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
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
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
Read More from WanderWisdom
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
Old Mark Twain Memorial Bridge in Hannibal, Missouri
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.
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
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.