(Jan) When Chuck and I discovered that we had twelve days between family events we swapped ideas about where to go. Chuck suggested Hannibal, Missouri and I’m sure glad he did. Probably best knows as Samuel Clemen’s boyhood home, the waterfront of this town of 17,000 sits right on the banks of the Mississippi River so it has a levee to protect the town against floods. We found a great boondocking spot at 3rd & Lyon Streets not too far from the riverfront activities.
Samuel Clement grew up on this riverfront. His father died when Samuel was 11 and soon after he quit school and began working as a type setter at the local newspaper. This gave him a set of clothes and meals and allowed him to write an occasional story. But among the lads growing up along the Mississippi, the grandest ambition of all was to be a steamboat pilot, a goal which Clement did realize. Piloting a Steamboat on the river took a great deal of savvy in reading the current and knowing where the sandbars were forming. The Steamboat required a depth of two fathoms for safe passage. To measure this a Leadsman would drop a knotted or marked rope and when the water level reached the depth of the second knot, he would call out ‘mark twain’.
When writing in those days, it was fashionable to have a pen name and thus Clemen’s Mark Twain was born. Mark Twain went on to write articles in newspaper & magazines and to author many books. He was a much loved humorist and there was a great demand for his Speeches. On a trip down the Mississippi for his book ‘Life on the Mississippi’, Clements visited his old home town and the memories of his boyhood there came flooding back. The book ‘Tom Sawyer’ based on his boyhood in Hannibal soon followed. The sequel ‘Huckleberry Finn’ was written some years later after much struggle and contemplation. It is now called by many, the First Great American Novel.
We enjoyed our time here immensely. A treat for us was a boat ride on the Mark Twain Riverboat. It was wonderful being out on the mighty Mississippi and seeing the sights along the river! We also hiked up to the Mark Twain memorial Lighthouse for a panoramic view of the area on the north side of town and drove up to Lovers Leap on the south side of town for another amazing view.
In Hannibal we bought a pass which gave us entrance to the Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher homes, the Clemen’s Justice of the Peace Office, Grant’s Drug Store, the Museum Gallery and the Interpretive Center. We enjoyed the houses and the Interpretive Center but we felt the gem was the Museum. The Mark Twain film shown there was by Ken Burns and it was amazing! Also the storyboards and pictures brought Mark Twain to life.
We did drive south of town after driving to Lovers Leap and found a Memorial to the town of Ilasco. Founded in 1901 by the Atlas Portland Cement Company, a large Eastern European population was recruited to work there. The town’s name is an acronym for the ingredients of concrete - iron, lead, aluminum, silicon, calcium and oxygen. Ilasco provided cement for the Panama Canal as well as many building and bridges in the east before it’s closing in 1963 when the former town of 3,000 declined. It was unincorporated as much of the community property was used when highway 79 was re-routed. There are still two active churches there.
On our way back to town we came upon an old cemetery. Chuck knew that some relatives of his who had gone to California in the 1849 Gold Rush days returned to this area to settle. We decided to walk through and sure enough, we found several family graves. Such a neat discovery!