That’s what the signs all say in Hannibal, MO: “America’s Hometown.” I suppose that’s right as far as you can take it which, honestly, may not be that far. The signal strength on the Victorian era vibe was good, even excellent at times. A goodly mix of kitsch and capitalism along with clean streets in the tourist areas. Something did seem a bit amiss.
Saturday, post storm, was hot and humid and called out for time on the river. I had no expectations of great food but I did want a real ride on the Mighty Miss so I plunked down $37.50 for a dinner cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat. The Twain, parked for many years at the St. Louis wharf, moved north a few years back when gambling took over the riverfront, and gained greatly from the change of venue. With the cruise departure set for 6:30 pm I had some time and a serious need to beat the humidity. I did what any kid in Tom’s day would have done; grabbed a candle and headed for the caves.
The Mark Twain Cave, with an entrance at the back of the well stocked gift shop, was worth the $17 entry fee. I safely avoided the souvenirs and sat through the 10 minute introductory video to cave geology. Shocking news! Here in the heartland of America, home of all that is true and inerrant and just so, was a cave that claims to be over 100 million years old! Cohabiting even with dinosaurs and thousands of fossilized genera. North America’s own rift valley with eons of evidence of…well, let’s leave that discussion for another day.
The real finding as far as I was concerned was the temperature. 52 degrees and, wimp that I am, I had followed the recommendations and brought (and wore) a sweater. Lots of cave lore, retellings of the Tom and Becky travails amid bats and an angry Injun Joe, and more rock jokes that “Rock School.” And, if you believe the telling, over 250,000 signatures (including 250 by an S. Clemens) on the walls, a “real” ghost of Injun Joe, treasure, 99.9% pure water, and yet another hiding place of the outlaw Jesse James!
The caving took an hour, give or take, and I still had time for a quick shower using the replacement towels fom a discount chain that I will not name (Honest, I couldn’t find a Target, Penny’s, or rag shop anywhere…and I looked). The Mark Twain departed right on time, the weather was perfect, the food more than passable, and my fellow passengers…wow, what a weird freakin’ lot. I new that Illinois was big on veterans groups and POW/MIA chapters but…at least 5 chapters were on this ride along with me and 25 tellers from US Bank. I sat with the band, chatted with a Democrat from Iowa, and stayed off the top deck with the drunks and 55 year olds with pony tails and tattoos.
We docked right on the minute at 8:30 and, after I short walk around town, I headed for my little pup tent and a petty decent nights sleep. The next morning I figured out what was amiss with the town. I got up early to catch breakfast and walk the riverfront in the cool of the morning. I came across the “world famous” statue of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn at the foot of Cardiff Lighthouse. While the town has more Mark Twain “this” and Tom Sawyer “that” to satisfy an insatiable tourista, there are few mentions of Huck. Tom, of course, was the romantic ideal of adventure and the true talents of Americans for guile and good times. Huck was no romantic but a pragmatic son of an alcoholic who grappled with the twin sins of 19th century America; slavery and class-ism. He, more so than Tom, was the best we had to offer. Not exactly good for business or the business of nostalgia.
I’m for building Huck his own statue. Anybody up for a capital campaign? More later. Got to go and check out of my lavish B&B recovery lodging! Great rooms and hot cookies at bedtime!