Hannibal, Missouri is known far and wide for its connection to Samuel Clemens. Many of you know him best by his pen name of Mark Twain. His stories reflect the life and struggles of growing up in a river town in the mid-1800s. While many of his tales are based on moments and memories from his life, there are hidden history stories that are less well known. During our visit, we had the fortune to hear some of these stories and walk the sites where they may have occurred. This experience helped us feel like we were drawn into one of Twain’s tales.
The name of Lover’s Leap is not uncommon across America. An internet search quickly identifies about two-dozen such sites. That doesn’t make this high ridge south of town any less impressive. Just a short drive from Karlock’s Kars brought us to the entrance of the hillside park. Once at the top, we found ourselves about 20 stories above the Mississippi River. The tales that surround these types of overlooks usually include a love-struck pair of youths. Such is the case for the one in Hannibal, as well. A native Indian brave falls in love with a princess from an opposing tribe. Both tribes forbid their love, and this story was sure to end badly. After being pursued by others from one of the tribes, the pair of lovers throw themselves from the cliff, as a sign of their enduring love.
It is generally regarded that Twain’s tales have a basis of history behind them. This means that there must be sites where he gained his inspiration. One of the memorable scenes from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is set in a graveyard. Many people have done a lot of research to determine which Hannibal cemetery would have been the inspiration. Most feel this designation goes to the Old Baptist Cemetery, but there are others who doubt this. According to old maps, there was another cemetery that would have resembled the “old-fashioned Western kind” which Twain alludes to in the book. In our heads, we pictured the Boot Hill Cemetery we visited in Dodge City, Kansas.
Larger than Life
As we explored the Old Baptist Cemetery, it became apparent that it held many stories. It seems that the hidden history in this graveyard took place on or before the Civil War era. Since this historic war took place in the 1860s, it would have been years after Clemens was a boy. There are other gravestones, half-buried and faded with time, that predate the war. Some of these go back to the early 1840s, which would have been during Clemens’s boyhood days. As we scouted this hilltop memorial park, our thoughts turned to the amazing tales that each grave held.
Resting in Peace
Cresting the hill, we found a couple of gravestones that had weathered the test of time a little better than the others. These were the graves of two Civil War soldiers who died on a nearby battlefield. Care had been taken to clear away the unkempt grass, and each had a small flag placed at their base. Even after over 150 years, people are still keeping a watchful eye over our departed veterans. We continued exploring the graveyard but found many stones were broken and battered with age. As dark fell, we decided that further investigation would have to wait for another visit.
While there are many hidden history stories in Hannibal, others stand out in open. The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse sits high atop a bluff overlooking a bend in the river. The original structure was built in 1935, on the 100th anniversary of Clemens’ birthday. The original was devastated by a windstorm in 1960, but this replacement was constructed in 1963. While it is not an operational lighthouse, it’s presence is a reminder of the quiet, yet powerful flow of the nearby Mississippi River.
It didn’t require a lot of detective work to uncover all of this hidden history. There are many more tales to be told about this unique river town. Those looking for a family-friendly escape can make their plans for a visit to Hannibal, Missouri. The spirit of Mark Twain is alive today and the locals welcome visitors to come to explore. You are sure to find plenty of opportunities to create some of your own stories. Safe travels!