Saturday, July 14, 2007

so long, and thanks for all the fish

Hannibal has had a hard time of it since I can recollect. First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place.

— Mark Twain

The box of rocks for sale ($6) at the Farmer's Market was the first hint, earlier this morning, of the quality of attractions that Hannibal, Missouri -- Mark Twain's boyhood hometown -- had to offer.

They were limestone, porous, and billed as "holey" by the Mennonites who were shilling them with a smile.

The sweet little shuttered up moviehouse was the next; followed in rapid succession by chained door after boarded window after "for lease" sign.

Hannibal bills itself as "America's Hometown" which is remarkably perspicacious in light of America's dying small towns: there's no industry here, unless you count the General Mills plant down the road, and the lumber that used to steam down this waterway is long gone. The mighty Mississippi of Twain's day has entered peri-menopause and the main street is lined with ice cream parlors, candle shops, and tintype "old west" photo outfits -- all hallmarks of a town that survives on the kindness of strangers.

Hannibal is done. Dilapidation reins. Even Twain didn't return here more much after he got out and got *on* with it, and the unsinkable Molly Brown -- also a Hannibal early resident -- made her best move the day she moved out.

We planned to stay two nights, but some time around 5 on our first day, after exhausting the interpretive center, conversations with half a dozen colorful locals, a very cool cave, all available museums and a handful of house tours we decided to pack it up early and hit the road for home.

It wasn't all a wash -- saw some great things, had a wonderful weekend -- but there was something very, very sad about that little town on the river.

Posting by cameraphone.

p.s. Photo is of a young Mark Twain -- Sam Clemens -- shot while he was a printer's apprentice in Hannibal. Look closely and you can see that he holds a block of type in his hand that spells out "SAM". Swiped by cameraphone in the Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, MO.

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