A 50-year-old collection of journals, photographs and artifacts served as the guide for an adventure that brought two New Jersey residents to Hannibal's hometown — and the same spots on the exact same days of the year that Beth Stricof had first arrived 50 years ago.

A 50-year-old collection of journals, photographs and artifacts served as the guide for an adventure that brought two New Jersey residents to Hannibal's hometown — and the same spots on the exact same days of the year that Beth Stricof had first arrived 50 years ago.

Stricof and her husband, Robert, are in the middle of their fifth day of retracing a 50-day trip “rust belt tour” that took the then seven-year-old to destinations like Lincoln's Home, the Badlands, Expo '67 in Canada and Mark Twain's Boyhood Home with her 11-year-old sister, Caryn, and her parents, teachers Arthur and Sylvia Katkin. Stricof said the 50th anniversary of the trip, the political climate throughout the country during the 2016 presidential campaign and a desire to see everything from the trip with her family — visiting the same locations, even staying in the same motels when possible, where she stood 50 years prior — inspired this year's journey.

In 1967, Stricof's parents planned their entire vacation through AAA Trip Tickets, which listed the AAA motels in each community they drove to in their Oldsmobile Delta 88. In 2017, Stricof and her husband set out by automobile, too, using her mother's journals, family photographs and other items to guide their summer journey.

Stricof pulled out a piece of stationery from Ahler's Best Western Motel, then located in, dated July 10, 1967. Stricof said she wanted to witness how each location from the the trip had changed. According to her mother's handwritten journal, Hannibal has made strides to embrace its historical past and couple it with progressive improvements.

In her note, Sylvia Katkin wrote, “After dinner, drove over to Riverview Park where statue of Sam Clemens has been erected overlooking the Mighty Mississippi. The caption on the statue is lovely — Mark Twain's religion was “humanity” — met a young couple with their child to escape the meanness of Hannibal — Scheduled to take paddlewheel boat out tomorrow...”

Stricof doesn't remember much from her first trip to Hannibal, but she does recall that her waitress at Ahlers' Motel's restaurant was the sister of one of the three Hannibal boys who went missing that May. She remembered that the search for the youth encompassed the entire town, and many people were talking about it.

Stricof held up the original riverboat ticket from her trip 50 years ago, as she and Robert prepared to board the riverboat and visit Mark Twain Cave. As they stayed in historic Garth Mansion, the Stricofs enjoyed discovering the rich history and visiting lifelong residents who have offered warm welcomes and regaled them with interesting stories.

“I definitely feel like — I know in my mom's letter she said it was commercial — it's very attuned to what it is and who it is and the type of place that it is,” Stricof said. “And it seems that a lot of the people who are here sort of stay.”

Stricof said she enjoyed visiting the Hannibal History Museum, where she talked with the former owner of a flower shop that once stood across McMasters Ave. from Ahlers' Motel, the present-day location of CVS Pharmacy. Stricof said with a smile that she took a photo of Tom Sawyer from 1967.

Hannibal's combination of nostalgia, friendliness and destinations combined to give Stricof her “first experience with this kind of small-town world in the modern day.”

For the remaining 45 days of the trip, the Stricofs will continue to follow the exact route and destinations from the family trip five decades ago. They arrived in Hannibal, following stops in Indianapolis and Springfield, Ill, and the couple's next destination is Independence, Mo.

She said that if she and her husband had set out across the country without following her parents' “exact footsteps,” it's unlikely they would have ended up in America's Hometown. And Stricof whole-heartedly recommended the trip she and Robert are chronicling through photos, videos and Facebook posts — revisiting the destinations from her youth and taking a step away from the big-city life.

“I feel like it should be required travel for every big-city person to come and experience this,” she said. “Because even though I did it as a child, and just tangentially I've touched it through my life, I've never come back and viewed it this way. So for me, it's just eye-opening and interesting.”

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com