June 14, 2006
One of the most surprising moments in my recent travels was a trip taken to Hannibal, Missouri. I drove into town expecting to see I knew not exactly what, but not the complete nothingness I found. Of course, I speak about Hannibal and Twain; Mark Twain that is; Samuel Clements if you prefer. Twain grew up in Hannibal and called it home. Hannibal Mo, Twain and the Mississippi are words that would be connected in any word association game. Hannibal is situated right on the Mississippi river just like in the books. My God there is nothing there. In fact according to the most current biographer of Twain, a native of Hannibal himself Ron Powers, the town has been taken over by drug interests to boot. I recall one restaurant there, not a very good one and a pizza shop down the highway somewhere. The townspeople either do not have the wherewithal or the inclination to celebrate a writer who is pure Americana if there ever was one. This man who was a journalist, public speaker, humorists and writer; a man who is widely quoted to this day, a man who wrote of things American and was our greatest ambassador of America in his time has been forgotten by the place he called home, a place he never forgot.
I am reminded of a man named Rockefeller who was interested enough to endow some of his money to reclaim a place called Williamsburg, Virginia. Williamsburg, an invaluable learning tool and a great place to visit, is still to this day visited by people from all over the world, not just Americans. Money well spent by someone who certainly could afford it.
What Hannibal Missouri needs is for some entity to step up and say I will do this for the country, for future generations to have a touchstone to visit if their interests turn literary. To me it seems a natural for someone like the Ford foundation, or someone with pockets deep enough to step up and save a town steeped in American fiction. To me it seems so perfect to use in commercials. Ad-men would have a heyday using Twain quotes and his immediately recognizable visage in proclaiming the foundations deep concern for an American legend and his hometown. It needs saving.