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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Twain's Hannibal inspirations

  • Next time you're wandering around town, take an extra moment to look around.
    You may be looking at or standing in a place that inspired Mark Twain for his many books
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  • Next time you're wandering around town, take an extra moment to look around.
    You may be looking at or standing in a place that inspired Mark Twain for his many books.
    Oh sure, everyone knows about the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal and all the different sites they offer, but there are other things spread throughout America's Hometown many may not know were interesting to Twain - so much that they deserved lifetime cameos in his books.
    Take Cardiff Hill for example.
    A hill in Cardiff, Wales reminded Twain of the high hill at the end of North Main Street in Hannibal, so it became the stomping grounds of Tom Sawyer. But before the popularity of the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the hill was just a hill and it had another name.
    "He said it reminded him of the hill back here and that's why he used that name in the book. Certainly Cardiff Hill is a very real landmark," Henry Sweets, curator of the Mark Twain Museum said. "When Sam Clemens (Twain) was growing up, there was a family who lived at what would be the extension of Main Street going up the side of the hill. And it was known as Holliday's Hill. When he wrote Tom Sawyer, he renames it as Cardiff Hill and within time, that's the name on it today. Very few people know to associate the Holliday family name with the hill."
    Most of the Hannibal-inspired sites are revealed in Tom Sawyer, like the cemetery where Tom and Huckleberry Finn witness Doc Robinson's murder.
    "The cemetery known today as the Old Baptist Cemetery is where Mark Twain's father was buried and later his brother, Henry, was buried there. And so one would certainly have to think of that as the inspiration for the cemetery in Tom Sawyer where they go with the dead cat to cure worts and observe the murder that takes place there," Sweets said. "With his father buried there and later Henry, he would have had experience and why I would consider that one was the model for the one in the story. He describes that it was about a mile and a half walk to get to it. Well, that's a little bit of an exaggeration, but you're certainly indicating something that's not right in downtown Hannibal if you have to walk a mile and half to get it."
    Don't get confused though. Mark Twain's family is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery on Hannibal's South Side.
    "When a friend of his was involved with the opening of Mount Olivet Cemetery in 1876, he wrote to Mark Twain and encouraged him to have the remains of his father and his brother moved to the new cemetery," Sweets said. "Their remains were disinterred and removed to the new cemetery. If you take a look a the markers up in that old part of Mount Olivet Cemetery, there are a lot of them that pre-date the opening of the cemetery which indicates there were others that were also moved."
    Page 2 of 2 - Mark Twain Cave and the Mississippi River are obvious inspirations. As are the islands along the Missouri/Illinois borders of the river. Even the naming of Jackson's Island — one of the three islands across from the Hannibal banks — was inspired by Mark Twain's writing.
    "Jackson's Island per se doesn't exist. His experience on the river and on the islands lead to the creation of Jackson's Island in the book. In the book, you have an island that has a cave in it that the boys hide in during a bad storm. None of the islands out here have enough vertical height to have a cave on them," Sweets said. "In the story, the island is three miles below Hannibal, if you go three miles below Hannibal, there isn't an island at that spot of the river. The fact that the boys subsist on turtle eggs they find on the island — if you stand up there in Riverview Park, at Inspiration Point, you're looking at an island named Turtle Island. Where does (Twain) come up from with that idea for that source of food? From his experience here Hannibal."
    Twain's boyhood home was also an inspiration in his writings, as was the stone house that sits at the curve where Third Street meets Mark Twain Avenue.
    "In the story, there also is mention of a Welshman that when Huck Finn goes up and finds out that the widow Douglas is about to be attacked by Injun Joe, he comes down and gets help at the Welshman's house. And the Welshman and his two sons go up and scare Injun Joe off," Sweets said. "The stone building that's at the turn where Mark Twain Avenue and Third Street are was up on the Avenue there and is called the Welshman House from the story. There's another landmark, if you would, that is here."
    There you have it. From Mark Twain's perspective, Hannibal was a living inspiration.
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