Lit­er­ary land­scape

A visit with Tom and Huck in Mark Twain’s Mis­souri home­town

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - DESTINATIONS - By David and Kay Scott

SA­MUEL Cle­mens was born in the small com­mu­nity of Florida, Mo., and died 75 years later in Red­ding, Conn., but it was the 11 years of his youth in Han­ni­bal, Mo., that flavoured much of Cle­mens’ best-known works. The char­ac­ters, lo­ca­tions, and ex­pe­ri­ences of Huck­le­berry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher were fre­quently drawn from events and ac­quain­tances dur­ing the years Cle­mens lived in Han­ni­bal. Cle­mens, bet­ter known by his pen name Mark Twain, served as a riverboat cap­tain, Con­fed­er­ate sol­dier (sort of), type­set­ter, news­pa­per reporter, gold miner and one of Amer­ica’s best­known au­thors. He led an ad­ven­tur­ous life, mar­ried the daugh­ter of a wealthy busi­ness­man, suc­cess­fully pub­lished the mem­oirs of Ulysses S. Grant, made quite a lot of money and au­thored books that have re­mained pop­u­lar for more than a cen­tury. Cle­mens also made poor in­vest­ment choices, de­clared per­sonal bank­ruptcy, suf­fered nu­mer­ous fam­ily tragedies and died an un­happy man. It’s dif­fi­cult to gain an un­der­stand­ing of Sa­muel Cle­mens and his cre­ations of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer with­out tak­ing a look at the com­mu­nity in which he grew to adult­hood. Like most of us, Cle­mens’ child­hood and com­ing of age in­flu­enced his think­ing, ac­tions, and ac­com­plish­ments dur­ing the re­main­der of his life. Birth of a river town Han­ni­bal is a river town where steam­boats once plied this great rib­bon of wa­ter that was named by the Ojibwe who lived fur­ther north in present-day Min­nesota. This was a di­vided com­mu­nity dur­ing the U.S. Civil War with con­flict be­tween Con­fed­er­ate sym­pa­thiz­ers and abo­li­tion­ists. It is a town that evolved from re­ly­ing mostly on trade and lum­ber to one that pros­pered, at least for a time, from the pro­duc­tion of shoes and stoves. Life along and on the river would serve as an im­por­tant in­flu­ence on Cle­mens’ life and writ­ings. Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes in­clud­ing the Mis­souri, Sac and Fox oc­cu­pied this area of present-day Mis­souri for cen­turies prior to the 1673 ap­pear­ance of Je­suit priest Father Mar­quette and French-Cana­dian ex­plorer Louis Joliet. In the late 1700s, Span­ish land grants were is­sued when salt was dis­cov­ered in the vicin­ity. How­ever, it was not un­til 1800, dur­ing a Span­ish map­ping ex­pe­di­tion, that a small trib­u­tary of the great Mis­sis­sippi was named Han­ni­bal Creek af­ter the fa­mous Carthaginian gen­eral, con­sid­ered by many as one of his­tory’s great­est mil­i­tary com­man­ders.

