June 2-6 - Hannibal MO
The other place we really wanted to visit in Missouri was Hannibal, childhood home of Samuel L. Clemens and the inspiration for the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn novels he would later write. When Mark Twain lived here, the town was about 2,000 people. Today, it's about 17,000. It looks like the primary business is tourism, but I suspect we haven't seen the industrial areas. Most of the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn novels were embellishments of Clemens' childhood in Hannibal, so there are lots of local sites tied to those characters.
Fri., 6/2 - Off to Hannibal, MO, home of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain. The Missouri countryside is gorgeous - lots of fruit trees, vineyards, and corn, corn, corn. We stopped for an "in-house" lunch at one of the many roadside "picnic areas" - one or two picnic tables, a curved, gravel in-and-out driveway, and a couple of trees (no facilities). We are SO thankful for the motorhome!! After setting up at the Mark Twain Caves and RV Park, we drove downtown and found we were just in time to book a dinner cruise on the Riverboat, the Mark Twain (what else?). The meal was scrumptious, the banjo and harmonica-playing entertainer very talented (he played in various Branson venues for 12 years), and the river trip both beautiful and relaxing.
Sat., 6/3 - In the morning we took a tour of the "World Famous" Mark Twain Cave. It is a mostly-dry, rabbit warren of limestone. Much different from the wet caves like Carlsbad - slim, vertical rifts in the limestone make for narrow walkways with lots of fascinating strata to see. Sam Clemens and his friends (and enemies) were frequent visitors to the cave system, and the cave figures prominently in "Tom Sawyer" and Twain's biography. We lunched at the Jumping Frog, a tiny deli-bakery that was advertised as having the town's best cheesecake. The sandwiches were great, but they had no cheesecake! After walking by and into numerous touristy shops in old, limestone and brick buildings essentially unchanged from the mid-1850s, we discovered the Star Theatre, a restored vaudeville theater that offers classic movies (free) with your dinner (not free, but quite inexpensive). The movie was "Zorro" with Tyrone Power, and we had a great evening.
Sun., 6/4 - There are 53 churches in Hannibal - three of them are over 150 years old. But we didn't attend any of them. Al spent the morning fighting with the new Verizon card, which has been insisting that we re-install it every time we go to that vast, wonderful internet. He thinks he has the problems solved, now. Judy did laundry - wheeee! We had a busy day after that - the Tom Sawyer/Becky Thatcher stuff is all together around one little square, and was a lot of fun. All of the great Mark Twain quotes accompanying the exhibits inspired us to buy Twain's autobiography. We lunched at a place that - finally! - had cheesecake, the "Cheesecake Factory and Pasta" restaurant. Great food, scrumptious cheesecake, and entertainment, when our waitress was prevailed upon to perform her talent for an upcoming Junior Miss pageant. She did an energetic and original version of "Hound Dawg," after which the whole wait staff sang "Amazing Grace," amazing the owner, who didn't know the group had been practicing together. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Mark Twain Museum - lots more great Twain quotes.
Mon., 6/5 - We hiked the 244 steps to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse - a non-functional lighthouse built as a tourist attraction on Cardiff Hill, above the site of the original Mark Twain Memorial Bridge across the Mississippi. The original bridge had trouble with swarms of mayflies in the summer, piling up to two inches thick on the roadway - they had to be snowplowed off the bridge. Al counted 255 steps - Judy figured they must have not counted the numerous landings as steps, but trying to count both steps (out loud) and landings (on her fingers) on the way down, she got hopelessly lost, so we still don't know if Al's count was off, or if they didn't count the landings. Judy said it wasn't worth another climb up there to do a recount! We lunched at Lula Belle's, a great restaurant and B&B that was built in 1902 as a brothel, and did a really fine business until the ministers in town (there are 53 churches, after all) harassed them until they were forced to close in the 50's. No energy remained for more touristy things (that's a LOT of steps, no matter how you count'm), so we spent a lazy afternoon at the RV reading and dozing, washed the windshield (so much area, so many ex-bugs), and watched the DVD of "Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead," a really weird but very entertaining movie.
Tues., 6/6 - Off to Springfield, IL, hoping to arrive in time for a free carillon concert in the park this evening. That's for our next report.
Al's Highlight - If you ever come to Hannibal, be sure to re-read both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn before you come. I didn't. That said, my highlight would be the last building we visited - the Mark Twain Museum. It's a very well-done presentation of many artifacts from the life and times of Mark Twain, and it helps put lots of things into context. The best part was a collection of original Norman Rockwell paintings and sketches made to illustrate a re-publication of the Sawyer/Finn books. Rockwell made some preliminary sketches accurate to the books before realizing that none of the earlier illustrators had ever come to Hannibal to see what the places were actually like. So he did, and then modified his sketches to show buildings and other places the way they really were. The paintings, of course, are wonderful, and the backstory makes them even more so.
Judy's Highlight - My highlight would've been a visit to the pottery shop of Steve Ayers, a well known potter who has a large workshop/store, plus two other shops - Fresh Ayers, and Java Jive, where touristy things are sold, along with his beautiful pottery. My interest was the workshop, advertised in brochures as a place to see him at work. But, no such luck! We went by the shop several times over three days, and it was always closed, although one day there were potters potting in the back. We found out while we lunched at Lula Belle's that we had just seen the great man himself - he lunches at Lula Belle's several times a week, and left just after we arrived. Ayers' brochure advertises him as the "Greatest Potter on Earth... You Prove the Contrary!"
Click here to see a slideshow of some of our pictures from this leg of the trip.
Stay tuned . . .