Twain's Hannibal in sound and pictures

Dec 5, 2011

It's well-known that Twain wrote extensively about the real people and places he found growing up in Hannibal, and many of Tom Sawyer's experiences were his experiences. As a companion piece to the Word Missouri featureĀ Hannibal: living in the shadow of Twain, I traveled to three places that make appearances in his books to see how they've changed in the nearly two centuries since Twain's boyhood here. Click for photos and sound from each place. (Mark Twain re-enactor Jim Waddell provides Twain's voice.)

The Old Baptist Cemetery: "It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned western kind."

Where you are: on a hill outside Hannibal on a chilly fall day. The fence referred to in the clip is gone now, but the grave is virtually hidden from the town's main road and difficult to access. According to Twain Boyhood Home and Museum director Cindy Lovell, efforts are constantly underway to raise money to restore the cemetery.

What you're hearing: the crackling of leaves underfoot.

In Twain's time: although there is some doubt among scholars about which cemetery Twain was writing about in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, many of his family members, including his father, were buried here at one point before Twain arranged to have their graves relocated to another cemetery.

Bear Creek: "Observe, now, how history becomes defiled."

Where you are: near the mouth of a narrow creek running along Hannibal's south side, about half a mile before it opens on the Mississippi River. The creek is in a disenfranchised and nearly deserted area, standing in stark contrast to the vibrant and convivial downtown.

What you're hearing: an aluminum storage door swinging in a strong wind.

In Twain's time: young Samuel Clemens was forbidden from swimming in Bear Creek, and says the only time his mother ever lost her temper with him was when she caught him doing so. He wrote in his autobiography, "I was drowned seven times ... before I learned to swim - once in Bear Creek and six times in the Mississippi."

Mark Twain Cave: "Labyrinth under labyrinth, and no end to any of them."

Where you are: underground in one of the oldest show caves in the country. One of Hannibal's most popular tourist attractions, the cave site now also hosts a visitors center / gift shop, candle shop and winery.

What you're hearing: the steel door at the cave entrance slamming shut and locking.

In Twain's time: in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain called the cave MacDougal's Cave; the name may have been inspired by its owner, Joseph McDowell, a "mad scientist" who purchased it in the late 1840s and used it to conduct bizarre experiments on human corpses.