Hannibal, Missouri: June 23-30, 2012

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We were finished with the western end of Missouri but not quite done with the eastern end. Heading north, through the community of Far West and near the community of Adam Ondi Ahmen, we then turned east across the state almost to the Illinois border and settled for a week in Hannibal. In fact, we stayed at the Mark Twain Cave RV Park, about two miles out of town. Having spelunked a number of times on this trip, we never visited the caves. But downtown was different.

The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is just a block up from the Mississippi River, on the corner of North and North Main. Your first stop is the Interpretive Center, where you can study Samuel Langhorne Clemens’s growing up years and pathway to his creative forté. You can also purchase a ticket to view other buildings on the site as well as the two-story Museum Gallery, located two blocks up Main Street.

First things first. After a thorough study of the interpretive center, we went out the back door and turned right, bringing us to one of the newest exhibits, the Huck Finn House. It’s a replica of the home of Tom Blankenship, close friend of Sam’s and model for Huck. The inside is sparse, but the exhibits center around slavery in the times and introduce Indian Joe. Heading back the other way, we entered the rear of the Clemens house itself and wandered through it, with Sam’s eerie presence seen everywhere in white sculptures. Exiting out the other end – through the gift shop – we found ourselves on Hill Street, a brick esplanade limited to pedestrian traffic. Across it, a selection of dwellings further the story: the Becky Thatcher House (home of Sam’s childhood sweetheart, Laura Hawkins), J. H. Clemens’s Justice of the Peace Office, and Grant’s Drug Store, where the Clemens family lived in a second floor apartment during the leanest times. These are works in progress, only viewable from outside. Also viewable directly next to the Clemens house is the infamous white picket fence. One of the dozens of activities that take place in town throughout the year is a fence painting contest. There’s something going on all the time, including regular appearances by Tom, Huck and Becky at the bottom of the hill, musical presentations, lectures, special exhibits and so on. Right now, there’s an appearance by Hal Holbrook in town in the fall, and a gallery exhibit/retrospective on Thomas Hart Benton, who illustrated three of Twain’s best known works.

Then it was on to The Gallery. Downstairs features graphic tableaux of numerous Clemens works, including A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Roughing It, Innocents Abroad, Huck Finn, Life on the Mississippi and Tom Sawyer. (The raft is really floating!)

Upstairs holds, among other things, the second largest exhibit of Norman Rockwell originals in the world, including sixteen illustrations from the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Two fascinating stories. First, here’s a grand piano, the property of Ossip Gabrilowitsch, famed pianist and maestro of the Detroit Symphony for 18 years. He married Sam’s daughter, Clara, in 1909. They had one child, Nina who, when she died in 1966, was the last known lineal descendent of Samuel Clemens.

Second, in 1968, 12 year old Cindy Pletcher met 14 year old Carl Jackson who was playing banjo in one of the leading bluegrass bands in the country. They became friends and pen pals. Carl went on to become famous, and in 2004, he published a tribute album to the Louvin Brothers that won two Grammys. Cindy bought it and, after listening to it over and over, visualized a similar effort for her literary hero, Mark Twain. Deeply inspired, she called Carl and proposed the idea – and he loved it. Thus was born a 27 track, 2 CD set and 40 page book including 13 songs and 14 narrated segments called Mark Twain Words and Music. Produced and published by Jackson, scripted by Museum director Cindy Lovell, enhanced by three original songs and released in 2011 by Jimmy Buffet on his Mailboat label, the proceeds benefit the Mark Twain Museum. Participating artists donated their efforts, and here’s just part of the lineup: Buffett voices Huck Finn; Clint Eastwood stars as Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor is the narrator, and Angela Lovell is Susy Clemens. Vocal contributors include Emmylou Harris, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent, The Church Sisters, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and a host of others. You can find this CD everywhere and the rest of the story at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mark-Twain-Words-Music/155205404547516

As Hank Morgan said in A Connecticut Yankee . . . You can’t throw too much style into a miracle. It costs trouble, and work, and sometimes money; but it pays in the end.

We decided to skip the jitney around town because we were already staying at one of their key stops and knew the locations of the others. But we did go back downtown the following day to treat ourselves to a seagoing adventure: a ride on the Mark Twain Riverboat on the Mississippi River. It was a one hour tour, and the captain provided a wonderful narration as we traveled first upriver to the bridge across to Illinois and then downriver to Lover’s Leap. We saw a lot of busy barge traffic on The River. Smaller tugs were bringing barges into an anchored nest midstream; we’re not sure why. But a behemoth tug, developing 15,000 horsepower, was pushing the maximum number of barges downstream, three across and five deep.

Here’s Lover’s Leap from both the sea side and the land side. The beginning of the two versions of the story – one from signs at the site and the other from our boat captain – are the same. Indians on opposite sides of the river were mortal enemies. But an Illini brave fell in love with a Fox squaw. He would paddle across, and they would meet at the crest. They were spotted, and the chief, whose daughter was the squaw, offered anyone a fortune for the brave’s scalp. Cornered, the couple jumped from the cliff. But the captain told a codicil; they landed in a soft bed of cotton in a train passing by below, headed north to Quincy, IL and opened a cigar store!

