Category Archives: Literary Reverie

Huckleberry Finn

You can read in a book about Huck and you can read about his interaction with his good friend Tom but I’m here to tell you it’s a strange, almost eerie feeling to just before the witching hour, go about and walk it. It’s now 12 midnight – the very first day of fall – and it’s nice outside. We had some rain earlier and it cooled off the air. And yet, inside the boyhood bedroom of Sam Clemens, the room is hot. I’m leaving the side door open for the night just to try to get some fresh air. The point is that Sam, at least in the summer, or for that matter even on a cool night like tonight, would have slept with the window open. He would have been able to hear that cat call. And with his friend Tom Blankenship just down the back door path, he would have most certainly expected it – especially considering the fact that it was considered improper to be seen with Blankenship in ‘decent’ company during the day.

I’ve roamed up onto nearby Cardiff Hill and I’ve seen the gravestones at night – also under the curious half-light of the witching hour. Sure, there was a sign that said not to – but I couldn’t resist. To walk in Tom and Huck’s shoes, or in their case – lack thereof. To see what they saw. To feel what Clemens and Blankenship felt. To hear what they heard. The crackles of those nearly crisp, pre-fall leaves, late at night. Can one put a price on that?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.

For me this trip defines freedom. I’ve learned on this visit to Hannibal via a speech by author Ron Powers that Twain gave us as Americans the right to embrace our own peculiar language. To celebrate it.

I celebrate this night with the ghost of Mark Twain. I’m the second person to sleep over at his house since 1912 and the only person to sleep in his proper boyhood room. In the exact spot where he laid his head for the years that molded his wildness, that shaped his imagination, and that raised him up into the greatest American writer this side of the Atlantic.

In a handful of hours I will depart. I will lift my canoe and my gear and place it back in the water. I will look back at Twain’s Americana, shake a few hands, and I will cry.

And then I will open my eyes and see it – from what I’m told just down river – the wildness of the Mississip… The freedom that comes from placing a canoe in the water and letting her glide.

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Filed under Americana, Literary Reverie, Mississippi River Town

A Guest Checks In

Finished my dinner and made my way upstairs. No ghosts to report – as of yet. Laid my foam pad and sleeping bag out on the boyhood bedroom of Sam Clemens. Period toys all around. “My, but it’s a bully taw!” A number of large and opaque marbles just up on the bed were found on site, I’m told by museum curator Henry Sweets. He reasons they could have very well belonged to young Sam as they date to the early 1800’s. Windows in the boyhood bedroom face the Mississippi River and out back to where Huck would have come calling.

More to follow…


Filed under Americana, Literary Reverie, Status Update

Dinner with Mark Twain


It’s now 8:45pm. A number of the townspeople of Hannibal came to wish me well and see me off. In four short days in this town I have been fortunate enough to have made several friends. From the executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum to the shopkeepers of the town to the Bed & Breakfast contacts to the family of the boy who represents the town as Tom Sawyer. They all came out. I’ve had a grand time in this town. Went out two nights ago into the cemeteries up on Cardiff Hill and beyond – at midnight – just for good luck. Will have pictures to prove it! But tonight was just great. Even Mark Twain himself, portrayed by local Richard Garey, showed up to wish me well via a number of Twain quotes.

I sit at the dining room table of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home. Clemens never talked about food – but I can tell you that I had Pork tenderloin, Midwest Veggie Medley, Voss H20, Triple Choc Cake w/ Ice Cream, all courtesy of Julie at the Garth Mansion. There are period antiques all around me. I turn my head and I can see the front door of the home, directly thru the front greeting room. A door I recently closed after wishing what felt like half the town a swell good night.

It’s all very surreal. And yet it is real. Everything about this house is accurate – well, as accurate as can be. More on that later via a private tour with museum curator Henry Sweets.

For now, I’ll go get this uploaded. I need to sneak out the back and down the street to Java Jive to get WiFi.

More soon…

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Filed under Americana, Literary Reverie, Status Update

Modern day Huck Finn staying in Mark Twain Boyhood Home

HANNIBAL, Mo. (WGEM) — A national journalist is being called a modern day Huck Finn as he canoes the Mississippi River and blogs about the experience.

But it’s not just Neal Moore’s mode of travel that tie him to Mark Twain — Monday night the citizen journalist will sleep in the Mark Twain Boyhood Home.

Moore will be just the second person to stay the night in the boyhood home in nearly 100 years.

He says it’s a huge honor and he’s looking forward to the unique experience.

“To actually be there in the spot where the story was, the inspiration for stories of ‘Tom Swayer’ and ‘Huckaberry Finn’ with this trip down the river via canoe, it just all comes together and I couldn’t be happier,” says Moore.

Moore’s blog is frequently linked on CNN’s website, and he’s written numerous stories about America’s Hometown.


