Monday, November 1, 2010

Tom Sawyer's and Huck Finn's genesis

Mark Twain's home and the birthplace of many of his stories.

You’ve all heard of Hannibal, Missouri, right? No? Well, in case you haven’t, it’s where Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was born and spent his childhood. Hannibal is situated on the Mississippi River, about 110 miles north of St. Louis. Because it was built in a valley between bluffs to the north and south, and at a narrow point in the river, it became a favorite stop for steamboats picking up loads of crops and wood from local areas back in the mid 1800s.

This was the setting for Mark Twain’s fictional books, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Although he changed the names of people and places, Clemens eventually named names, and places like Becky Thatcher’s house are clearly identified.

Hannibal has fallen on hard times in this recession, and in spite of the 100th anniversary commemorating Clemens death in 1910, tourism is down. Blocks of historic buildings where businesses once thrived have been deserted. There are still a few places to eat and several motels, but the once-grand Mark Twain Hotel has been converted into apartments.

If you go, do visit Mark Twain’s house and the museum. There’s a touristy steamboat that will take you on a ride along the Mississippi, narrating Hannibal’s history and places along the river where Sam Clemens played as a child, then used the places and events in his stories.

We stayed in the Mark Twain Cave campground of Tom Sawyer fame, which is about 10 minutes south of town. That’s 10 minutes by car through hilly roads, but when Clemens and his friends hiked over to the caverns that he made famous in his Tom Sawyer story, it would have taken an hour or two for the kids to get there.

Okay, here’s what happened. It had been windy on our trip to reach Hannibal. Rick wrestled the beast all day to keep it steady on the road. We toured a little the first afternoon and had a so-so dinner in town. That night, the winds picked up considerably. Shaking the coach, it howled and whistled through the trees. The TV. shows were continuously interrupted with high wind warnings. Then tornado warnings were announced for our area! There were very few people in the campground (mostly full-time residents in their trailers), and the office, which was a considerable distance from us, was closed.

Many of the campgrounds where we had stayed actually had tornado shelters on the grounds. They were marked on the maps you are given when you check in. But not at this campground! We had absolutely no idea where to go, and the other RVs weren’t anywhere near us, so we didn’t know if the other people had evacuated. But where would they have gone? Rick decided that a nearby concrete block bathroom and laundry room would be stronger than anything else in the RV park. By now, the winds were gusting at over 60 mph! Leaves were flying and swirling, making it difficult to see outside.

At about 2 a.m., the tornado sirens still hadn’t gone off, and we were exhausted. We laid on the bed, fully dressed, the rest of the night. We dozed off and on, not knowing what to expect next. Boy, was that a long night.

Well, the tornados touched down about 20 miles away, then swept over to Indianapolis and up to Chicago. This weather front created a lot of destruction, breaking all of the records for wind speeds. Give me earthquakes, thank you very much!

The next morning, trees were down, branches had been snapped, and our TV. antenna, which was actually down, was considerably bent. It was still windy, and the weather was uncertain. We thought about simply leaving, but the winds were too high to be on the road.

The first thing we did was head for the campground office. We were advised that if the winds kicked up again, and tornados were in the area, we should run for the Tom Sawyer caverns. That was the tornado shelter! Wish they had told us the day before….

Anyway, we had planned to take the steamboat ride the next day, but it was so windy, the trip was cancelled. Instead, we visited some of the shops, the museum, and the cemetery where Clemens family is buried. Lunch was at the Rustic Oak Riverview CafĂ© in the touristy Sawyer’s Creek village across from our campgrounds. What a surprise! The food was fabulous! In fact, it was so good, we had to go back for dinner. As the sun set and the sky turned shades of pink, the muddy river actually looked beautiful.

The wind blew throughout the night, but the bulk of the storm had moved on, so the wind speeds weren’t nearly as bad. We were both pooped and let the shaking of the RV rock us to sleep.

Statue of Mark Twain ovelooking the Mississippi in Hannibal, MO

Statue in Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal.

Entry on gangway in Hannibal

Mark Twain's boyhood home and the famous fence.

Becky Thatcher's house ... across the street from Twain's.

View of Hannibal from Lover's Leap.

Old Town Hannibal ... some of which Mark Twain would have seen.

Tom Sawyer's village on the river ... kid's park and good cafe.

Entrance to the Cave of Tom Sawyer fame and our RV campground.

Shamu and friend in the Cave campgroundl
Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal.
Mark Twain statue on the banks of the Missl

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