Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum

Reminiscing about high school memories while visiting Mark Twain's Boyhood Home & Museum, www.marianamcdougall.com. Picture of Huck Finn's house in background.

Blast from the past at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum

When I was a teenager, I didn’t get out much. I had to work to help at home, and as such, I moved between my house, school, work, a couple of after-school activities, and not much else. But there were some cool outings once in a while. One of these outings from my teenage years that I’ll never forget was a field trip to Hannibal, Missouri, where the high school juniors got to see Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home and Museum (and more).

Mark Twain Boyhood & Museum, Hannibal, Missouri

I don’t recall every detail of that trip, but a few stick out: the bus trip from Illinois to Missouri, the walk trough the cave that inspired The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the dress on the bed that my English teacher was flabbergasted to discover had a 16-inch waist.

I remember taking lots of photos, and I remember I was wearing a ridiculous sweater with a giant drawing of a popcorn bowl on it. Mostly I remember that outfit because I was brave enough (or clueless enough) to take a photo wearing it. But high school was a kind experience for me—much kinder than my years of bullying in schools back in Brazil. I had good friends, and I wore the most ridiculous things, never hearing a word from anyone.

A group of students sitting around a table in a high school cafeteria.
Me, wearing weird clothes in high school. I’m off to the right, in the front.

We had a tight-knit group of friends, and some of these friendships are still going strong today. My high school experience was wonderful not just because of these friends, but also because I was well supported in my learning of the English language, my development as a poet (yes, I used to write poetry back in the day), and my adjustment to an entire new culture.

Experiences like the trip to Hannibal were the cherry on the cake of an already wonderful experience in Chicago (Cicero and Berwyn, to be more precise). Twenty years later, I was thrilled to return to Hannibal.

Blue Skies and Happy Memories in Hannibal, Misouri

A rock garden with a statue on top, with a background of a very deep blue sky.

 

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a sky this particular shade of blue. It makes the trip back to Hannibal all the more memorable and special. The other reason this trip is special is that I’m currently reading Tom Sawyer to the children, and coming here shows the kids some of the things that inspired Mark Twain. Before I continue with the description of our visit, I wanted to address something about Twain’s books.

While both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn have been criticized in the past for the presence of offensive words within their pages, I believe that banning these works or changing the words the characters use is a disservice to children and to literature education. As a homeschooling parent, I prefer to read challenging works with my kids and explain why certain words are not OK to use, why they were used at the time the books were written, have a discussion about time periods and how and why things change, and talk about author voice versus character speech. That’s true literature education—teaching critical reading and discussing the hard stuff.

Having said that, I can see how this is much easier done within the family unit than with 20+ students who will all have various reactions to “controversial works.” But for our family, reading aloud to our children and explaining things as we do so works very well, and helps them to learn critical reading skills, history, and more. With that in mind, I am reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to the kids while we drive during our trip, and for that reason, this visit to Hannibal felt both appropriate and significant.

We were able to find free on-street parking for the RV very close to the Boyhood home. Our first stop, after purchasing our tickets and checking things out in the Visitor Center, was to see Huck Finn’s home, where we learned that the character of Huck Finn was based on the real-life Tom Blankenship. 

Huck Finn's House in Hannibal, Missouri

 

From there, we walked through the gorgeous gardens to the Boyhood home, which looks a lot different than the last time I was here 20 years ago. Walking through the gardens, we took time to admire the blooms.

 

Two girls under a tree with pink flowers.

 

girl looking at flowers on a bush in a garden. She's standing on the path.

 

girl walking along a path with two flowering bushes on either side.

 

Walking through the Boyhood home was a delight, and it was interesting to see how much has been moved around since I was last here in 1999. I don’t recall the statues next to the large signs containing his quotes—I believe that’s new, though my memories could be muddled.

 

Dress on a bed, a dresser and a chest in the background, next to a fire stove. Mark Twain's Boyhood Home.

 

After visiting the Boyhood Home, we went to Becky Thatcher‘s house, learned about school discipline in the 1800s, and got to pick a character card and imagine what life was like for each one of those characters. We even got to see Tom Sawyer’s fence.

 

Girl looking up at a display case showing a dress.

