Exploring Mark Twain’s Hannibal


Last Updated on May 26, 2023 by Grant

As we were planning our return trip home from North Dakota, I asked Bonnie if we could make a stop in Hannibal, MO to see Mark Twain’s boyhood home and the setting for a lot of his most famous stories. 

It ended up being a good stop for us along our trip and seeing the excellent museum was quite cool. If you grew up reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hannibal will feel very familiar. 

Indeed, Twain based the fictional riverside town of St. Petersburg heavily on his life in Hannibal and that can still be found in the town to this day.

Downtown Hannibal, MO with the lighthouse in the distance.
Downtown Hannibal, MO with the lighthouse in the distance.

Hannibal, MO is located about two hours north of St. Louis and is an easy detour on a road trip, making this a great stop for those of the literary persuasion.

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Exploring Mark Twain’s Hannibal

Your first stop when you arrive in town should be the Mark Twain Museum and Gallery in downtown Hannibal. Here, you can purchase a single ticket that will get you into all of the Mark Twain-related locations in downtown Hannibal.

The bottom floor of the museum is definitely geared for fans of Twain’s work. It walks you through some of the iconic scenes from his books with some cool stuff for the kids. 

A great raft exhibit about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
A great raft exhibit about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Upstairs, you will find the museum’s Norman Rockwell gallery. Rockwell was commissioned in 1935 to illustrate special editions of both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Rockwell came to Hannibal to see where Twain had grown up so he could paint the scenes accurately.

Indeed, one of the early drawings he had of Finn shows him sneaking out a window. Rockwell changed the drawing after visiting Hannibal and seeing the homes didn’t have a lot in the way of shutters or eaves for Finn to climb down. 

Bonnie checking out the Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the Museum Gallery.
Bonnie checking out the Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the Museum Gallery.

The museum has both the original, pre-Hannibal, sketch and the updated paining on permanent display, along with 14 other illustrations, all donated by Rockwell himself.

Interpretive Center and Huck Finn’s House

Your next stop is the Interpretive Center, which traces the life of Samuel Clemens in Hannibal and how this town impacted him, both personally and professionally. 

The Mark Twain Interpretive Center exhibits
The Mark Twain Interpretive Center exhibits

The exhibits are easy to follow and have plenty of context from Twain himself, quoting often from his autobiography. 

From there, head on over to Huck Finn’s house. 

Believe it or not, Huckleberry Finn is based upon a real person. Tom Blankenship was the son of the town drunk and lived in a simple two room house. The house was destroyed in 1911 but was rebuilt on the site of the original home in 2007. 

The Huck Finn House is not much more than a two room shack but it is faithfully reconstructed from the original house.
The Huck Finn House is not much more than a two room shack but it is faithfully reconstructed from the original house.

Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home and Becky Thatcher’s House

Yes, it was every bit of the treat I thought it would be walking through Twain’s home, seeing the room where he lived and understanding the connection he had with this town.

That said, the home is not that remarkable, which is to be expected. Twain’s family struggled before they came to Hannibal and continued to struggle while living here. Still, it is easy to picture Sawyer climbing out of the second-story window and down the side of the house. 

Mark Twain's boyhood home
Mark Twain’s boyhood home

Just across the street is Becky Thatcher’s House and, like Finn, Thatcher is based upon a real person: Laura Hawkins. 

Hawkins was Twain’s first crush and the two remained friends well into adulthood. Hawkins was proud of being Thatcher, going so far as to inscribe the name Becky Thatcher on her tombstone. 

The home of Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer's first love, who was based upon Twain's real sweetheart, Laura Hawkins.
The home of Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer’s first love, who was based upon Twain’s real sweetheart, Laura Hawkins.

Judge Clemens’ Office and Grant’s Drug Store

Judge Clemens, Twain’s father, served as justice of the peace in Hannibal. While the building was moved from its original location, it preserves the courtroom where Clemens presided. It also served as the setting for scenes in Twain’s books, including Tom Sawyer and Pudd’nhead Wilson.

Grant’s Drug Store, the final stop on the tour, preserves the pharmacy of Dr. Orville Grant and the home of his family, who were friends of the Clemens’. When the Clemens fell on hard times, the Grants took them in, with both families living above the store. 

Dr. Grant's Pharmacy
Dr. Grant’s Pharmacy

It was above this store where Clemens’ father died from pneumonia.

All told, it took us a leisurely morning to see all of the exhibits in Hannibal proper. While the downtown has a few shops, etc., there’s not a lot else to see in the town itself. In terms of other notable attractions Mark Twain-related attractions, the Mark Twain Cave is just south of town. 

The cave was visited by Twain as a child and serves as the setting for Tom Sawyer. We opted not to tour the cave due to COVID-19 but it looks pretty cool! There is also a riverboat that tours the Mississippi, offering one hour cruises and a two-hour dinner cruise.

Check out our tips for road trips during the pandemic.

Downtown Hannibal, MO
Downtown Hannibal, MO

Where to Eat and Stay

We found the Mark Twain Brewing Company to be a great stop for lunch. I had the Big Ass BLT and Bonnie had the Grilled Chicken Club, bother were tasty and hit the spot. 

Grant sipping on a Halley's Saison with lunch.
Grant sipping on a Halley’s Saison with lunch.

Beer-wise, I had Halley’s Saison, which proved to be a nice farmhouse-style ale with hint of pepper. Bonnie had the America’s Hometown Pilsner, which proved to be a really easy to drink beer. We also tried the Huck’s Habanero Apricot Wheat, which had an interesting fruity flavor and a hint of heat. It was well worth the stop.

In terms of where to stay, we camped at the Mark Twain Cave and Campground for a couple of nights while visiting Hannibal.

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Our campsite at the Mark Twain Cave Campground
Our campsite at the Mark Twain Cave Campground

We found the campground to be comfortable, the sites are spread out but so are the connections. We needed both the long water hose and power cable extension to make it work. Still, the bathrooms were clean and you are right there if you want to visit the cave.

Final Thoughts on Mark Twain’s Hannibal

If you are a Mark Twain fan at all, Hannibal is worth the stop. You will learn so much about Twain’s life in Hannibal and the impact this town had on his writing. 

That said, if you are making your way through and can spare half a day in time, you can see the majority of the Twain-related sites. If you spend a full day, you can get in a lunch and a cave tour. 

Still, the literature teacher in me gushed over seeing the origins of some of my favorite books growing up. It was so cool!

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