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Filed under Americana, In the News, Literary Reverie

Modern day ‘Huck’ sleeps in Twain’s bedroom


HANNIBAL, MO (Hannibal Courier-Post)

Neal CourierThere are countless reasons for not getting a good night’s sleep. In Neal Moore’s case, excitement over where he was allowed to spend Monday night likely kept him from getting much shut eye. Moore, a citizen journalist with CNN, was given the rare opportunity to spend the night in Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home in downtown Hannibal.
“I’ll be shocked if he sleeps one wink. I’d be too excited,” said Dr. Cindy Lovell, executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, noting that Moore was going to bed down in the same room that a young Samuel Clemens had once called his own. “I don’t know if I could fall asleep in that room.”
Asked Monday afternoon if he thought he’d get much sleep, Moore wasn’t making any predictions.
“I’m not sure about that. I might actually try to sneak out and see what sites I can see around town, but we’ll see,” he said with a smile.
Since George Mahan purchased and saved the house from being demolished in 1912, only one other person has been allowed to spend the night in the boyhood home. According to museum curator Henry Sweets, George Seybolt, then-CEO of the William Underwood Company and a Mark Twain fan, slept there on a mattress filled with cornhusks in the late 1960s.
“It’s the dream of every boy and tomboy I guess you could say for the last 100 years. To have the chance to be the second person in 97 years is just a very humbling experience,” said Moore of spending the night in the boyhood home. “It’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me I think by far in my life.”
Allowing Moore, who will be making his way down the Mississippi River via canoe over the next few months, to spend the night in the historic site was not a difficult decision.
“Where are we going to get a modern day Huckleberry Finn like this, doing what he’s doing, taking the citizen journalist approach?” asked Lovell. “You think of how Mark Twain started out as nobody famous. He was a regular reporter like everybody else, so the tie-ins are there with him (Moore) being a reporter and with him being on the river. It just felt right. He (Moore) is a really nice guy, really sincere and looking for positive which is so unusual in today’s world.”
One of the positive stories that Moore has been following during his brief stay in Hannibal is the museum’s “10 by 10” endowment fund-raiser campaign, which has as its goal raising $10 million by the end of 2010. To achieve that goal, one million Twain fans around the world are being asked to donate $10 each.
“He’s out there telling our story,” said Lovell. “It just kind of went together with what we’re trying to do involving grassroots people. He’s definitely a grassroots kind of person.”
The museum will officially launch the “10 by 10” campaign on Saturday, Oct. 10, when all $10 donors are invited to sign their name on the famous whitewashed fence. Moore will make a $10 donation and be among the first to sign the fence, according to Lovell.

Photo by Danny Henley.  Go to the Hannibal Courier Post HERE


Filed under Americana, In the News, Literary Reverie

Modern Day “Huck” to Sleep in Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home Tonight!

Release:            FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 Date:                   September 21, 2009

Time:                  7:00 pm

Location:          Mark Twain Boyhood Home, 208 Hill St., Hannibal, MO

Contact:            Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum

Ryan J. Murray, Marketing and Community Relations Manager

120 North Main St.

Hannibal, MO 63401


Phone:            (573) 221-9010, ext. 404; Cell: 573-228-1222

Fax:                (573) 221-5109

Modern Day “Huck” to Sleep in Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home Tonight

Mark Twain died in 1910.  His boyhood home was to be demolished in 1911.  Benefactor George Mahan purchased and saved the house in 1912.  And only one person has slept inside the home since that time.  Until now.

Citizen journalist Neal Moore is traversing the Mississippi River by canoe searching for stories of communities that are coming together for a greater good.  He recently came ashore in Sam Clemens’s Hannibal, also known as “America’s Hometown” where he learned of several community endeavors that were exactly what he was searching for.  And tonight, his last in Hannibal, will be spent in Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home sleeping in the very room where young Sam Clemens famously slept.

“The only other person to sleep in the Boyhood Home was George Seybolt,” said curator Henry Sweets.  In the late 1960s Seybolt was the CEO for the William Underwood Company and selected Hannibal as the location for a new plant, which we know today as General Mills.  “Seybolt had a lifelong fondness for Mark Twain,” Sweets explained.    “He inquired if it would be possible to spend a night sleeping in the Mark Twain Boyhood Home.  The arrangements were made, and Seybolt slept on a mattress filled with cornhusks.  The next morning he left a check in the amount of $500 on the pillow as a thank you to the Museum.”

Moore’s story within a story intrigued the staff of the museum properties.  They invited him to spend a night in the home.  “We see him as a modern day Huck Finn – camping on islands, paddling down the river, making friends along the way,” said executive director Dr. Cindy Lovell.  “Neal represents ‘everyman’ to us, and we’ve asked him to help tell our story to the millions of Twain fans around the world.”

That story is an unusual endowment fundraiser, the “10 by 10” campaign to raise ten million dollars by the end of 2010.  The Museum is seeking one million Twain fans from around the world to donate just $10 each.  Lovell explained that in the present economic downturn, large donations are unlikely, so this grass roots fundraiser for readers of Twain was created.  “Donors will be invited to sign their names on the famous whitewashed fence – sort of a symbolic whitewashing,” she said.