I learned that another famous person had started her life in Hannibal. Her name was Margaret Tobin, and, when married, Margaret Brown, and, when Hollywood got hold of her, Molly Brown. The irony is that the staff at the tiny home of her upbringing swear that she was never called Molly during her lifetime. She hated nicknames, but she did answer to Maggie. Second of four children of Irish immigrants, she was born in 1867 and lived here until she was 18, when she followed her sister to Leadville, Colorado and went to work in a department store. She met J. J. Brown, a mine superintendent who was just as poor as she; she fell in love and married him. J. J.’s silver mine was pretty much played out, but he developed a way to dig deeper by using shoring and hay to hold back the unstable ground. He literally struck it rich; there was gold in them thar hills and his diligence earned him an ownership stake and a large share of the proceeds. J. J. would just as soon have stayed in Leadville, but Margaret got hung up in society living and a palatial home called Lions Gate in Denver. She dashed off to Europe, but in the middle of her tour, a serious family illness instigated a trip on the first ship back home. It happened to be the maiden voyage of the Titanic, on which she traveled with her friends, the Astors.

In the downstairs family room, there is a collection of scenes and paraphernalia from the famous sinking. Upstairs, a long side room displays many pictures of her life. You learn that she survived two succeeding sea disasters after the Titanic. You can get to view the mansion, her two children, and the course of her high life until her death in 1932. She and J. J. signed a separation agreement in 1909 after 23 years together, but they continued to care for each other throughout their lives. She was tireless in her charity work, championing the rights of women, workers and children, as well as supporting her church.

Dot was willing to dog-sit while I ventured to another Mormon stronghold, Nauvoo, Illinois, about fifty miles north of Hannibal. When they escaped the clutches of the mobs in western Missouri, the Mormons fled to Quincy, IL, where they received comfort. Learning that there was cheap land on a bend in the Mississippi just north of there, they bought up many acres. Much of the land was flooded, but by creating revetments, they were able to turn it into a habitable community with very arable land. They settled Nauvoo in 1839, and by 1844, the city was larger than Chicago.

Nauvoo is the home turf of both the LDS and the RLDS/Community of Christ. As discussed in earlier chapters, after Smith’s murder, the LDS followed Brigham Young to Utah, while the RLDS settled back in Independence and remained loyal to the Smith family. The two share – on a separate but equal basis – the development and presentation of the historic Nauvoo sites. I found my way first to the CofC Visitors Center, watched their video, and set off on their tour. It consisted of Joseph and Emma’s original house, the family cemetery, the later, larger house they occupied, and Joseph’s general store. There were other buildings, not open to the public.

Our tour guide first showed us the tombstone that marks the final resting place of Joseph, Hyrum and Emma. After their deaths, Emma secretly buried the brothers in the basement of The Homestead, their first Nauvoo home adjacent to the cemetery. That building was in the process of being converted to The Nauvoo House, a guest house, and when construction resumed, she moved them to the beehive building next door (first pic below). It was not until 1928 when the brothers and Emma’s bodies were all located and exhumed, hers nearby under a laurel tree, and re-interred with this monument.

Across the street was The Mansion, a more substantial home for Joseph And Emma. At one point, it had a series of guest rooms along the side for folks to use until The Nauvoo House was completed. Emma and her second husband completed and managed it. (Keep in mind that the CofC sect were those still loyal to the Smith family, rather than Brigham Young.) The last picture shows Joseph’s General Store, with a meeting hall upstairs.

A half mile drive through the community brought me to the LDS Visitors’ Center, much more opulent and, as typical, staffed with missionaries. Note that the LDS has 60 times the membership of the CofC. One of the elders took me under his wing and re-described the evolution with passion, guided me to their movie, and sent me out to the adjacent sculpture garden. It was a tribute to women, with about twenty expressions, starting with Joseph and Emma’s marriage and then expanding with image after image of woman’s devotion, education, multiple family roles and sunset. Most were completed by a single artist; all were moving.

Running short of time, I quickly reviewed several key buildings spread throughout the community. The John Taylor House was nestled between the Printing Office and Post Office. Home and workshop of Jonathan Browning – he of gun design and manufacturing – was across the street. Two blocks down was a small reconstructed brick kiln that put out miniature bricks as free souvenirs. Across from that was the home of Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith with its downstairs canopied alcove where she slept when too feeble to climb the stairs. Finally, the home of Heber Kimball, a powerful force during the reigns of both Smith and Young.

On the way back, I took a side jaunt to Carthage. Mormon philosophy again did not sit well with locals, and there were both vigilante and governmental actions against them. Joseph Smith agreed to surrender to authorities. He and a small party, including his brother Hyrum, traveled to Carthage and were jailed there. The jailer saw Joseph as a gentleman, and after serving them dinner, he confined his prisoners to the street level debtors cell, rather than the dungeon upstairs. The following morning, a mob started to form outside, so he moved his charges to an upstairs room. It was to no avail; the mob broke in and assaulted the room. They shot through the door, fatally hitting Hyrum as he barred it. They shot Joseph as he climbed through a window, and a contingent ran down to the lawn to finish the job. Two were left: Willard Richards and John Taylor. Taylor was hit several times, but crawled under the bed. Richards survived without a scratch – prophesied by Smith the night before. He managed to get Taylor to safety and get the bodies back to Nauvoo.

There was a celebration about to take place; that day was the 168th anniversary of the assassinations. I appealed to an elder; he let me in through a back door and gave me a personal tour. As is the case with all of the other historical LDS monuments, the Carthage Jail was opulently restored.

A post-script: While in Hannibal, we met Ohioans John and Myrna Bird, Big Horn owners fresh from the Heartland Rally in Montana. This contact inspired two future events. First, they advised us of a major sale going on by the manufacturer of the chassis and running gear of our trailer, including an automatic landing/leveling system. We contacted the firm and will go to Goshen, Indiana in early August to have it installed. Second, they revealed the affordable campground in Florida where they spend their winters, near the Gulf Coast. Dot signed us up for January – April, 2013.

Now it was on to Cahokia – and a new family member!

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