The Mentor
      May 1924

This two-part article appeared in an issue of the Mentor devoted entirely to MT. It describes Hannibal as both "bustling city" and a child's "playground" -- a town looking simultaneously forward to a thriving future and backward to an eternal past. As it gives details about efforts to preserve the Clemens' house and to create a new shrine to MT in his birthplace in Florida, Missouri, it implies how the "city's" prosperity is beginning to be identified with the myth of MT's fictional "village." It claims, for example, the idea for a MT "Memorial Park" arose in the mind of a camp-fire girl, but goes on to reveal the fact that her father just happens to be the secretary of the local Chamber of Commerce. Other details suggest how a tourist economy is growing up.

The Old Home Town









    Hannibal, Missouri, a bustling, wide-awake American city of over twenty thousand, would never be recognized to-day as "the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg" of Tom Sawyer's day. Indeed, in later years when Mark Twain visited the town of his boyhood he expressed surprise and admiration for its improved appearance and progressiveness.

    The mile-wide Mississippi is magnificent there, with "Pirate's Island" just across from the railroad yards, and Lovers' Leap, and Holliday's Hill to the north, blocking the further progress of Main Street, for Hannibal was a "Main Street town in the reign of Tom" and "Huck" and "Injun Joe."

    Nature made Hannibal a playground for youth at the cost of not one cent to the municipality. The hand of man could not improve upon it.

    It provided a towering hill down which great boulders could be started, to land on the street far below with a delicious crash. It created bays and islands, fishing holes and swimming pools, far-reaching stretches of gloomy woodland, crevices and hollows, and capped it all with a mysterious cave that had no end! "It was said that one might wander days and nights through its intricate tangle of rifts and chasms, and never find an end of the cave." . . .

    Some years before the death of Mark Twain, Mr. and Mrs. George A. Mahan of Hannibal purchased the Clemens house, and presented it to the city as a permanent memorial. It is kept in as near as possible the same shape as when the family occupied it. The little back yard is there, almost exactly as when Jim Wolf, the printer boy, undertaking to shoo away the cats, fell through the grape trellis and landed on the hot candy Parmela and her girl friends put out there to cool. Mrs. Mary Wirtz, the matron, is asked to often by tourists about the "cats" that she has one as a regular attaché of the house to satisfy their curiosity. . . .

    Perhaps the most relentless character ever created by Mark Twain was "Injun Joe," the savage half-breed of Hannibal. Readers of Tom Sawyer will remember him well.

    But Doc Brown . . . declared he knew "Injun Joe" well, and that he was not a bad man at all. He said he ran with the boys and helped them in hunting rabbits and 'possums, and showing them good places to fish. "Injun Joe" finally became a deck hand on the ferryboat, he said, and died of pneumonia.

    When the Mark Twain statue was erected in the River View Park at Hannibal, a question arose about the word "humorist" in the inscription. The monument committee favored it, but Mr. Albert Bigelow Paine opposed it on the ground that Mark Twain's career was far greater than that of a "humorist."

    While the matter was being discussed, the writer asked Mr. Mahan how he would classify Missouri's noted son.

    "A citizen of the world," replied Mr. Mahan. "That is big enough to cover the matter, for all the world loved Mark Twain." Then he added:

    "Take him as a whole, I would say Mark Twain was a man who invested lavishly in humanity's stock, and made the dividends payable to the world."


    During the year 1923 a Mark Twain Memorial Park was created, consisting of one hundred and six acres of land adjoining the village of Florida, Missouri, where Mark Twain was born and where he played and hunted when a boy. An organization has the matter in charge, and the schools, newspapers, and Mark Twain societies in all the towns of the state are raising the fund required to establish the park and maintain it in a style worthy of the man whose memory will keep it green.

    A twelve-year-old camp-fire girl, Ruth Lamson of Moberly, suggested the idea of a park. Ruth and her comrades had enjoyed their vacation amidst the fascinating scenery along the little river for several years, the guests of M. A. Violette, owner of the Mark Twain birthplace at Florida. Mr. Violette had put up several rustic camping houses for the girls, and of course they called him "Dad," which he accepts as a mark of affection--as it is.

    "Dad" Violette's camp-fire girls were not the pioneers, however, in the discovery that the Salt River country was the prettiest and most rugged in northern Missouri. Sam Clemens made it the playground of his youth, when he would spend his summers at Florida as the well-loved guest of his remarkable uncle Judge John A. Quarles. The Clemens family lived in Hannibal then.

    Judge Quarles ran a store at Florida, and owned a farm near the place. In his autobiography Mark Twain gave a pretty fair inventory of that store from memory, and the prices at which articles were sold. He recalled that, "if a boy bought five or ten cents' worth of anything, he was entitled to half a handful of sugar from the barrel." If the customer were a woman, she was entitled to a spool of thread with her purchase. If a man bought some goods--no matter how trivial--his "prize" was a drink of whisky. Whisky sold then (from 1830 to 1840) at ten cents a gallon!

    The author of "Innocents Abroad" returned in his last years to the old Missouri playground, the woodlands they are going to transform into a beautiful park in his honor. In one of his most famous addresses--on the celebration of his attaining three-score years and ten--he voiced his vision of the old playground.

    "I can see the woods in their autumn dress, the oaks' purple, the hickories washed with gold, the maples and the sumacs luminous with crimson fires, and I can hear the rustle of the fallen leaves as we plowed through them. I can see the blue clusters of wild grapes hanging amongst the foliage of the saplings, and I remember the taste of them and the smell. I know how the wild blackberries looked, and how they tasted; and the papaws, the hazelnuts, and the persimmons; and I can feel the thumping rain of hickory nuts and of walnuts upon my head when we were out in the frosty dawn to scramble for them when the gusts of wind loosened and sent them down."

    "Dad" Violette saved the Clemens home some ten years ago when the owner was about to wreck it for firewood. He bought and repaired it, all but a lean-to, which had rotted too badly to restore. When Mark Twain saw the house on one of his later visits to Florida he commented upon the absence of the lean-to. He remarked that the little house was in better shape than when he saw it after he moved to Hannibal.

    Miss Ruth Lamson spoke of the park idea to "Dad" Violette, who immediately became interested. The girl's father, Frank B. Lamson, is secretary of the Moberly Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Lamson decided that as Mark Twain had been a printer, and newspaper man, the men of those crafts should take hold of the matter. The result was the organization of the Mark Twain Memorial Association.

    Mr. Violette has agreed to give the Mark Twain home for the park, together with its valuable contents of pioneer relics. There are two Seth Thomas clocks, one said to be one hundred and thirty-five years old and the other one hundred years. There is an old spinning wheel, also Indian axes, arrow heads, ancient guns and swords, and so on.

    In a prominent place in the park it is proposed to erect a statue to represent "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn." The entrance by way of Florida will be through an imposing gateway, the arch overhead bearing the inscription "Mark Twain Memorial Park."

    The Mark Twain Park Association was granted a decree of incorporation in February. The development scheme, as worked out by Horace Major, the University of Missouri landscape artist, includes roads, buildings, landscaping, electric lights, waterworks, and other interesting features.

    Newspapers, schools, and interested individuals in Missouri are working enthusiastically over this beautiful memorial to the man who laughed through life, and who made so many millions of his fellow men laugh--and think.

Homepage Next Page