By Bill Clevlen
The state of Missouri can lay claim to countless individuals who have gone on to fame and fortune. Actors like Brad Pitt, Jenna Fischer, and Jon Hamm are just a few that made it big in Hollywood. Harry Truman went on to be President. Jack Dorsey came up with a thing called Twitter, and, of course, Missouri native J.C. Penny first learned about retail growing up in the small town of Hamilton. Oh, and we can’t forget that Walt Disney spent his younger years in small town Marceline.
Ninety-miles east of where Disney first learned to draw and develop characters, another Missouri native was starting to develop some characters of his own – albeit, 67 years earlier. Samuel Langhorne Clemens grew up in Hannibal, a quaint river town just two hours north of Saint Louis.
These days, Clemens’ childhood home town pays great tribute to his life and historic literary works written under his pen name – Mark Twain.
Sights & venues
Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain’s most notable character, first came to life in downtown Hannibal. The famous “whitewashed” fence stands alongside his boyhood home where visitors can pose for a photo with paint brushes. Beautifully organized with signage, it’s easy to navigate between eight different historic sights and museums from Becky Thatcher’s house down to the Mark Twain Museum. Other must-see stops include world-famous Mark Twain Cave and the breathtaking Rockcliffe Mansion.
Around town, meeting space is perfect for small to medium-sized groups looking for a unique destination. The Rialto Banquet Center can host functions for up to 400 guests. Smaller rooms inside can seat 100-200 guests. Also downtown, the Star Theater can host around 400 guests for receptions or banquets. Built in 1906, the former “summer playhouse” venue has on-site catering as well.
The most unique space of the bunch is the Mark Twain Riverboat which runs normal tours and dinner cruises during the warmer months. The boat has been part of the Hannibal riverfront for more than 30 years, sharing stories of the “Mighty Mississippi” and the river’s influence on Samuel Clemens’ life and literature.
Hannibal is incredibly walkable with most of the venues, museums, shops, and restaurants located along or near Main Street.
Working with groups
Megan Rapp, the Assistant Director for Hannibal’s tourism office is quick to tell me, “We love to work with groups that have unique perspectives.” One such organization was the Watershed Leaders Network. They wanted to be in a relaxed atmosphere where they could actually see the Mississippi River while meeting. They also wanted to break out into small groups and be able to do walking meetings, since so many of the participants were used to working outdoors. Rapp says, “We helped them settle on the Mark Twain Brewery, whose upstairs area can be closed off for meetings via large barn-door style doors. We also gave all of them maps, so they could navigate through the tourist sites and walking trails around town.”
In 2017, the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Missouri came to Hannibal and was looking for a place to have Eucharist, or communion, followed by a social hour and dinner. As the planners wanted a chance to get people downtown, they chose to have this portion of the convention at the Star Theater. “It was really unique”, says Rapp. “First, Eucharist was celebrated from the stage area while everyone was seated, then afterwards, people enjoyed a social time while dinner was set up! There was plenty of room, a unique venue, and people had the opportunity to come downtown before the activities to take in the history and shopping of downtown Hannibal.”
200 Year history
2019 is a special year to be in Hannibal as they celebrate the town’s bicentennial. A calendar full of special celebrations is set, along with the many annual events that occur downtown. From National Tom Sawyer Days to the Big River Steampunk Festival – Hannibal is a quaint, but fun and active, Missouri town.
Bill Clevlen is a contributing writer from St. Louis, MO.