An October 2003 trip
to Hannibal by Re Carroll
Quote: Hannibal, located on the banks of the Mississippi River, is famous as the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. Author of the classic tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain (and his characters) is fondly remembered in Hannibal’s many sights and attractions.
After a morning spent exploring the downtown core we stopped for some Missouri fast food specialties such as frozen custard and a loose meat sandwich. After lunch we expanded our explorations via a guided trolley tour that provided us with lots of information about Twain, Hannibal and the surrounding area. We ran out of time to explore every place in detail but we weren’t too worried because Hannibal is a place that is worth returning to.
Hannibal makes an easy day trip from St. Louis and our favorite route was along Highway 79 with its many scenic views of the mighty Mississippi.
We had a quick look at the lunch buffet -- frog legs, catfish, shrimp, ribs, chicken, and more, but we weren’t looking for a heavy meal so opted to order from the menu instead. There were lots of choices including burgers, sandwiches, salads, chicken, steaks and
catfish done a number of ways.
We started the meal by sharing a half-foot of onion rings for an appetizer. The rings were lightly breaded, deep fried, and then served stacked around a wooden dowel with a trio of sauces -- chili ranch, barbecue, and sweet mustard. I opted to try one of their advertised Missouri specialties, a Maid Rite loose burger. Served on a hamburger bun it reminded me of a sloppy Joe without the tomato sauce, but was juicy and filling. Joyce had Mark Twain fried chicken, Tracey opted for a chef salad and Bea had chicken strips and fries. The chicken was crispy without being greasy and all the portions were more than adequate. The food was nothing special but service was pleasant and prices were cheap. Our beverage of choice was root beer made on site. At $1.25 for a frosted mug with unlimited refills, it was a very good choice.
To finish the meal we shared a couple of small desserts -- frozen vanilla custard which is similar in taste but lighter than ice cream and a pastry dumpling filled with sliced apples. The dumpling was very small -- enough for the four of us to have one bite, but since the cost was only $1.40, we weren’t complaining and neither were our waistlines.
The restaurant is quite large with a couple of separate dining sections and the walls are adorned with pictures of Hannibal's early years. This is not the place to come for gourmet cooking or trendy atmosphere; it is very much a small town diner but for kids, seniors and those who don’t want to spend a lot of money, it is worth a visit. It is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has a children’s and senior’s section on the menu. The restaurant also has outdoor drive in car service for those want to relive memories of the ‘50s.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 1, 2004
Mark Twain Dinette
401 North 3rd Street
Hannibal, Missouri 63401-3302
Attraction | "The Hannibal Trolley Company"
Our driver/guide kept us entertained with interesting tidbits about the town and some of its well-known citizens -- ballplayer Joe Jackson and "Unsinkable" Molly Brown. The majority of the tour centered around the town’s most famous citizen – literary legend
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. One of the more interesting facts I learned was that Twain was born in 1835 when Haley’s Comet was visible from earth and died in 1910, the next time the Comet was visible -- quite an eerie coincidence.
The first major point of interest on the tour was Hill Street where many of the buildings featured in Clemens’ stories are located including the picket fence, Becky Thatcher’s house, Clemens’ boyhood home and the law office where his father worked. The trolley couldn’t actually drive along Hill Street since it is pedestrian only but we got a brief overview of each building.
We made a quick stop at the foot of Cardiff Hill to see the Tom and Huck statue. This bronze statue was sculpted in 1926 and was the first statue commemorating a literary character.
Then it was on to Riverview Park to admire the views of the Mississippi below. From there we stopped at Rockcliffe Mansion. Built in 1900 it was touted as one of the finest river estates in America and was the setting for Twain’s last public appearance in Hannibal in 1902. The mansion has been restored to its original splendor and is open for tours. We also passed by Molly Brown’s home, Hannibal’s second most famous citizen. Molly was born here in 1867 to Irish immigrant parents. Her early years were filled with poverty but in a real life rags to riches story she married a wealthy gentleman and became one of society’s matrons. Her nickname, "Unsinkable," came about because she was one of the survivors of the Titanic.
The trolley traveled to the outskirts of town where we made a brief stop at Sawyers Creek Fun Center as well as the Mark Twain and Cameron Caves, located just across the highway. Our tour finished back in town with a trip along the river front where the Mark Twain Riverboat was moored.