The com­mu­nity of Han­ni­bal was founded in 1819 by Moses Bates who, along with a friend, con­structed a log cabin at the cur­rent in­ter­sec­tion of Main and Bird streets. Bates had ar­rived with the as­sign­ment of plat­ting the town for a com­pany that in­tended to sell lots. Sev­eral years later, Bates pur­chased a steam­boat he uti­lized to make trips be­tween Galena, Ill., and St. Louis, with stopovers at Han­ni­bal along the way. Fif­teen years fol­low­ing Han­ni­bal’s 1845 of­fi­cial char­ter as a city, the town had grown to more than 2,000 in­di­vid­u­als and the first school was con­structed. The town’s early growth re­ceived an as­sist from trav­ellers pass­ing through in the mid-1800s on their way to the Cal­i­for­nia gold fields, fol­lowed sev­eral years later by com­ple­tion of the first rail­road to cross the state. Street cars, tele­phone ser­vice, a pub­lic wa­ter sys­tem, ad­di­tional pub­lic schools, and Mis­souri’s first tax-sup­ported li­brary all ap­peared in Han­ni­bal be­fore the turn of the cen­tury. The area’s in­dus­tries changed with the times. In the early years, em­ploy­ment was con­cen­trated in busi­nesses such as lum­ber milling, cooper­ing, tan­ning, and can­dle mak­ing. Th­ese were re­placed by lum­ber­ing and ce­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing. In the 1920s, the town laid claim to the largest shoe fac­tory in the United States. ride west, where he ended up in Vir­ginia City, Nev. Af­ter fail­ing to achieve his goal of get­ting rich in min­ing, Cle­mens went to work for the lo­cal news­pa­per, the Ter­ri­to­rial En­ter­prise. This was where, in 1863, he first used the pen name “Mark Twain,” a term mean­ing “two fath­oms,” the river depth that al­lowed safe pas­sage for most river­boats. Cle­mens sub­se­quently moved to San Fran­cisco, trav­elled to Hawaii and, in 1867, toured Europe and the Middle East. Th­ese ad­ven­tures served as back­ground for a num­ber of his ar­ti­cles and books, in­clud­ing The Cel­e­brated Jump­ing Frog of Calav­eras County, Rough­ing It and The In­no­cents Abroad. He re­turned to the United States in 1868, and two years later mar­ried the 24-year-old daugh­ter of a wealthy busi­ness­man. This led to a move to Buf­falo, N.Y., and the ac­qui­si­tion of part in­ter­est in the city’s news­pa­per, the Buf­falo Ex­press. The Cle­mens sub­se­quently moved to Hart­ford, Conn., where they lived for nearly two decades and he au­thored some of his best-known works, in­clud­ing The Ad­ven­tures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pau­per, Ad­ven­tures of Huck­le­berry Finn and A Con­necti­cut Yan­kee in King Arthur’s Court. De­spite a suc­cess­ful writ­ing ca­reer and, ini­tially, a suc­cess­ful pub­lish­ing ca­reer, Cle­mens made some poor in­vest­ment de­ci­sions and filed for per­sonal bank­ruptcy in 1894. He ex­pe­ri­enced a num­ber of per­sonal tragedies, in­clud­ing the deaths of his son and three of his four daugh­ters. He was also pre­ceded in death by his wife. Cle­mens died of a heart at­tack in April of 1910, and is buried at Wood­lawn Ceme­tery in Elmira, N.Y. The burial plot in­cludes a mon­u­ment two-fath­oms (3.6-me­tres) tall. in­ter­state con­nec­tions. How­ever, it is Han­ni­bal as Sa­muel Cle­mens’ home­town that at­tracts most vis­i­tors to this his­toric river city. Al­though Cle­mens has been de­ceased for more than a cen­tury, his spirit surely lives on in Han­ni­bal, where the lo­cal tele­phone book lists 23 busi­nesses named for the town’s most-fa­mous ci­ti­zen. Th­ese range from Mark Twain Auto & Tire Re­pair to Mark Twain Taxi. And don’t for­get Becky’s Old Fash­ioned Ice Cream Par­lor and Em­po­rium, Cle­mens Field, and Mrs. Cle­mens Shop.

SA­MUEL Cle­mens’ home was within shout­ing dis­tance of the dock where steam­boats un­loaded freight and pas­sen­gers, mak­ing it easy to un­der­stand why the young boy would yearn to be­come a steam­boat cap­tain. His boy­hood home and an ad­join­ing gift shop are the be­gin­ning point of a self-guid­ing tour of all things Mark Twain. The house, with ex­hibits and in­for­ma­tion about re­lated sites, is filled with pe­riod fur­ni­ture as there is no record of the home’s fur­ni­ture pieces when Cle­mens lived here. Lo­cated be­side Mark Twain’s Boy­hood Home is the re­con­structed Huck­le­berry Finn House on the site where Cle­mens’ un­schooled, but good-hearted child­hood friend, Tom Blanken­ship, lived. (Blanken­ship was the in­spi­ra­tion for the Huck­le­berry Finn char­ac­ter.) Other sites as­so­ci­ated with Cle­mens’ writ­ings in­clude the Becky Thatcher House (where his boy­hood sweet­heart, Laura Hawkins, lived) and Grant’s Drug Store (where the Cle­mens fam­ily lived for a spell fol­low­ing the death of Sa­muel’s father). The J.M. Cle­mens Jus­tice of the Peace of­fice is next door. A mu­seum gallery two blocks south on Main Street houses Cle­mens fam­ily ar­ti­facts and a num­ber of Nor­man Rock­well sketches and oil paint­ings com­mis­sioned by the pub­lisher of two of Cle­mens’ most-fa­mous books. A sin­gle ticket (US$11 adults, US$9 se­niors, US$7 chil­dren) pro­vides en­trance for all th­ese venues. Other places of in­ter­est in or near Han­ni­bal in­clude the Mark Twain Cave ex­plored by Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher in Cle­mens’ writ­ings. The cave is just south of town and guided tours are of­fered. Rock­cliffe Man­sion, a late 1800s man­sion built by lo­cal lum­ber baron John Cruik­shank, is open for guided tours from mid-March to mid-Novem­ber. Han­ni­bal Trol­ley Com­pany of­fers sight­see­ing tours from mid-April through Oc­to­ber. The town is home to the Han­ni­bal Cave­men, a Prospect League base­ball team com­prised of un­paid col­lege play­ers with col­le­giate el­i­gi­bil­ity re­main­ing. The sea­son runs from late May to mid-Au­gust and $5 gets you in the gate.

David and Kay Scott are au­thors of

(Globe Pe­quot). Visit them at www.val­

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