Museum History

Mark Twain Boyhood Home

Mark Twain Boyhood HomeThe frame house known as the Mark Twain Boyhood Home was constructed around 1843 or 1844. The John Marshall Clemens family lived here until leaving town in 1853. Following their departure, this became a rental property. In 1911, it was scheduled for demolition to make way for a larger building.

The Hannibal Commercial Club (forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce) started a fund drive to save the house. Mr. George A. Mahan stepped forward and purchased the house, fixed it up, and gave it to the City of Hannibal on May 15, 1912. At that time Mr. Mahan said:

“Mr. Mayor, I take pleasure in presenting the boyhood home of Mark Twain to the city and the people of Hannibal with the hope and in the full belief that it will be so maintained and used, as to be an inspiration to them, to the people of Missouri and to the world as well.”

For a number of years, a caretaker lived in most of the rooms and showed the parlor to the public. The Mark Twain Centennial in 1935 was very successful. One feature was a temporary Mark Twain Museum. This led to the erection of the stone building just uphill of the Boyhood Home to serve as a museum. The caretaker moved into upstairs rooms of the museum in 1937 and the remainder of the Boyhood Home was opened to the public.

Preparation for the Mark Twain Sesquicentennial in 1985 led to installation of the metal viewing platform along the uphill side of the home. A full restoration of the home was planned and occurred in 1990-1991. This included rebuilding two rooms at the rear that had been removed about 1885. A complete restoration in 1990-1991 stabilized the structure and rebuilt two rooms removed in the 1880s.

The Boyhood Home has been open to the public since 1912, making it one of the earliest historic house preservation efforts in the country. It is on both the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Tom & Huck Statue

The statue of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn was conceived by Mr. George Mahan. He engaged Frederick Hibbard to sculpt the representation. The statue was dedicated on May 27, 1926, one of the earliest statues depicting fictional characters.

Local historian Rev. C. J. Armstrong, interviewed Mr. Mahan as to the purpose of the statue. As a statue can only convey one moment:

“Mr. Mahan decided that the moment should be WHEN TOM AWOKE TO THE WORLD and wanted to go out into it and see for himself all that it contained. Hence, the knapsack, the advanced foot, the gleam in his eyes, and the whole posture of his body. But Huck was perfectly contented to stay right where they were; hence, his posture with his hand on Tom’s arm, the look on his countenance as though trying to persuade Tom not to venture forth, but to stay right there.”  The Museum currently maintains the property and landscaping around the statue.

WPA Stone Building – Boyhood Home Gift Shop

Boyhood Home Gift ShopThe Mark Twain Centennial celebration of 1935 was a year-long event. One element was formation of displays in the lobby of the B & L Building. The idea of a permanent museum evolved. The stone building next to the Boyhood Home was constructed as a WPA project and formally opened November 30, 1937. Two actors from the David O. Selznick movie adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer were present at the dedication: Victor Jory, who portrayed Injun Joe, and Cora Sue Collins, who acted the role of Amy Lawrence, opened the museum.

The upstairs of the museum provided living quarters for the caretaker. This permitted the entire Boyhood Home to be opened to the public. After many years as serving as the Mark Twain Museum, the displays have been moved to other museum buildings. Today this building houses the Boyhood Home Gift Shop.

WPA Stone Wall and Museum Garden

GardenThe WPA project that built the museum was extended to include erection of the present stone wall along the lot line behind the Boyhood Home. At the time, there was a lumber yard to the North and wooden buildings along Main Street. The wall was constructed as a fire wall between the properties.

The Mahans’ son, Dulany D. Mahan, passed away. His wife, Sarah Marshall Mahan, cleared off the buildings on the corner lot and prepared a garden area that was presented to the City of Hannibal in 1941. “This was given to aid in perpetuating the name and fame of that world beloved author [Mark Twain]; and shall be a memorial to my late husband Dulany D. Mahan.”

