After World War 2, Hannibalians began moving into the Atomic Age. The trend across the United States during this time was to abandon the old and look toward a shiny, bright new future. Technological and mechanical advancements were changing the way Americans lived their daily lives, altering the very nature of how we worked and played as a nation.


New subdivisions were being built west of Highway 61, and nearly every family had an automobile. Rather than walking to shop, people began to drive their cars. Parking, especially downtown, became a challenge. As some of the old downtown buildings showed signs of decline, they were razed in favor of parking lots.

Right: With more Hannibalians living west of Highway 61, and with most families now owning automobiles, gas stations such as Mobilgas featuring drive-up service with personal attendants to fill your gas tank, wash your windows and check your oil became more common.

Courtesy Hannibal Courier-Post, Otis Howell Collection

The Huck Finn Shopping Center was the first major retail mall built on Highway 61, attracting Hannibal shoppers away from the downtown area.

Courtesy Hannibal Courier-Post, Otis Howell Collection

On a hot summer day in July of 1965, Hannibal residents flock to the grand opening of Sandy's Drive-In on Highway 61.  Courtesy Hannibal Courier-Post, Otis Howell Collection

Public schools in Hannibal also changed drastically in the late 1950s. School buses were first implemented in 1957, transporting students to Hannibal High School, Central School, Eugene Field Elementary, Mark Twain Elementary and Douglass School. Desegregation was also instituted during this time. The last graduation ceremony at Douglass School was in the spring of 1955. That fall, students were matriculated into Hannibal High School. Douglass continued to hold classes for the elementary and junior high school students until 1959, when the students were transferred to other Hannibal public schools. The conversion from segregated to integrated schools occurred with only minor difficulty and finally brought equality in education to young Hannibalians.

Douglass High School Marching Band, 1946

Courtesy Faye Dant, Hannibal African American Life & History Project

Tom Sawyer Days Whitewashing contest, c1959

In 1955, the Hannibal Jaycees began to develop the idea for a large-scale celebration to be held annually in Hannibal. The first Tom Sawyer Day was held on August 18, 1956. The event included a picnic and riverfront show. A parade down Broadway was held, with marching bands, horsemen from the Saddleview Club and seven floats featuring characters from Mark Twain’s writings. The highlight of the day featured boys lining up in front of the white picket fence near Mark Twain’s boyhood home to compete in the fence-painting contest. Dennis Reed of Jefferson City won first prize. In 1958, the title “National Tom Sawyer Days” was given congressional recognition. Since that time, the National Tom Sawyer Days celebration is held each year over the July 4 weekend, regularly attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the world to Hannibal.

Fourth grade class at Eugene Field Elementary, 1955


Courtesy Hannibal Courier-Post, Otis Howell Collection

Do You Know:


Some historic downtown buildings were demolished for parking lots

The old Planters Hotel at 319 North Main Street, built in 1836, was dismantled in 1954, along with adjoining buildings, to make room for parking. Old Planters had some very famous guests, including Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri.

Courtesy Hannibal Courier-Post, Otis Howell Collection

One of the buildings razed, seen here to the left of the hotel, had once been the offices of the Missouri Courier, where Samuel Clemens had learned the printing trade in the late 1840s and early ’50s. The cast iron sign shown in this photo, designating the building as the office of the Courier, is now on display at the Hannibal History Museum.

Political rally in Central Park, 1964

Hannibal reflected the nation during the turbulent years of the 1960s. While campaigning for his bid for the Presidency in 1964, the former Alabama Governor George Wallace held a rally in Hannibal's Central Park, flanked by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Wallace's main campaign issue was racial segregation; protesters representing both sides of the controversial topic were among those who attended the rally.


Tom Sawyer Days Whitewashing contest, c1959