 

3 children standing in front of Tom Sawyer's fence and sign in Hannibal, Missouri

 

After checking out the Boyhood Home, gift shop, and Becky Thatcher’s house, we walked for a bit to enjoy the gorgeous blue sky and the beautiful blooms.

 

 

Three children on a little bridge

 

 

Two girls smelling tulips in a garden

 

After our walk, we visited the Mark Twain Museum, where I re-enacted a photo from that field trip 20 years ago:

 

Woman beside a bust of Mark Twain

 

We also saw many interesting artifacts and displays, one of my favourites being the original drawings and paintings for Tom Sawyer created by Norman Rockwell. It was especially neat to be able to see the original sketches, along with the painted illustrations.

 

Normal Rockwell drawing of Tom Sawyer, on display at Mark Twain Museum
Normal Rockwell drawing of Tom Sawyer, on display at Mark Twain Museum

 

I also enjoyed seeing the statue of Mark Twain along with his characters, and the Tom Sawyer fence display was really neat as well. 

 

Statue of Mark Twain with Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer at the Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, Missouri.

 

At the fence, you can press buttons on the brush handles, which turn on a light in the display boxes above them. In each box are some of the items that Tom Sawyer traded for the privilege of whitewashing the fence. K-girl was really excited about this display.

 

Girl standing in front of a display about Tom Sawyer's fence at the Mark Twain museum.

 

We also got to see some really special items that used to belong to Mark Twain and his family, like this custom-made jewelry box he commissioned for his wife.

 

Two children looking at a jewerly box that Mark Twain gave his wife. Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, Missouri

 

And after learning about Mark Twain’s experience on riverboats and why he chose the pen name Mark Twain (his real name was Sam Clemens), the kids got to try their hand at “steering the ship” and pulling the horn.

 

Children at a ship's wheel at the Mark Twain Museum

 

We ended our visit to the museum with a walk through the Bicentennial Quilt Exhibition. These quilts were breathtaking. While I’m not much of a crafty person, I love looking at and receiving handmade items. I think it’s precisely because I’m not crafty that I appreciate handiwork so much.

My favourite quilt of the lot was one that looked like a watercolour painting. I was a bit disappointed when I saw the sign beside it and realized it hadn’t won a prize. I thought it was beautiful and a really original concept. But then again, I know zero about the intricacies of creating a quilt.

 

A watercolour flowers quilt presented at the Hannibal Bicentennial Quilt Exhibtion

 

There were quilts of all kinds at the exhibition, one more beautiful than the other. There were several celebrating Mark Twain and his legacy.

 

Quilt celebrating the work of Mark Twain and presented at the Hannibal Bicentennial Quilt exhibition

 

Quilt celebrating the work of Mark Twain and presented at the Hannibal Bicentennial Quilt exhibition

 

Quilt celebrating the work of Mark Twain and presented at the Hannibal Bicentennial Quilt exhibition

 

There were so many incredible quilts in several categories. One that really stuck out to me had a tonne of embroidery, including cross-stitch. It reminded me of my grandmother, who taught me how to cross-stitch when I was a kid. I also liked that it was a quilt that looks different than what we normally picture today when we hear that word.

 

Honeycomb quilt composed of various embroidered hexagons.

 

Quilt display information. The quilt is composed of 264 hexagons, connected by feather stitch embroidery.

 

Embroidery detail on honeycomb quilt

 

After admiring the beautiful quilts and seeing the displays at the museum, we headed back to the RV and went for a quick library visit. We were able to find parking right across the street in a church parking lot. We asked if it was OK to park and we were given the go-ahead.

Hannibal Public Library

RV in front of a church

 

The Hannibal Public Library is in a gorgeous building that’s very cozy and inviting. There’s a nice children’s area for the kids, and a quiet space for adults to work. The library staff was lovely and friendly.

Hannibal Public Library

 

Hannibal Public Library

 

boy playing with Lego at the Hannibal Public Library

 

girl looking for book in library stack

 

The Mark Twain Museum and the Boyhood Home have seen a lot of changes over the years, but being here and remembering the experience of 20 years ago, I realized that while our surroundings may change, our love and fond memories will always be with us.

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