We stayed with friends Bernie and Laura Benard in Columbia, MO for four nights. The MO HOG Rally was being held in Columbia. We did lots of fun riding and visiting. There aren’t many straight roads in the Columbia area, and the riding is excellent. There is a lovely winery positioned on the high bluffs of the Missouri River near Columbia, and we really enjoyed visiting Les Bourgeois!
On Monday, we left Laura and Bernie’s home after lunch and drove to Mark Twain Lake Corps of Engineer’s Campground (Indian Creek area) near Hannibal, MO. We plan to spend three nights here so we can go visit Mark Twain history and the Hannibal area. The part of the park we are in is almost empty right now – all the posts (near each site) have markers that show the sites will be filled for Labor Day weekend, but right now not many are here – there are lots of rigs in other sections of the park though. We saw a wild turkey running alongside the road, but haven’t seen any deer meandering around. The park is so dark at night we can see tons of stars – guess the stars followed us from Montana and Wyoming! I am glad we see them here, since I know when we get home we will not be able to see nearly as many.
Tuesday morning we drove into Hannibal and stayed there all day. We learned that his year marks the 175th anniversary of Mark Twain’s birth, the 125th anniversary of the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death, so the town of Hannibal is hosting a year long anniversary party for their famous native son. The renowned author was actually born in a rented cabin nearby in the tiny town of Florida, MO, but moved to Hannibal when he was only four years old, so Hannibal claims him.
Here is a shortened biography of Mark Twain from all we learned today: with Halley’s Comet clearly visible in the heavens, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was born Nov. 30, 1835, in a very small, two-room cabin that is today preserved inside a state park museum. In this tiny cabin lived eight people: John and Jane Clemens, along with their five children -- Orion, Pamela, Margaret, Benjamin, and baby Samuel – plus one teenage slave. Another son, Henry, was born after Sam to complete the large family. Only Sam, Orion, and Pamela lived to full adulthood. Margaret died as an infant, Benjamin died at age 10, and Henry died in a riverboat explosion; Sam had helped his younger brother obtain that job, so he never forgave himself since he figured he was the reason his brother died.
In 1839, the Clemens family moved to Hannibal, MO. Sam Clemens returned to the farm area near Florida during the summers to spend time on his Uncle John Quarles’ farm, There he listened to tales told by Uncle Dan’l, a slave who would later become the model for Jim in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, while Huck was modeled after a childhood friend from Hannibal named Tom Blankenship. Tom Sawyer was based on several friends Sam had while growing up in Hannibal and also some of his own adventures, while Aunt Polly was modeled after Sam’s beloved mother.
After his father died in 1847, Sam, only twelve, had to leave school. Remember his famous line? “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Twain indeed did continue learning. He was first apprenticed with a Hannibal newspaper as a "printer’s devil,” and in 1853 he became an itinerant printer. Later, while on a steamboat trip, he persuaded Horace Bixby, a riverboat pilot, to let him apprentice with him to learn the river and how to pilot a steamboat. Twain spent four years piloting on the Mississippi River until his riverboat days were ended by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
It was as a newspaper reporter for the "Virginia City (NV) Territorial Enterprise" in 1863 that he first used the pen name "Mark Twain." The author went to California in 1864 and there wrote his first story that earned him national acclaim: "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog." This story was later renamed “The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County.” In 1867, he joined a group tour to Europe and the Holy Land. He later used those experiences as the basis for his first book, The Innocents Abroad, which became an instant bestseller. It was on a ship during this trip that he saw a photo of his future wife, and fell in love with her just from seeing the photo that her brother showed him. He went back to Elmira, NY with the brother, and began courting Olivia (Livy) Langdon.
In 1870, Twain married Livy and they moved to Buffalo, NY, where Twain became the editor of a newspaper. Their first child and only son, Langdon, died of diphtheria as an infant. Twain blamed himself for his son’s death, since he thought he got sick because of a walk he had taken with his father. The family moved to Hartford, CT, in 1871, which would be their home for twenty years and the birthplace of their three daughters – Susy, Clara, and Jean. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) were written during the summers spent by the family at the Quarry Farm in Elmira, N.Y.
Throughout his life, Mark Twain knew that he had been born under Halley’s Comet and predicted that he would also "go out with the comet." When Halley’s Comet returned in 1910, this prediction came true, for Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910. Unfortunately, Twain has no direct descendants now. Two of Twain’s daughters died in their 20s before marrying; his only granddaughter died without having any children.
While in Hannibal, we visited Sam Clemens’ boyhood home, built by Sam’s father in 1844; the J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office, where Sam’s father worked; Grant’s Drug Store, where the Clemens family lived upstairs after they could no longer afford the home Sam’s father had built; the Interpretive Center, where we learned much more about the life of Sam Clemens/Mark Twain; Huck Finn’s home, which was really the home of Tom Blankenship and his family - Twain based his Huck Finn character on this real Tom; the Mark Twain Museum Gallery; and Becky Thatcher’s house, called that for the Tom Sawyer character Becky, who was based on a real person who lived in that house. Since this house is being renovated, we only could see the outside of the nineteenth century home but we were able to tour all the other buildings. We also looked around the historic part of Hannibal’s downtown which has several buildings built in the 1830s that are still housing modern businesses, restaurants, and antique stores. In one old building that had once been a hotel, we had tasty pork barbeque for lunch.
At the Mark Twain Museum Gallery, which houses a significant number of artifacts from Twain’s life, we viewed fifteen original Norman Rockwell paintings that were some of the paintings Rockwell did when he was illustrating special editions of both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. One of the more unusual artifacts we saw in the Gallery was baby Langdon’s “death mask” Sam Clemens commissioned after his baby’s death. We also met with “Mark Twain” himself; the actor portraying him, Richard Garey, shared many great stories with his audience and also answered questions about “his” life. I asked him why he wore white suits; he said he did not begin doing that until he was in his early 70s, but decided to wear white as a protest against the black suits that “proper men” were “supposed” to wear during that era. Wilma, I am sure you remember the frogs we saw in Angel Camp, CA and the little cabin we visited near there where Mark Twain once lived; “Mark” told us he went west after the Civil War interrupted traffic on the Mississippi River and he no longer could get a job as riverboat pilot. He really didn’t want to stop being a pilot or to go west, but after his job opportunities on the river dried up, his older brother, who lived out west, suggested Mark join him. During that time period, he wrote about the jumping frogs of Calaveras County. This actor was as good as the Thomas Jefferson actor we met in Williamsburg several years ago, Wilma, and I bet you remember how good he was!
The actor hosts a show every evening, but we decided we needed to get on back to Buddy the cat and the RV. We felt kind of sad we’d left Buddy alone all day after he’d been at the vet’s all weekend while we were at Bernie and Laura’s home. Buddy and Fred walked around the campsite (Buddy loves his harness – really!) while I cooked supper. We ended another wonderful day by checking out the star filled sky once again.
Wednesday we drove over to Mark Twain’s Birthplace State Park near Florida, MO, on the other side of the lake. Twain’s birthplace home has been enclosed in a large stone building for the past fifty years, and inside the museum are also good collections of artifacts and information about Sam Clemens’ life both as a youth and as an author. Here also were exhibits about his family; it was obvious how much he loved his mother and how highly he considered her attributes. Then it was back to the campground for a lazy afternoon and evening. We saw deer this afternoon when a doe and two large fawns walked across the road in front of the truck as we returned to the campground. Even though they are not rare at all, I always like to see deer. During the next two days we will be on the road, heading to see Katherine, Chad and Avery for Labor Day weekend!