Tom Sawyer, Caves, and Childhood

Today we journeyed to Hannibal, Missouri. The quaint (and slightly run-down) village nestled in the bluffs along the Mississippi River is home to Titanic survivor Molly Brown (The Unsinkable). I know very little of her life--other than it was portrayed by Kathy Bates in the James Cameron movie and that she had other movies made about her--so we didn't even look at her birthplace.

Instead we hit the attractions focused around the town's more famous celebrity: Samuel Clemens (the real name of author Mark Twain). The boys and I had just finished listening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on our drive. On a previous trip, we had listened to the CD about Huck Finn.

The boys had enjoyed the adventures of the stories: dead bodies, mystery, boys playing hooky from school, rafting down the Mississippi River, exploring caves. What's not to like?

We stopped in town and walked along the old buildings of downtown, including Samuel Clemen's boyhood home. The boys pretended to whitewash the fence next to the home. We climbed Cardiff Hill to the overlook of the river valley.

Then we journeyed to our main destination: the Mark Twain Cave. The boys hadn't been in an underground cave before. There's not much that's spectacular about this particular cave. It has few grand formations--very little in the way of stalactites or stalagmites. But there is history (almost 200 hundred years)...and more important, there is imagination connected to Tom Sawyer's story.

We saw where Injun Joe died trying to escape, where Tom and Becky sat and ate cake, where the cross was that marked the treasure room, and much more imaginative history.

There are thousands of signatures in the caves
 (which hasn't been allowed since the 1970s)
--we saw some dating back as far as 1865
Maybe Hannibal, Missouri, survives because of nostalgia (as if that were entirely a bad thing). I think it largely survives because of the embrace of childhood. We all need the chance to return to a simpler time every once in a while--no responsibilities, nor pressure, just time to explore and have fun. I think that is largely why Mark Twain wrote his stories--both for us and for himselof.

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