Trip through Time / Rural Town Conveying U.S. Slavery History: Mark Twain (1835-1910) in Hannibal

By Mizuno, Tetsuya | The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), February 17, 2015 | Go to article overview

Trip through Time / Rural Town Conveying U.S. Slavery History: Mark Twain (1835-1910) in Hannibal


Mizuno, Tetsuya, The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)


HANNIBAL, Mo. -- The Mississippi River, which flows from north to south in the United States, became an important commercial artery in the 19th century, with many steamboats sailing on it. Many small towns were built at ports along the river.

Hannibal, Missouri, in the Midwestern United States, is one such town.

Samuel Clemens, who would later become a famous American novelist under the pen name of Mark Twain, moved here with his family when he was 4. They lived in a two-story house about a five-minute walk from the river.

With no TV in those days, children played outdoors in nature. One favorite play spot was a cave at the edge of the town.

The cave, which stretches in many directions and has a total length of about five kilometers, is still there. In summer, 600 to 700 fans of the writer visit the cave from all over the world every day.

Inside the cave, graffiti done by children over the years remains. The scenes are very similar to those described in the climax of Twain's novel, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," published in 1876.

"Mark Twain played here as a child and that's where he got a lot of ideas for his stories," Sam Lucas, a 24-year-old guide in the town, said proudly.

Local people say Twain watched steamboats arrive at the riverside. Watching people and goods coming and going, a young Twain must have felt an increasing desire to find out about the outside world.

At age 17, Twain left the town and gained experience working at many jobs, including as a printer, newspaper reporter and a pilot for steamships, moving around the United States.

In the 1860s, Twain began traveling to Europe and the Middle East and also began writing novels and travel articles.

During Twain's childhood days, Hannibal was a typical rural town where there was still slavery.

Black slaves working at his home and in his relatives' houses were servants but also playmates of Twain. However, Twain learned during his wanderings in later years that there was a part of the world without slaves.

Henry Sweets, 65, the executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, explained that exposure to new cultures changed Twain's views about slaves that were accepted as a matter of course. …

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