Tours run regularly throughout the day from 9am to 5pm mid April to October. Our tour started from the trolley depot on Main Street and lasted about an hour. Overall it was quite informative and we definitely felt we got our money’s worth. I think the best way is to take the tour first and then go back to individual sights to explore in more detail on your own.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 1, 2004
Hannibal Trolley Company
220 N. Main Street
Hannibal, Missouri 63401
Attraction | "The Haunted House on Hill Street Wax Muxeum"
The house is advertised as part wax museum and part haunted house. After paying our $5 admission fee we entered a narrow, dimly lit hallway where life sized wax effigies of both the real and the fictional family of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain were lined up and displayed behind a glass window. The guide followed us into this part and explained that all the wax statues were hand carved and then gave us a brief overview of Clemens’ life. He and wife Olivia had four children -- one boy and three girls. Their son Langdon lived for less than three years and two daughters (Susy and Jean) both died before their 30th
birthday. Clara was their only child who lived to a ripe old age. She married a Russian pianist and moved to Europe where they had one daughter. The daughter never had any children, so Clemens’ direct line lasted only two generations. Fortunately, Twain’s literary family has survived much longer and is still alive in the hearts and minds of millions of fans. Tom, Huck, Becky, Aunt Polly, Jim and the whole fictional gang were all featured in the display.
After viewing the wax museum, we ventured into the haunted house. As adults who knew it was phony. we still managed to jump, scream, laugh. and holler as much as anyone. I don’t want to give away their secrets. but the house had everything from gunshots through the floor to things that go bang in the night. On a lighter note, we passed by a display of headstones with comic inscriptions such as "John Yeast who failed to rise" and "Samuel Peas -- no Peas left, just the pod."
It didn’t take long to visit this place -- probably 15 minutes in total. Overall, the wax museum was a bit of a disappointment since it was just one big display of characters either sitting or standing -- there was no effort to create scenes or arrange the characters artistically. The haunted house was pretty basic as well but provided us with a lighthearted change from the more serious tasks of eating, sightseeing, and shopping.
The Haunted House on Hill Street Wax Museum
211 Hill Street
Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum - 208 Hill St.
Originally located in Clemens’ boy hood home, the museum was expanded to encompass the house next door. The Clemens house has been restored to its mid 1800 era with lots of period furniture. The museum annex in the back has photos of some of Hannibal’s real life citizens who Twain’s characters were modeled after as well as one of Twain’s original white suit jackets. Standing proudly beside the house is the white picket fence that Tom conned the neighborhood boys into painting.
Becky Thatcher House -- 211 Hill Street
Just across the street is the home of Laura Hawkins, Clemens’ childhood sweetheart who was the inspiration for Becky Thatcher. The main floor has been converted into a gift shop and tearoom, but upstairs are two restored room: Laura’s bedroom and the parlor where statues of Laura and her mother are shown preparing for a local dance. Thick sheets of Plexiglas keep visitors out of the rooms but the antique furnishings make it easy to get a sense of the era.
Grant’s Drug Store/Pilaster House -- Hill and Main
The house was built in the 1830s and the upstairs was where Clemens family lived for a few years until his father died in 1847. The main floor has antique pharmaceutical and health instruments on display.
Mark Twain Lighthouseatop Cardiff Hill
Built in 1935 to commemorate Twain’s 100th birthday, the lighthouse was never intended to be put into operation. Situated on top of Cardiff Hill, it was originally dedicated by President Roosevelt and later by President Kennedy and again by President Clinton after extensive restoration. The lighthouse isn’t open to visitors but I found this to be one of the most peaceful spots in Hannibal and the views of the town and the river were more than worth the climb.
Just outside of Hannibal is a hill top overlooking the Mississippi that provides scenic views of town and the chance to watch barges and tug boats ply the river. Legend says it got its name because of an Indian Romeo and Juliet who decided to run away together. Unfortunately they didn’t get far before they were tracked down by her family on this hill top where they chose to jump to their death rather than be separated.
Sawyer’s Creek -- Located on Highway 79 just outside Hannibal, this fun center/shopping arcade is a good place for kids to burn off excess energy with miniature golf, bumper boats and a video arcade. Although much of the park was closed for the season we fed the giant koi in the fish pond and browsed through the Christmas shop, wine shop and candy store.
The Caves - Cameron Cave and Mark Twain Cave are both located in the large Mark Twain Cave and Campground complex. They can only be visited on a one-hour guided tour and we got there too late in the day. Guess we’ll have to do that on our next visit to Hannibal.
Abbotsford, British Columbia