It’s not uncommon for visitors to America’s Hometown to one day make a return trip to Hannibal. For Frank Martin, it took 50 years, and instead of a raft the Indiana man’s mode of transportation last week was a recreational vehicle, but he did indeed make it back.
A half century ago Martin and two of his Elkhart, Ind., buddies - Dave Mathew and Dave Borneman - decided to add a trip down the Mississippi River to a list of adventures that had seen the trio visit Colorado, the upper peninsula of Michigan and northern Canada.
The three college students’ river trip started in early August 1962 when they pushed away from shore in Clinton, Iowa, aboard their homemade raft.
“We had visions of making it pretty far south,” said Mathew. “We ended up in Louisiana (Mo.).”
While the trio didn’t make it to Memphis as hoped, the excursion was not a failure.
“It was an amazing trip,” said Mathew. “It seemed we were dodging barges all the time.”
One of the fondest memories of the two-week trip occurred as the young men approached Hannibal.
“Our only communication on the raft was a transistor radio. We listened to whatever music could get. We found a Hannibal station and the disc jockey said there were some modern day Huck Finns heading to Hannibal. That was a highlight for us,” recalled Mathew.
Mathew recalls Hannibal being the group’s most memorable stop.
“I grew up exposed to Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain,” said Mathew, who became a writer himself and frequently uses Twain quotes in his books.
Tying up their raft along the Hannibal riverfront was exciting.
“We felt we were seeing all the images that Huck Finn must have experienced. That made it an exciting moment of the trip,” said Mathew.
Despite his interest in Twain, Mathew admits not spending much time sightseeing.
“We were not real observant as to how much Twain tourism there was,” he said. “We were looking for a place to eat and to buy a beer.”
It was the visit to a bar which prompted the three adventurers to beat a hasty retreat out of town. According to Mathew, a ruckus started between the trio and a group of locals, which ended with the Indiana boys being chased back to the riverfront and their raft.
“I remember hoping we would get the raft untethered before they caught up to us,” laughed Mathew. “It was very Huck Finn like I suppose.”
Aside from the bar skirmish, Mathew still has fond memories of the people he encountered while in Hannibal 50 years ago.
Page 2 of 2 - “Everybody we met, except for the guys we angered, couldn’t have been nicer. As we walked around town it was as though we were family,” he said.
During his overnight stay with his wife, Marsha, in Hannibal last week, Mathew found the community’s welcoming attitude had not changed.
“We went to the tourist center and they were very helpful. I think the ‘H’ in Hannibal stands for hospitable,” he said.
Like many visitors to Hannibal, Mathew and his wife visited Riverview Park.
“It’s beautiful with its tremendous overlooks,” he said. “We took a number of photos of the Twain statue in the park.”
Although now seven decades old and restricted by multiple sclerosis, Mathew is not content to watch life pass him by.
“My wife and I are driving on to the south rim of the Grand Canyon,” he said. “This time it’s an adventure of a different sort. I am 70 and confined to a wheelchair, but my Huckleberry Finn spirit remains unchanged.”