From Clarksdale, Mississippi, where we had our fill of BBQ and blues, we followed the Mighty Mississippi to Hannibal, Missouri. Hannibal has been on my bucket list since I was a young adventurer myself who read The Adventures Tom Sawyer and the story of his buddy Huck Finn. Home of America’s greatest well-traveled storyteller, Mark Twain. Our inspiration to make our own American road trip adventure.
Hannibal’s favorite son
The Mississippi River winds downstream 100 miles to St. Louis. It’s here in Hannibal, Missouri, that Samuel Clemens was born and later took on his pen name Mark Twain. This was the house he grew up in.
Obviously the story is fictional but the characters and this town come to life in his writings. This is the house that Tom Sawyer’s girl friend Becky Thatcher lived. A house right across the street from young Sam’s boyhood home.
Here’s an interesting Twain tidbit on how Samuel Clemens acquired his pen name. As a young Sam and riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River, he would cry out to the captain, ” mark twain! “, the measurement of two fathoms, as the boat traveled the river.
Glory of the old river days and the call from atop the pilothouse on the paddlewheel steamer.
Caves are places to dream
His passion for the river went beyond the muddy waters of the Mississippi. He spent many days exploring the caves which bore through the banks of the river about a mile upstream from town. Today, Hali and I are finding our way through this labyrinth of underground caves in the footsteps of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.
It is said that outlaw Jesse James hid here and other early cave explorers signed the limestone walls after scorching them with their candlelit soot. This one dates back to 1884. Finding our way in the dark, I imagine Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher down here etching their names into the cave walls by candlelight.
Later, when the Civil War put an end to his time as a steamboat pilot on the river, Mr. Twain traveled to Sacramento, California, to join the Gold Rush as a prospector. A 10-day ride in coach class cost him $150. Pretty spendy fare in 1861 inflationary dollars.
As we walked along the western bank of the Mississippi, I couldn’t help but visualize a barefoot Tom Sawyer sitting here on a mud levee with his straw hat and bullfrog gig at the ready. I also picture Mark Twain in his finest southern whites wondering this same path and coming up with arguably the most quotable quotes of any American writer. Too many to chose a favorite.
Mark Twain ~ my imaginary Tom Sawyer buddy ~ the boy AND the man I would love to share the Thanksgiving table with or tip a pint of Jumping Frog IPA here at the Mark Twain Brewery on main street America ~ Hannibal, Missouri.
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”