Friday, August 17, 2007

small town America

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Thanks for coming along with me to Hannibal, Missouri. The town is a good ambassador for small town America.

I always love visiting a place for the very first time. I feel an enthusiasm for new experiences.

Tomorrow morning I'll be leaving on another field trip, this time back to Hot Springs, Arkansas. You've visited there with me before, but perhaps this time I'll come back with new images and interesting experiences to share.

See you in a week!


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When we left the hotel to attend the Mark Twain performance, the employees were putting the finishing touches on preparations for a wedding reception. When we returned later in the evening the party was in full swing.

In addition to the large ballroom the lobby was being pressed into service as overflow space and wedding cake was being laid out on tables for guests to help themselves.

I was tempted....but instead I grabbed a quick shot of the lovely bride. Dark conditions and no flash creates a dreamy effect that's interesting.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mark Twain Himself

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"I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself." - Mark Twain

On our recent trip we spent a pleasant Saturday evening in the Planter's Barn Theater in downtown Hannibal.

Veteran stage actor Richard Garey has put together a compilation of Twain material and presents it in a one-man show entitled, "Mark Twain Himself." The barn is charming and the set is beautifully crafted. There's coffee, tea and cookies to enjoy during the show.

Garey worked for over 4 years to close the deal on the property, once a livery stable behind the hotel which is no longer standing. I admire the entrepreneurial spirit which drives this type of venture.

Garey deftly portrays Twain's humor and wit and nothing compares with live theater.

Apart from his books, Twain made a good living on the lecture circuit and this show reflects that part of his career.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


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No trip to Hannibal, Missouri would be complete without a ride on a Mississippi riverboat. Included in our "Passport" ticket was an leisure afternoon aboard the Mark Twain. The weather was perfect and the river was beautiful. There isn't really much to see besides some islands and the grain barges headed to New Orleans.

We sat in a small forward area on one of the upper decks. The space was just large enough for 4 chairs and after a short while this couple came and sat down. This is Vicki and Joseph Miller from St. Louis. We had some good conversation and I discovered that they come to Hannibal a couple times a year, just for a weekend getaway. They join a large number of people who travel with their pets. Their cat was along for the trip.

It didn't take long to discover that Vicki and Joseph are two of those people who exude a generous spirit. We much enjoyed our time shared on the deck of the Mark Twain, the men drinking beers and the ladies concurring that THE drink is Tanqueray and tonic. Cheers to the Millers!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

apothecary shop

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Visits to historical spots such as the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois or Mark Twain's boyhood home bring a realization that in those days many children did not survive their childhoods.

Mary Todd Lincoln lived in mortal fear for her children after one of her sons died. She pretty much kept them prisoners in their own home.

Samuel Clemens mother attempted to keep the children inside during a virulent outbreak of the measles in Hannibal, Missouri. Samuel Clemens, a young boy at the time decided that enough was enough, and that he was tired of the drama and suspense. He marched up to the house of his friend, who was bedridden with measles, effectively exposing himself to the disease. He did catch the measles and was very sick.

Pictured above is the restored apothecary shop with sold the patent medicines his mother poured down his throat. It was mostly alcohol I'm told.

Monday, August 13, 2007

the weaver

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While in Hannibal we walked into a storefront and found Nancy Lee Kaufman hard at work on her loom. Her shop was filled with beautiful items including jackets and ruanas.

The tags on her items read "Santa Fe & San Diego", so I asked her if she also had shops there. She's been out west for 30 years or so and has just recently returned to the midwest, relocating her base of operations.

We chatted for awhile and Nancy told me that it was time to leave the vast expanses of the west and envelope herself as she put it, "in the nurturing qualities of the midwest."

We were lucky to find her at work that day, because her shop hours are by chance or by appointment.

Friday, August 10, 2007

cave art

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Many years ago visitors into the cave did so by torchlight or lanterns. These forms of light created sooty residue on the upper surfaces and this residue in turn provided a "scratch board" for artists to render their work.

This is a pretty good representation of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. Our cave tour guide Sean told us that there were over 500,000 signatures in the cave. And one mans graffiti is another archaeologists historical record. Caves must be a natural spot for graffiti because man has been created art in caves for a very long time. A cave in Lascaux, France is a very good example. Talent abounded way back when.

When I think about it, more recent signatures have a graffiti tone to them, but something happens when a signature is dated seems more legitimate. Why is that do you think?

