Hannibal ready to wrap up bicentennial

Cookie See poses for a photo in front of the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, positioned behind a poster of her late husband Terry on Thursday, May. 30, 2019. Hannibal placed banners downtown this year to commemorate local military veterans as part of the city's yearlong Bicentennial celebration.

HANNIBAL ❘ Word on the street is that Hannibal's yearlong bicentennial celebration has been a success.

“I gauge everything by what I hear from people, and I'd have to say I've heard nothing but positives. So I'm thrilled, happy and relieved,” said Cindy Lovell, event director for the Bicentennial Steering committee.

Lovell feels good about the many ways the community celebrated the 200th anniversary of when Hannibal was chartered as a town in 1819.

“We tried to make sure there was something for everybody and that we were acknowledging Hannibal's history in an accurate and respectful way. I really feel good about it.”

About 200 events were held in Hannibal during the 200th anniversary year.

The last scheduled event slated for 2019 will be a New Year's Eve party at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Rialto Banquet Hall on Broadway. The bicentennial calendar describes it as: “The Rialto Says Farewell to the Bicentennial.”

More information is available by calling (573) 795-1009.

The year's first bicentennial event was a “Mayors Reunion” Jan. 2 in the council chambers at City Hall. Several former mayors helped kick off the festivities planned for 2019.

Lovell said one of the year's most successful projects involved an effort to honor local veterans by hanging 216 banners on downtown utility poles showing the faces of “Hometown Heroes” who served in the military. Another 53 banners were hung in the windows of downtown businesses.

“Of all the things we did, I think it was absolutely the most popular,” Lovell said. “We got more social media interaction from that than anything else we did.”

Lovell said the project “touched a lot of people” because many area families have men or women who served in the military, and this was a way to give those veterans a pat on the back.

Another successful project involved saluting some of the famous people who once lived in Hannibal. Aside from Samuel L. Clemens, who immortalized the town with his writings under the pen name Mark Twain, Hannibal also once served as home for such luminaries as Bill Lear, who invented the Learjet, the 8-track tape player and other devices; Hall of Fame baseball player Jake “Eagle Eye” Beckley; “unsinkable” Molly Brown, who survived the Titanic disaster; and Cliff Edwards, also known as “Ukulele Ike,” who appeared in more than 100 films and is famous for being the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's “Pinocchio” movie.

Hannibal printed trading cards commemorating 10 of the celebrities and hosted several special events, such as an exhibit at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center honoring the building's namesake -- Admiral Robert Edward Coontz, a Hannibal native who became chief of naval operations and commander-in-chief of the U.S. Fleet.

Hannibal also brought in some well-known musical performers who gave concerts during the bicentennial year, notably Grammy Awardwinning bluegrass legend Rhonda Vincent; Grammy-nominated blues performer Victor Wainwright; country music artist Jerrod Niemann; and contemporary folk musician Tom Chapin, the brother of the late singer/songwriter/musician Harry Chapin.

One of the year's unplanned highlights came in September when Mark Twain Cave officials announced that a signature found on a limestone wall inside the cave may have been scrawled by a young Sam Clemens decades before he became a world-renowned author.

Lovell played a direct role in the discovery, which took place during the Clemens Conference for Mark Twain scholars and fans. Lovell, a former director of the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal and former director of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn., was leading some conference-goers on a tour of the cave when she spotted the name “Clemens” when illuminated with a flashlight held by the cave's owner, Linda Coleberd.

“That was a very big highlight of the year,” Lovell said. “The press that we got globally for Hannibal was wonderful.”

The bicentennial year also featured the opening of a time capsule buried 50 years ago and the closing of a new time capsule to be opened in the year 2069; a hot-air balloon rally at Hannibal-LaGrange University; special art exhibits featuring the work of two Hannibal-born artists — Lester Gaba and James Carroll Beckwith; and a bicentennial parade featuring the Clydesdales.

Another highlight closing out the year was a successful effort to set a world record in the category of “World's Largest Dessert Party at One Location.” The record was set at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 when 1,889 people simultaneously consumed vanilla cupcakes while standing in the middle of Main Street.

Lovell spent the year offering daily doses of local history and notes about upcoming events on the Hannibal Bicentennial Facebook page, which featured numerous historical photos from of the bicentennial edition of Steve Chou's updated book, “Bluff City Memories,” which came out in March.

Lovell said the Facebook page will remain online indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the steering committee will hold a final meeting in January to review the year and assess its finances. Lovell said any surplus money after covering expenses will be donated to the city for a memorial of some sort.

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