on a dark and stormy night to the citizens on the opposite shore? Why is the lighthouse door barred up? One guiltily wonders these things on a bright spring day.

Later I found that my suspicions of the lighthouse's redundancy were valid. Here is its mission statement:

The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse was originally built in 1935 not as an aid to navigation but to shine light over the year-long festivities surrounding celebration of Mark Twain's birthday. The lighthouse was originally lit by President Franklin D. Roosevelt from the White House. The lighthouse was rebuilt in the 1960s and rededicated by President Kennedy. The lighthouse was refurbished in 1994 and rededicated by President Clinton. The lighthouse continues to shine but as it has from its beginning not as an aid to navigation but as a memorial to the great author.

What a disappointment to find that my hard-working imaginations could not inspire this lighthouse to true purpose. What is a lighthouse that does not aid navigation? How can it illuminate year-long festivities for an event that only occurs once a year? And how could President Franklin D. Roosevelt start the fire in the lighthouse all the way from the White House? One wonders these things on a bright spring morning.

Lighthouse in Hannibal, Missouri

Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse in Hannibal Missouri
Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse in Hannibal Missouri | Source
We had not thought of writing on the lighthouse until the lighthouse thought we were going to write on the lighthouse.
We had not thought of writing on the lighthouse until the lighthouse thought we were going to write on the lighthouse. | Source

Nonetheless, our stay in Hannibal was unexpectedly delightful. If we had more time there, we certainly would have explored the historic homes in more detail, taken a longer walk to the rumored Lover's Leap, and gone fishing off a pier in the Mississippi. As it was, our elephants were itching to be on the road again, so we stepped up on the whitewashed fence, climbed aboard our large gray beasts, peered in the windows of the houses as we passed them and promenaded off into the sunset.

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    • collegatariat profile image

      collegatariat 5 years ago

      What a fun trip! Looks like a great way to spend a day. Thanks for sharing the fun.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Well written! Great pictures. This looks like a fun excursion.

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      A young boy who likes trains and imaginary adventures wandered by as I was reading this, watched your video, and found it interesting.

    • Jane Grey profile image
      Author

      Ann Leavitt 5 years ago from Oregon

      Collegatariat,

      It was a fun morning! We were thinking it would have been fun to have more time there. The Mark Twain bookstore had more Twain books in it than I knew he wrote!

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 4 years ago from Arizona

      What a fascinating and fun trip to Hannibal! I was born and raised in MO, but never visited Mark Twain's childhood home. Now I feel like I have! What a thorough and well-researched Hub. I love your use of personal photos and the map capsule. Well-done! Thank you for sharing. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Jane Grey profile image
      Author

      Ann Leavitt 4 years ago from Oregon

      Thanks Linda! I appreciate your thoughtful comment. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 20 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Jane, thanks for sharing this wonderful travelogue to visit Mark Twain's historical homes in Hannibal Missouri. Your visual tour with the photos was fantastic and your description of it had guided it through long. It sounds like a family fun trip that everyone could enjoy. Congrats on HOTD!

    • ILoveLegosToo profile image

      Tom Fattes 20 months ago from Naperville, IL

      My wife and I visited Hannibal almost 17 years ago, while my sister-in-law was in Quincy, Illinois, and it still looks the same from these pictures. I remember going on the Mark Twain cave tour and enjoying the whole adventure along with the stories the guide was telling.

    • Jane Grey profile image
      Author

      Ann Leavitt 20 months ago from Oregon

      Thanks, Kristen! It was a fun little stop in our long road trip, and I'll always be able to picture the whitewashed fence whenever I read that passage again!

    • Jane Grey profile image
      Author

      Ann Leavitt 20 months ago from Oregon

      ILoveLegosToo,

      That's fascinating about the cave tour! I did not have a chance to go there that morning. Was the cave tour in Hannibal? I'll have to do that sometime-- sounds fun.

    • ILoveLegosToo profile image

      Tom Fattes 20 months ago from Naperville, IL

      Jane,

      I know it has a Hannibal address and probably at least a mile from the downtown area. From what I recall you had to drive to get to it.

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