Monday, September 29, 2014

Hannibal, Missouri

White picket fences abound in Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's boyhood home, paying homage to the celebrated incident in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" when Tom convinces his pals to do his painting job.  There is even a bucket with a couple of paint brushes beside one of the fences.  The bi-monthly publication of the Mark Twain Association is called "The Fence Painter."  The annual National Tom Sawyer Days, that has been going on for fifty-eight years, includes a fence painting contest.

Huck Finn's house and Mark Twain's boyhood home and his father's law office were all painted a picket fence white.

Hannibal calls itself "America's Hometown."  Norman Rockwell might agree, as fifteen of his paintings are on display in Twain's home, paying homage to Twain's heroes.  So too might the religious, as Hannibal is home to fifty-three churches, including one a block from its old non-Carnegie library that holds its services in a former movie theater.  The town recognizes its heritage.  Many homes have signs out front announcing they are being restored to their original state dating to their construction in the 1800s.

There are tributes to Twain all over this river-side town--streets and businesses named for him, including a taxi service. Twain's family moved to Hannibal in 1839 when he was four.  Twain began his newspaper career when he was thirteen, dropping out of school after his father's death to help support the family.  He remained in Hannibal until he was eighteen. 

A ceremonial lighthouse was erected in his honor on a bluff overlooking the town and a bridge over the Mississippi, also named in his honor.  It is a 244-step climb up to the lighthouse from a statue of Tom and Huck.  The lighthouse was unveiled in 1935 on the centennial of Twain's birth.  It was turned on by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he pressed a gold key that had been hooked up by telegraph wires.  The Tom/Huck statue preceded the lighthouse by nine years and is said to be the first American sculpture to depict fictional characters.

Many businesses take their name from one or the other.  The town's information phone number is 1-TomandHuck.  Becky Thatcher is also prominent about town.  The path up to the light house passes Becky's Butterfly Garden.  Not far from a house named for her is a Becky's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and also Becky Thatcher's Third Street Diner.

The town was rather quiet on this late September Sunday despite the balmy eighty degree temperatures. There were only a handful of others wandering the few blocks of the historic district a couple blocks from the Mississippi, hidden by a high dike.  Many of the visitors had arrived on motorcycles, traveling the scenic Great River Road that I would follow for thirty-two miles south to Louisiana and its Carnegie and bicycle-friendly bridge, despite warnings that it was very hilly. The lone bridge in Hannibal was the start of Interstate 72. It had replaced the original bridge by the lighthouse in 2000. I may have been able to ride it, though the woman at the tourist office couldn't say for sure.  She'd never had a bicyclist ask.  But the Carnegie in Louisiana beckoned.  It'd be my eleventh in Missouri on this trip, one-third of those in the state.  

Bicyclists remain a rarity. There wasn't a bicycle to be seen in the town.  No surprise.  I am a virtual species unto my own.  Not only have I not encountered a single touring cyclist since I left Telluride three weeks ago, I've hardly noticed anyone on a bicycle anywhere I've been in the 1,500 miles I've covered.  I've long ago given up being concerned about such matters.  I am simply happy that my allegiance to the bicycle has not waned nor been diverted all these years.  Though there is a glimmer of bicycle-enlightenment in some urban areas, it is still on a very small scale.  It is not something I expect to see in my lifetime.

None of the three Carnegies on my Saturday route were open when I visited them. I was too early for the Carnegie in Moberly.

The cosy Carnegie in the small town of Shelbina only had nine to noon hours on Saturday.  I was three hours late. At least it had a drinking fountain out front, but it was out of order.  A young woman in the park in front of it saw me try it.  She told me the library was unlocked and I could go in and use its drinking fountain.  She came to lead me in, but was surprised to discover that the door was locked.

It was no surprise that the library in Monroe City was closed when I arrived after six.  The former Carnegie was now the town's City Hall with the new library adjoining it.  I was at least able to use its WIFI, unlike the day's other two Carnegies.  I downloaded a couple more episodes of Democracy Now and a couple of ESPN shows for my listening the next day if I couldn't find an NFL station.

I had half an hour of light before I had to end my cycling day.  I exited the four-lane wide highway 36 fifteen miles short of Hannibal and camped alongside a corn field on a side road to Mark Twain Lake.  

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