Tom Sawyer's Fence.
Hannibal ritual: whitewashing Tom Sawyer's fence for the camera.

Hannibal: Twain Town

Hannibal, Missouri

Few American authors are famous enough to be mined for tourist gold by their hometowns. Monroeville has Harper Lee, Monterey has John Steinbeck, Baltimore claims Edgar Allan Poe (as does Boston and Richmond). Oxford has William Faulkner.

Hotel Mark Twain.
Hotel Mark Twain opened in 1905, but its namesake never visited.

But no city has hugged its writer-spawn to its civic bosom as tightly as Hannibal has Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

Twain grew up in Hannibal, a port town on the Mississippi River, and later used it as a setting for two of his famous novels, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. You'd think that Hannibal would be grateful for that, but when Twain died in 1910 the town wanted to destroy his boyhood home and turn it into a butcher shop.

Tom and Becky photo op.
Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer photo-op.

That's when George A. Mahan stepped in. Mahan, as forgotten as Twain is famous, was the richest man in Hannibal. He used his money and influence to restore Twain's boyhood home and open it as an attraction (Twain left town at age 18 and rarely returned for visits). It was Mahan who engineered the creation of statues of Twain and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and who commissioned official Missouri state historical markers for fictional attractions such as Tom Sawyer's Fence. Mahan understood that Twain's characters were as real to most people as Twain himself, and Hannibal has been happy to blur the line between history and fiction ever since.

Mark Twain.
Real-world Twain clutches the fictional Sawyer.

Much like the Wild West town of Tombstone, Hannibal has set aside a small historic district for the tourists, informally known as "Twainiacs." These are people who've read 19th century literature and have an appreciation for wistful depictions of childhood -- they tend to be older. We saw no fudge shops or t-shirt outlets in Twain's town, but we did see specialty stores for antique clock repair, handcrafted baskets, and gourmet coffee. The Twain attractions in the historic district shut down at 5 PM.

If you didn't know that Mark Twain grew up in Hannibal, you would if you visited. Twain's bushy-haired head and name are in every click of the camera, from soft drink machines to the Mark Twain Hotel to the Mark Twain Brewing Co. to the Mark Twain Dinette that serves Mark Twain Fried Chicken. We suspect that Twain, one of the first celebrities to sell his name for product endorsements, would have been delighted.

Attractions of Hannibal, Twain Town

Hannibal: Twain Town

Address:
Main St., Hannibal, MO
Directions:
Twain attractions clustered in one part of town, with a few outside of town.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Mark Twain MuseumMark Twain Museum, Hannibal, MO - < 1 mi.
Karlock Cars and Pop Culture MuseumKarlock Cars and Pop Culture Museum, Hannibal, MO - < 1 mi.
Haunted House on Hill Street Wax MuseumHaunted House on Hill Street Wax Museum, Hannibal, MO - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Fake Mural Painter in Town of Murals, Louisiana, MO - 24 mi.

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September 19, 2019

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