Location: Hannibal, Missouri
General Description: Samuel Langhorn Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri in 1835 to John and Jane Clemens, the sixth of seven children. When he was 4 the family moved to Hannibal, Missouri where John Clemens became an attorney and local judge. This position did not pay very well and John died of pneumonia in 1847 when Samuel was 11 years old. The family continued to struggle financially so Samuel left school after the fifth grade to become a printer’s apprentice. His boyhood growing up in Hannibal was typical for lower class boys of the time when skipping school and sneaking out at night was a common occurrence. His experiences formed the backdrop for “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and its sequel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Hannibal inspired the fictional town of St. Petersburg in the stories and many of the characters were patterned after his boyhood friends and family. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is actually a complex of structures related to Samuel Clemens boyhood along the old waterfront of Hannibal. The complex consists of the Interpretive Center, five historic buildings, and the Museum Gallery. The five historic buildings are the Huckleberry Finn House, the Boyhood Home, Becky Thatcher House, the J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office, and Grant’s Drug Store.
1) The tour begins in the Interpretive Center where you purchase the admission ticket that works for all the buildings. The Interpretive Center covers the entire life of Samuel Clemens with memorabilia, stories, and a wealth of Mark Twain quotes. You learn about his early life in Hannibal and the lives of his father, mother, and siblings. There are sections devoted to his life as a printer’s apprentice, Mississippi River boat captain, journeys to Nevada with his brother, and his trip to the Mediterranean aboard the Quaker City. All of his books are on display along a timeline of his life. Finally there is a lengthy documentary of his life playing on an endless loop for those willing to site and watch.
2) Once you exit from the back of the Interpretive Center, the tour continues to the right to a recreation of the home where the Blankenship family lived. This small home was little more than a shack and provided the basis for the Huckleberry Finn character. Within the two room home you find some further information about the Blankenship family, as well as, a small collection of mismatched utensils and cookware that likely made up the belongings of the family.
3) The next stop on the tour is the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens. They have it set up for viewing in a way that is very unusual. They have opened up one side of the house to create viewing platforms into the different rooms of the house. Each room is laid out with period pieces and memorabilia typical for the time along with information and Mark Twain quotes.
4) After touring the house and checking out the Gift Shop, you exit onto a public street. Across the street is the home of Laura Hawkins who was the inspiration of Becky Thatcher. They do a good job in the house conveying a comparison between Laura and Becky, as well as, how growing up was different for the affluent and poorer children growing up in Hannibal. Comparisons are made between Tom, Becky, and Huck childhood experiences in school and home.
5) Next door is John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace office where he served as a judge for local matters in an informal setting. The office is laid out as it would have appeared then with wooden benches and tables.
6) Grant’s Drug Store is on the corner of the block and is laid out as the home and drug store of Dr. Grant. Unfortunately, the drug store was closed for rennovation while we were there.
7) To finish the tour you have to travel along the old main street of Hannibal to the Museum Gallery. Along the way there are a number of historical buildings with information about the history of the building that are now the home of craft shops and stores. I strongly recommend making the walk of a couple of blocks as the Gallery is well worth seeing. Within they have recreated scenes from his more famous novels and a diagram of his travels on the Quaker City. There are many interactive features and short movie clips to enjoy as well. On the second floor landing is a recreation of a steamboat wheelhouse overlooking the Mississippi River that includes a working boat whistle. The third floor of the gallery is filled with artwork and memorabilia, including a complete first edition set of all his publications. The highlight, however, are the set of Norman Rockwell paintings created for special editions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.