Sunday, September 21, 2008

Road Trip to St. Louis

Part 6: Hannibal

(NOTE: This is the last installment in a series of posts documenting my road trip to St. Louis last month with my friends Kathleen and Joey. This final installment focuses on our return trip to Minnesota, via the town of Hannibal, Missouri - a river town that is significant for reasons that you’ll discover below.)

Above: Our journey from St. Louis to Hannibal involved crossing a tributary of the Mississippi via a ferry.

Above: Hannibal, Missouri - Wednesday, August 20, 2008.

Above and below: The river town of Hannibal is famous for being the boyhood home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as author Mark Twain. More specifically, Hannibal served as the inspiration for the fictional town of St. Petersburg in two of Twain’s most famous works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

At the time of Twain’s boyhood (the 1840s), Missouri was a slave state in the Union. Growing up in such a place and time, Twain was exposed to the institution of slavery. As a result, slavery and other aspects of Southern culture would later become important themes in his writing - most notably in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a book that has been described as “the great American novel.”

The main theme of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the title character’s journey in awareness and belief in the right thing to do even when the majority of society believes that it is wrong. Thus Huck ignores the rules and mores of his age to follow what he thinks is just, i.e., helping the runaway slave, Jim. The book has become required reading in many schools throughout the U.S. - and beyond! For example, it was a required text in my high school English class in Australia in the 1980s.

Above and below: Various historical sites related to Mark Twain, along with sites depicted in his works of fiction, have become an important part of Hannibal’s legacy. One of these sites is the childhood home of Twain (above right) and the “Tom Sawyer fence.”

Above: A replica of the home of Tom Blankenship - a childhood friend of Twain’s and the inspiration for the character of Huck Finn.

In his Autobiography, Mark Twain wrote: “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had. His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person - boy or man - in the community, and by consequence he was tranquilly and continuously happy and envied by the rest of us. And as his society was forbidden us by our parents the prohibition trebled and quadrupled its value, and therefore we sought and got more of his society than any other boy’s.”

I recall reading in one of the museums in Hannibal that at one point Blankenship’s older brother brought food and water to a runaway slave hiding out on an island in the Mississippi. This continued for some time until the runaway’s unfortunate drowning.

Above: Mark Twain and his two greatest characters - Huck Finn (left) and Tom Sawyer.

Above: With Joey in the “Huck Finn House” - August 20, 2008.

Above: Joey, lost in the works of Mark Twain at a museum book shop.

Above: A corn field not far from the hamlet of Michael, Missouri!

Above: On the road and homeward bound! We spent the night of Wednesday, August 20, in Des Moines, Iowa. We arrived back in the Twin Cities the following day at around 3:00 p.m.

See also the previous Road Trip to St. Louis posts:
Part 1: Following the Mississippi
Part 2: Dubuque
Part 3: St. Louis
Part 4: The Arch
Part 5: Carondelet

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