Optimist–a person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness–Mark Twain
The few blocks comprising Hannibal’s historic downtown are quaint and well-worn by tourists, especially since a second Mark Twain Museum building is three blocks away from the main cluster of buildings. Don’t miss Fresh Ayers, a sweet coffee shop/gallery, run by a local potter, among other enterprises nestled in lovely historic buildings in the old downtown.
A walk up (and I do mean UP) Bird Street to the Rockcliffe Mansion was a colorful study in minimalist home maintenance.
The mansion itself is needing a little fixing, having been virtually abandoned, lock, stock, and barrel, when old Mr. Cruikshank died in 1924 and his trophy wife left the somber old place to build her little Shangri-la next door.
The place reminded me of Miss Havisham’s house in Dickens’s Great Expectations. Still, it’s an interesting tour, especially when the guide is Rhonda, an energetic soul who used to play in the abandoned house with her friends when they were children.
A visit to Hannibal is maybe a two-day affair–one, if you’re as lively as Rhonda. The trolley will take you to all the local sights worth seeing. (I meandered by a lot of them on my own, which gave me more time at each.) Lover’s Leap south on 79. The lighthouse, on the hill above the Mark Twain Museum. The famous view of the Mississippi and Mark Twain statue in, what else?, Riverview Park, a free city park which is also on the National Registry of Historic Places.
I stayed at the Mark Twain Cave campground because it was handy–just a couple miles outside town on S. 79 (Third Street). I didn’t take the cave tour because, well, I’m cheap. But I was pleasantly surprised that the campground was comfortable, uncrowded (in October) and reasonably priced, considering. ($28/day for a site with electricity.)The cave complex itself is predictably full of tourist trappings–gift shop, restaurant, playground.
Despite the flaws, Hannibal is colorful and historic. And it’s perched at the very lip of the mighty Mississippi. As the woman in the Visitor’s Center said, “Some people love the ocean, but we love our river.”
I’m sure Mark Twain would have some wry remark if he visited Hannibal today, but I think he’d also recognize his home town. In fact, I think I saw a 21st century Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher squeezing under a fence in a vacant lot on Bird Street.