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Family portrait: Mark Twain's relations and creations in one crowded room.
Family portrait: Mark Twain's relations and creations in one crowded room.

Haunted House on Hill Street Wax Museum (Closed)

Field review by the editors.

Hannibal, Missouri

The strangest attraction in Hannibal is, of course, our favorite.

Day-Glo hand emerges from toilet, skull floats in air.
Day-Glo hand emerges from toilet, skull floats in air.

The Haunted House on Hill St. Wax Museum, according to a historical marker out front, is "as described in Mark Twain's books," although the house in the books was not on Hill Street and did not have a wax museum. It closed as an attraction in 2006 and sat, undisturbed, for eight years until it was reopened by a new owner in 2014. Photos from its earlier incarnation show that the house has changed little between then and now -- and that's a good thing.

The attraction is an odd mule that joins a typical touristy spook house (flashing lights, claustrophobic corridors, loud noises, and day-glo ghouls and skeletons), with a display of wax dummies related to Mark Twain. The only connection between the two is that they're in different rooms of the same house.

Slumped skeleton in the attic window of the house.
Slumped skeleton in the attic window of the house.

We thought the dummies were more terrifying than the ghouls. They're crowded into one display, 27 full figures and one disembodied head. They were made in the 1970s by wax-master Martin Krewson, who lived to be 100 (he died in 2012) and who also made the dummies for the Hall of Presidents Wax Museum in Gettysburg. According to a newspaper clipping in the lobby, President Lyndon Johnson was so pleased with his Gettysburg dummy that he personally wrote to Krewson to congratulate him.

Half of the dummies in the Twain mob are of real people, half are of people that Twain made up in his books. They're introduced by a recorded voice that also provides memorable background detail. We were told, for example, that Krewson used hair from his arms for some of the dummies' eyebrows, and that the Tom Sawyer dummy has real human teeth extracted from a boy for reasons that were not explained.

It's all in the lighting.
It's all in the lighting.

The narrator relates the back story of every dummy, real and fictional. Mark Twain is there, of course, standing behind his parents, who sit at a table that has a box of 1970s Hannibal brochures. Mom and Dad appear to be ready to sign autographs. The other dummies range from the familiar (Tom Sawyer) to the obscure (Pamela Clemens, Mark Twain's older sister). Langdon Clemens, Twain's son who died young, has been reduced to a head perched on a pole. Most disturbing of all is Jim from Huckleberry Finn, whose head appears to be a reworked Devil from a religious wax museum, dyed black. Krewson ran his own Life of Christ Wax Museum in the 1970s, so this is not a far-fetched idea.

All of the dummies are lit from below, which makes even benign Aunt Polly and Becky Thatcher seem menacing. It probably wasn't deliberate, but it definitely adds to the horror of the Haunted House of Hill Street. We thought it was terrific.

Also see: Hannibal: Twain Town

Haunted House on Hill Street Wax Museum

Across from the Mark Twain Dinette. N. 3rd St and Hill St.
Closed in 2021.

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