The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Hannibal: Attractions in America’s home-town

This was not my first visit to Hannibal. Since it is only about 45 minutes away from where my in-laws live, this was probably my fifth visit – I’m starting to lose count.

Hannibal, MO

Hannibal was founded in 1815 and, strangely enough, was named after the famous Carthaginian leader who fought the Romans during the second Punic War (218-201 BC). He was the one who marched elephants across the Alps in a desperate attempt to conquer Rome.. He failed; but I am sure he would be happy to know that he has not been forgotten and has lent his name to a little town on the banks of the Mississippi – a far cry from Rome, but such is the irony of history. The place where Hannibal is located was long occupied by various indigenous Native American tribes. In the mid-1800s it became an important trading post due to its proximity to the river. Nowadays, it is mainly remembered for being the boyhood home of writer Mark Twain, who used Hannibal and its surroundings as inspiration for two of his most famous novels: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn..

Hannibal, MO

Things to do in Hannibal

  • Take a stroll in the downtown area

The most picturesque part of  Hannibal is undoubtedly N Main Street which is lined with colourful store-fronts – some of them dating back to the 1900s although, back in the day, the colours would probably have been more muted. The businesses are quite varied in nature and include art galleries; stores selling vintage and antique items, jewellery, chocolate, souvenirs and quirky collectibles; boutiques and restaurants.

Jul-18 (1)

My personal favourites are:

- The Native American Trading Company which specialises in Native American arts, crafts and jewellery.

- The Alliance Art  Gallery that features the work of member and guest artists. My husband was lucky enough to be the featured guest artist in December 2011, when he exhibited a number of paintings inspired by the Mediterranean. Member artists include, amongst others, Missouri native Kimberly Shinn, Hannibalian photographer Connie Stephens, potter Ron Cook and fibre artist Bella Erakko.

- Java Jive Coffee Shop and Deli that is located in the most colourful building on the street. It is impossible to miss the eye-catching combination of  the yellow and turquoise facade, with touches of fuchsia. We always stop at the Java Jive whenever we are in town. We love the friendly, relaxed and cozy atmosphere of this coffee shop and I have to commend the staff for their excellent customer service as they replaced my Italian soda free of charge after I spilt it all over my toes. The Java Jive also doubles as a gift shop. Apart from souvenir t-shirts and coffee  mugs, a selection of pottery by Steve Ayers and paintings by Brenda Beck-Fisher are for sale.

Java Jive, Hannibal MOJul-18 (14)

  • Get to know Mark Twain at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum

The boyhood home is one of nine properties that make up the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum complex. The two-storey boyhood home is surrounded by the now legendary white-washed fence of Tom Sawyer.

Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Hannibal, MO

The museum has a collection of many first editions by Mark Twain, family photographs and numerous personal items. The museum also houses the second largest collection of Norman Rockwell paintings that were commissioned as illustrations for a special edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Also on display are 54 original pen and drink drawings by Dan Beard who was selected by Mark Twain to illustrate A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. From time to time the museum also hosts touring exhibits.

Mark Twain  Museum, Hannibal, MO

Currently, actor Jim Waddell, as Mark Twain,, is recounting the the childhood experiences that led to the  creation of Tom Sawyer. Performances take place every Thursday in August and September at 4pm in the Mark Twain Museum Gallery auditorium. A frequently updated list of activities may be found here.

  • Ride the trolley

Trolley rides are always fun no matter where they are and the trolley ride in Hannibal is no exception. The narrated tour covers 14 miles, with stops at Sawyer’s Creek, Rockville Mansion, Mark Twain Cave and downtown Hannibal. The trolley ride is always one of my favourite things to do while visiting Hannibal especially since each of the tour guides, who are generally the trolley drivers, narrate the history of the town and its attractions in his or her own inimitable style – so it never gets boring.

Hannibal, MO

  • Visit Rockcliffe Mansion

Rockcliffe Mansion is a Victorian edifice in the Georgian Revival style. It is situated high on a limestone bluff overlooking downtown Hannibal and the Mississippi. Visitors may tour the building and the gardens are open to the public. Alternatively, anyone wishing to experience a glimpse life in a Victorian mansion may book accommodation in this boutique hotel for a few nights.

Rockcliffe Mansion, Hannibal, MO

  • Admire the view from Lover’s Leap

A perfunctory search on the Web will reveal that Hannibal is not the only town on a river that boasts of a place called Lover’s Leap. The Hannibal legend was started by a certain Arthur O. Garrison who claimed to have  obtained the details from ancient inscriptions. Not much else is known about Garrison. According to his story, a brave warrior loved by a maiden named Altala, was killed during a battle on the river. When Altala, who was watching the battle from the top of a high cliff, saw him fall, she leaped over the edge and into the river. You may find the full story here

Lover's Leap, Hannibal, MO

Similar stores abound in places where there is a cliff overlooking a river (there are 8 in Missouri alone) and the veracity of these tales has never been established. Most people will shrug their shoulders and move on but I prefer to believe there is some truth in this legend – it’s the only way to explain it’s popularity and longevity.

  • Tour Mark Twain cave

The cave is located about 1 mile south of Hannibal and it rather unique in that it consists of a number of winding passages that spread over 6.5 miles. Originally named McDowell’s cave, it plays an important role in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as ‘McDougal’s Cave’. Mark Twain cave was discovered in 1819 by a local hunter named Jack Simms. Guided tours of the cave take around 55 minutes. It is open year round.

Mark Twain Cave, MO

  • Other places of interest

- Molly Brown (the ‘unsinkable Molly Brown’ of Titanic fame) Birthplace and Museum

- Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse

- Tom and Huck Statue

Hannibal, MO

By American standards, downtown Hannibal is a very small place but, if you are ever in the area, you will definitely find plenty of interesting things to do and I would recommend a visit, even if it is a short one. Summers are hot and clammy in this area of Missouri so a visit during spring or autumn will definitely be more pleasant and I think that, like me, you will enjoy the pleasant, friendly atmosphere of this town.

Hannibal, MO


  1. What a wonderful write-up for this iconic Missouri town. Sad to say that the only times we visit it, is when you are here!! But most likely that's the way it is with most people. It's always good to see one's backyard through another's eyes. Well done Lorna.

    1. I know what you mean. We haven't been to Mdina since you visited last September.

  2. That must have been very interesting I have read the books of Mark Twain, rather sad I have to say !

    1. It's been so long since I read then that I can barely remember anything. Maybe it's time to re-read them.

  3. Dear Loree - this was absolutely a wonderful tribute to this little Missouri town. If I travel near there your post certainly makes me want to visit. Beautiful pics too friend. Thanks for sharing. Hugs!

    1. I think you would really like it Debbie. It is small but quaint.

  4. Wonderful reviww, Loree, thank you

    MAYBE I need to fly out next time you are visiting and you can give me a TOUR!!!!!!!!
    MANY THANKS for your lovely postcard!

  6. Would you really like the cave? I didn't think it would be high on your list. That would be fun if we could tour it together. Glad you liked the postcard.


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