John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office

Justice of the Peace OfficeThe office of John Marshall Clemens was located on Bird Street in the 100 block. It was fairly neglected into the 1930s and ’40s. Warner Brothers Studios were working on a film production of Tom Sawyer. Representatives visited Hannibal on several occasions and received a warm welcome. As a thank you, Warner Brothers bought the office and gave it to the City of Hannibal on November 30, 1943.

In 1956, the office was moved to its present location on Hill Street. It was rehabilitated and dedicated on Law Day, May 1, 1959 by the Missouri Bar Association. A restoration project has rejuvenated the building and new interpretation should have the building open in May, 2016.

Pilaster House/Grant’s Drug Store

Grant's StoreThe building known as Grant’s Drug Store is an early Hannibal structure. It is reported that the interior timbers were fitted together in Cincinnati, Ohio, and shipped in knocked-down fashion. They arrived during the flood that inundated Marion City, its intended destination, in 1836. James Brady, later first mayor of Hannibal, erected the structure. The term ‘pilaster’ refers to the flat columns on the outside.

Dr. Orville Grant and his wife lived here. In 1846, the Clemens family moved in with the Grants. John Marshall Clemens died in one of the upstairs rooms. Sam was just 11 years old and was forced to leave school forever so he could work and help support the family. Sam Clemens makes several references to the Grants and to the building in his autobiography. Currently the first floor is accessible to visitors and contains a recreation of a period drug store. The building was named to Missouri Preservation’s Most Endangered Buildings List in 2009 and is slated for a full restoration as soon as funds can be raised.

Currently this building is closed as it awaits restoration.

Becky Thatcher House

Becky Thatcher HouseAcross the street from the Clemens’ house was one occupied by the Elijah Hawkins Family. His daughter, Laura, was identified by Mark Twain as the model for Becky Thatcher. Laura was younger than Sam Clemens, but they played together and both left stories about the other.

The Mark Twain Museum acquired the building from private ownership in January, 2001. Today, the house has undergoing a major restoration project to ensure its preservation for future generations to enjoy. Temporary exhibits are being replaced with new ones and should be complete by July, 2016.

Interpretive Center

Interpretive CenterThe property containing a local restaurant, Cassano’s Pizza King, was seen as an area for museum expansion. The property was purchased in 1983 and was opened as the Museum Annex on September 18, 1983.

During the winter of 2004-2005 the building was completely reworked to provide exhibits on the experiences of Sam Clemens in Hannibal and to reflect Mark Twain looking back at Hannibal in his writings. This reinterpretation is a part of the museum’s Phase I master planning project, designed to create new exhibits throughout the museum complex. This building serves as the starting point for a tour of the museum properties. A timeline of Twain’s life and information about the real people who served as characters in his fiction are included.

Huckleberry Finn House

Huck Finn HouseLocal tradition places the Blankenship family in a house on North Street. Tom Blankenship was identified by Twain as his inspiration for the character, Huckleberry Finn.  The structure identified as the Blankenship home was demolished in 1911. The property came under ownership of the Coons family of Hannibal. Chris Coons left the land to the Mark Twain Home Foundation with the provision that the house be reconstructed.

The Mark Twain Museum reproduced the original structure using salvaged materials. The reconstruction of the home was completed in 2006. A permanent exhibit detailing the lives of the Blankenship family and the history of slavery in Hannibal was installed in April, 2010.

Museum Gallery

Mark Twain MuseumThe building at Main and Center Streets, known as the Sonnenberg Building, became Foundation property with final ownership given to the Foundation in 1996. Stabilization took place and one room of exhibits was opened in 1997. Over the next few years more of the building was readied and exhibits opened.

The first floor presents interactive exhibits for five of Mark Twain’s books. The mezzanine has a reconstructed pilot house. The second floor houses artifacts from Mark Twain’s life, such as his Oxford gown and one of his famous white suit coats. The gallery also includes 15 original Norman Rockwell paintings created in 1935 for special editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Traveling exhibits from other institutions rotate in the display area.