Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Missouri: Hannibal, MO

I'm sure that Hannibal, Missouri has plenty of other fine qualities and historical strengths. In fact, charming curators at a little historical museum located in the equaly charming downtown will love to tell you all about the interesting and colorful past of this little town along the Mississippi River. Did you know that it is named after THE Hannibal, like the general that crossed over the Alps with elephants hundreds of years ago. Many of the little rivers and streams in this part of Missouri are named after ancient generals. Hooray for classical history! Says the girl that got a minor in classical civilizations and doesn't mind at all using that education to reenact scenes from long ago toga wearing times at random times and places. This is true fact, I got witnesses.  Did you also know that THE Unsinkable Molly Brown was born and raised in Hannibal? I didn't know this, but upon learning it, I beamed with Missouri pride and might of declared to my fellow museum goers: WE ARE UNSINKABLE. Ohh, that would look good on t-shirts, no? 

But, really. Really. Over the years, Hannibal has almost become synonymous with one other particular hometown hero; a Mr. Mark Twain. Or if you are being technical, a Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens. I love saying his full name and drawing out the Langhorne with a slight twang, Samuel Lannnng-horne Clemens. That just sounds so right, and if you got a middle name like Langhorne, it just gots to sound right.

Although, not born in Hannibal, Twain lived out most of his boyhood years in the small town, and was heavily inspired by not only the town itself, but also it's people. The motto of The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is, The Stories Started Here, and truth is truth. I am very strong in my opinion that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the greatest American novel, it a beautiful story of human worth and discovering your own identity and beliefs amid, and in some cases despite of, social and cultural norms. The part where Huck tries to pray, is one of my favorite in all of the written word. But I won't quote it all in full, so you will feel some sort of curiosity, which well hopefully get you to go and read the whole book, but somewhere in the midst of it, Huck declares "All right, then, I'll GO to hell."  I am sure that there are some that question Huck Finn's place in the American cannon, but I am also sure that they have their own blogs to lobby those points.

 Huck Finn was based on, or at least largely drawn from, a childhood friend of Twain's named Tom Blankenship. In his autobiography, Twain wrote: "In Huckleberry Finn, I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had a good a heart as ever any boy had."  And also true to Huck, Tom was the son of the abusive town drunk. The Blankenship house has been rebuilt closely behind the Twain home (there is debate on whether that is exactly where the original Blankenship house stood, but for tourists it is super convenient), and it is so small and cramped, that life out on the river and whatever freedom that may bring seems to be a very reasonable alternative. 

Becky Thatcher, of Tom Sawyer's swooning heart fame, was also based on a real person, the girl next door, or well, across the street, Laura Hawkins. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum are in the final stages of restoring the Hawkins home, which is often referred to as just, "The Becky." 

Also restored are the Twain/Clemens home, the jail where the senior Clemens served as a justice of the peace, and a drug store with the family lived briefly. And of course, for your picture taking pleasure, a white washed fence.

But even if you are just passing through and can't spare the time for the full tour of a piece of American Literature fame, at least, take a moment to stop at the Tom and Huck statute and maybe, if you can allow me to bossy,  think of one of my favorite Mark Twain, the man from Missouri,  quotables:
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”  

Downtown Hannibal:

Mark Twain keeping a watch over his mighty Mississippi River:

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