Courier-Post Editor Mary Lou Montgomery is the recipient of recognition by the newspaper’s parent company for involving readers in the news gathering and dissemination process.
Montgomery is a first-place division winner in the 2013 Best of GateHouse Media Awards contest for Reader Involvement for her series: Historic Marker Missing, Found, Repaired.
There were a total of 582 entries in the Best of GateHouse contest, across 16 categories, with a total of 156 winners.
“During the May 20, 2013 storm that swept through Hannibal, the historic sign that pinpoints the location of the calaboose that Sam Clemens wrote about in his famed works was knocked over,” Montgomery said. “An alert citizen, Lou Barta, noticed that the sign was damaged, and snapped a photo of the scene.
“A few weeks later, he checked the site, and the sign and storm debris were gone,” she said.
He notified Montgomery, knowing of her personal passion for all things involving local history.
The sign was part of a set commissioned by George Mahan in 1932. The marker was one of 29 placed and paid for by Mahan, then president of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
Alerting Courier-Post readers in the following day’s edition, Montgomery used Barta’s photos to illustrate the missing sign. In addition, she published an article written by the Mark Twain Museum curator to demonstrate the historical significance of the missing sign.
Heavy winds of May 20, 2013, caused extensive damage in Hannibal. Fear was that the sign had been taken to a scrap yard.
And indeed, that is what had happened. Early in the morning following the newspaper’s publication, calls started to come in to the telephone numbers listed in the article.
An employee of a salvage yard had rescued the sign from the scrap pile and placed it in the bed of his truck, returning it to the Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department when he learned of the significance.
 That single action saved a piece of Hannibal’s history.
Lou Barta credited Montgomery for alerting the public.
“As each year passes, we lose more and more of Hannibal’s historic heritage, which is why I want to express my sincere gratitude regarding the recovery of the ‘The Jail in Tom Sawyer’ sign.” he wrote in a letter to the editor.
“The Courier-Post’s Editor, Mary Lou Montgomery, was as disheartened as I when she learned of the sign’s disappearance and quickly went into investigative mode. As might be expected in a fictional story, an anonymous ‘tipster’ appeared soon after our newspaper published my photograph alongside the story of its disappearance and Ms. Montgomery’s detective work.”
The sign, now in pieces, was not in any condition to be remounted at the historic site. Scott Haycraft and his father, Harold, of Hannibal Machine, volunteered to make repairs to the vintage historical marker, with the goal of returning the sign to a state like it had never been damaged.
Today, the sign is back in its rightful spot near the intersection of North Street and River Road. “While this newspaper led the campaign to find the sign, it would have ultimately been lost if it wasn’t for an alert downtown businessman, a scrap yard worker and the volunteer repair efforts of Hannibal Machine,” Montgomery said.
“I’m proud to win this award, but primarily I’m proud to be a part of this community,” she said. “In Hannibal, we watch out for each other.”