“Sam Clemens began his career as something of a citizen journalist contributing pieces when and where he could,” Lovell said.  “Neal’s adventure resonated with us.  Like Twain, he is a reporter.  Like Huck, he is an adventurer.  He symbolizes the spirit we are trying to preserve.”  Moore will be the first person to sign the famous fence, representing readers from around the world that continue to make Twain one of the most revered writers of all time.

The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death, so the Museum is using the date to sound the alarm to Twain’s fans worldwide.  “The Museum must establish this endowment to ensure operations and the preservation of the eight buildings that tell the story of Twain’s boyhood,” said Lovell.  “We want to be sure these properties are around for future ‘Toms’ and ‘Hucks’ who come exploring.”  Museum properties include the Becky Thatcher House and the Huck Finn House.

The Museum will officially launch the “10 by 10” on Saturday, October 10th, when all $10 donors are invited to sign their name on the famous whitewashed fence.  Online donors can designate a proxy to sign for them.  “We’re getting a headstart on 2010 through Neal’s visit,” Lovell explained.  “And yes, he’ll be donating ten dollars.”

Further information is available at


Filed under Americana, Community Project, In the News, Literary Reverie

The Renaissance of America’s Hometown


Like unto Samuel Clemen’s legendary protagonist, Tom Sawyer, Alex Addison, the present-day, barefoot ambassador of Hannibal, is all business. “I see [riding the economic downturn] not as a challenge but as a goal – it’s starting to click, [things locally are] going to be really good,” explained Alex, age 13, holding his own in a round-table interview with Mayor Roy Hark, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terry Sampson, and City Planner Jeff LaGarce.

Taking a day out of his busy schedule as Hannibal’s official “Tom”, Alex took me for a tour of ‘America’s Hometown’ with the polished grace of a professional politician.  Together, we visited everybody from the local, modern-day judge, to the minister, to of course, the city’s old-school mayor. 

As we talked about the building blocks of America – of what made America great – I learned that Twain’s literature, along with a now bustling Main Street, is making all the difference, at least locally here in ‘America’s Hometown’.  There is a buzz in the air along Main Street, as shopkeepers brave the financial crisis in hopes of a year that for many is landing solidly in the black. 

The trick, as far as I could see, was a love and rallying cry from business owners and citizens alike to preserve the downtown district.  “Preservation doesn’t cost – it pays,” exhorted local resident and former PBS television personality, Bob Yapp.

After traveling the world as a foremost expert on home restoration, with his own show on both PBS and NPR, Mr. Yapp decided to settle for good here in Hannibal, describing himself as one of “Hannibal’s expats” who “are coming to Hannibal [with a love of Hannibal’s] architecture.”

But it isn’t just Mr. Yapp’s generation of eclectic friends, ranging from potter Steve Ayers to the next-door Bed and Breakfast innkeepers of the Dubach Inn,  that are excited about restoring America’s architectural past.  Yapp is busy mentoring and teaching at-risk youth from the local high school, many of which enjoy their time “on site” so much they plan to take up the trade.  “I actually want to do exactly what Bob is doing,” explained one Hannibal High School student, going on to exhort, “when you’re here you actually get to do stuff and work on stuff that you actually want to do.” 

Which could describe the new Mark Twain Boyhood & Museum Executive Director Cindy Lovell’s take on Hannibal to a tee, self-describing her time in this town as “being intoxicated with the history [of Twain] ever since stepping foot into Hannibal.”  Dr. Lovell’s eyes glance around her as she walks these streets – observing the very homes and hills and river and buildings that directly inspired Hannibal’s favorite son – Mark Twain – with an all-knowing smile that one can’t help but find contagious.  “I think Hannibal’s history is so linked to the past,” continued Dr. Lovell, “in the preservation of the past, the lessons we learn from the past.  And we have to be vigilant.”    

From the city officials I was most fortunate to meet, to the next generation of high school artisans, I believe that Hannibal, and through her example, America’s hometowns around the country, will continue to experience a re-birth of sorts as revitalization begins to hold sway.  “Across the nation, small communities are reinventing themselves,” continued Mr. Yapp. “And they’re having a renaissance in the sense that… things change.”

Continuing that walk, Dr. Lovell looked up, gesturing to the top of Main Street.  “Tom always has his eye on the future,” explained Dr. Lovell.  “That’s why when you look at the statue of Tom and Huck, lording over Main Street from the base of Cardiff Hill, you will see Tom stepping into the future.” 

“Not only do we have a good past,” explained young Alex Addison, “but I think it would be better to have a good past and a great future than a great past and an okay future.”  A future that judging from the next generation of Hannibal, is most certainly going to be bright.

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Filed under Americana, Literary Reverie, Mississippi River Town, On CNN, Small Business Success, Wanderlust