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The Lascaux painting is awesome but the scratch image of Clemens is pretty good too especially considering it was about 10 foot up the rock face. And no, Sean didn't let us out of his sight long enough to "sign" the cave, and that's definitely frowned upon so there won't be many entries from 2007.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


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The farmer and I are of two minds when it comes to travel. We love eco-travel and adventure travel. One of our trips involved leap-frogging around Central America in a Cessna Caravan. Over a number of years we've been able to visit most of the major Mayan ruins in North America. With some connections we visited a small site that is not accessible to the public.

But we also love the good old fashioned touristy travel of our childhoods - think roadside attractions and alligator wrestlers. The trip to Hannibal, Missouri contained a few of those elements including a tour of Mark Twain Cave, alternately known in the brochures as Tom Sawyers Cave.

Hannibal has their limited number of attractions very well organized and if you visit Mark Twain's boyhood home first you can buy a "passport" that will save you some money and provide you with tickets to several combinations of attractions.

Pictured here is our cave tour guide, Sean. The young people who work these jobs, including the tour guide on the Disney World Jungle ride, have developed a way to combat the boredom of their jobs - they build a repertoire of really bad jokes. The Disney World tour guide almost found himself pitched overboard by the boatload of really cranky tourists who'd endured Disney's famous "hidden line". You probably know what I'm talking about.

We really don't mind the bad jokes but we're always looking for some good information to go along with the attempts at humor and Sean skillfully provided that.

Mark Twain cave is very different from other caves we have visited, most notably Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Twain's cave is a series of twisting passages with no large open spaces. The formations are interesting and the air was nice and cool.

This sign says, No Smoking - No Dogs. What it doesn't say is "No Parents with Tiny Children and Strollers". Yes, as you can imagine a very small child would not be happy with the cave experience. And a stroller in the cave??? What are you thinking?

Mark Twain cave is worth a visit if you're in the area.

Monday, August 06, 2007


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Our recent trip to Hannibal, Missouri unearthed a surprising and unexpected discovery.

As a child I witnessed a cultural phenomenon that was being observed each day in the northeast Tennessee town of Clarksville where my grandfather lived. It's called a "Buzzard's Roost". What it consists of is a fluid group of men, upper middle age and older (those with some time on their hands) who meet every day at a predetermined location. The purpose of the "roost" is to provide a spot to chew the fat, discuss the weather, politics or whatever strikes their fancy.

The buzzard's roost in Clarksville was a low wall that surrounded the county courthouse. The men sat along the wall and did whatever roosting buzzard's do. When I say fluid I mean that men come and go at different times and the mix is changing throughtout the day. Most at that time were tobacco farmers or tradesmen. My grandfather was a carpenter.

Times changed, life got faster and buzzard's roost and the old cultural habits died. I don't think there's been anyone sitting on that courthouse wall in many, many years. I was pretty sure the phemonenon was dead. Perhaps there was a cultural anthropology student that had done a thesis on the subject.

After a morning spent touring Tom Sawyer's cave just outside Hannibal, we returned to town and ducked into a small bar/restaurant for an early lunch. It wasn't quite 11:30 and the place was empty except for a motorcyclist and these three men.

It took me under 30 seconds to recognize the fact that I'd stumbled upon an artifact - an honest-to-goodness buzzard's roost! The conversation followed the roadmap set down by cotton and tobacco farmers. Within 10 minutes another man joined the group, slipping easily into the framework.

I'd witnessed Illinois dairy farmers meeting up for breakfast after morning milking but that wasn't a true buzzard's roost. This was the real thing at a place called "Rumor Has It". How perfect is that?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

time travel

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After two days in Galena, Illinois, I returned home and repacked to head out to Hannibal, Missouri with the farmer. It's a nice drive from our home, probably what's referred to as a "one tank trip". Being located in Northern Illinois there are alot of interesting places to visit that require only one tank (or thereabouts).

When you head west out of Springfield, Illinois you'll have the road to yourself. Hannibal is tucked along the bank of the Mississippi just across from Illinois. It's the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

Time travel books, with their promise of transporting you to another place and time were always fascinating to me. Unfortunately time has also done unkind things to the vivid imagination I once enjoyed as a child when my mind could efficiently transport me to a saddle on a Palomino, riding alongside Gene Autry. No one could convince me that it wasn't so.

But still it's fun to try and imagine you're watching Clemens run in the front door, past this desk with it's quill and ink and Bible.

I'm very glad there are people committed to preserving the past. It allows us adults to attempt to imagination flying once again.