In November of 1839, a family of modest means that included five children and one

slave moved from Florida, Missouri, into the Virginia House, a small hotel on Hill Street

just west of Main. The new owner of the Virginia House, John Marshall Clemens, had

        purchased the entire block of Hill Street where the Virginia House stood for $7,000 from

              Hannibalian “Big” Ira Stout. Clemens was enthusiastic about relocating his family to

                 Hannibal and optimistic about the opportunities for prosperity in the booming river

                      town. After securing his new position as Hannibal's Justice of the Peace, Judge

                         John Marshall Clemens contacted his cousin, attorney James Clemens Jr. of

                         St. Louis, and asked him for a loan of $330 to pay for the construction of a

                        new home for the Clemens family. In the fall of 1843, Judge Clemens and his

                        family moved into their newly completed home at 206 Hill Street. Today, the

                      modest, two-story frame house still stands, famous throughout the world for

    being the boyhood home of Hannibal’s most beloved son, Mark Twain.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens

in Hannibal

In June 1853, Sam Clemens, now seventeen, left Hannibal to seek his fortune. Little did he know, as he stepped off the shore of the Hannibal levee onto the steamboat that would carry him away, that a grand adventure awaited him. Throughout his life, he traveled the world and wrote of his experiences, yet it was Hannibal that Mark Twain thought of as his hometown, Hannibal that he remembered so vividly when he wrote of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It was Hannibal that provided the texture to the tales he would so famously weave in his lifetime. Twain would recall time and again his childhood memories of his boyhood in Hannibal, both happy and bittersweet, in both his writings and his storytelling lectures. Hannibal’s favorite son would emerge a comic genius with humor and wit that would eventually lead him to fame and fortune.

Sam Clemens, age 15

Photographed in 1850 by G. H. Jones

Left and Right: First Edition Covers of Twain's most beloved books

Perhaps symbolic of the closing of the Gilded Age, Mark Twain made his final and most well-known visit to Hannibal for four days in late May/early June 1902. Twain was on his way to Columbia, Missouri where he was being given an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Missouri. He was accompanied by a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who provided a detailed account of his hometown visit. Besides visiting and posing for photographs in front of his boyhood home on Hill Street, he attended dinners held in his honor at the Garth and Clayton homes, visited his old schoolmate Laura Hawkins-Frazer, spoke to the 1902 graduating class of Hannibal High School, visited his family grave site at Mt. Olivet Cemetery and addressed a crowd of more than three hundred guests from the grand staircase of the Cruikshank mansion (Rockcliffe). The four-day visit marked a moment in time where the literary icon became a metaphor symbolizing the evolution of Hannibal -- from its humble beginnings as a "white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer's morning" to its transformation into a cosmopolitan city whose wealth peaked during the Gilded Age. Now, more than 100 years after his death and 160 years after leaving Hannibal, Mark Twain's legacy lives on, as revered and as popular as ever.

Twain departing Hannibal

for the last time, June, 1902


To Mark Twain's Hannibal