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Missouri: Twain’s town is as colorful as his novels

Photo courtesy Hannibal CVB


If you squint, you can practically see a barefoot kid in a straw hat sauntering along the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Mo.

Tom Sawyer, one of the best-known characters created by Mark Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens, is among the many characters based on people Clemens knew when he was growing up in Hannibal.

History is all around in Hannibal, from Twain’s boyhood home to the  birthplace of (the unsinkable) Molly Brown. A day could be spent browsing the shops on the historic main street, so visitor-friendly that there are no parking meters.

“You can hop on the trolley and get a taste of the history of Hannibal,” said Megan Rapp, assistant director and group sales manager for the Hannibal Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “We have so many shops, restaurants and art galleries; people are always surprised by how much is here.”

The Mark Twain Riverboat offers sightseeing cruises every day and can be booked for group events of up to 300 (228 for a dinner cruise), and a banjo player keeps things lively. Some groups meet on the boat from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., when it is docked, then end the day with a dinner cruise.

A plethora of theaters can serve as venues for general sessions, keynote speeches or awards presentations. At the B&B Main Street Cinema 8, the first all-digital theater in Missouri, a speaker can be seen simultaneously on eight screens for presentations. The theater seats 1,000.

Everyone’s a star when awards dinners for up to 200 are held on stage at the Star Theatre, a 1906 movie palace.

A theater has even worked its way into a geological feature that has ties to Twain. The Mark Twain Cave is “the actual cave that Twain featured in Tom Sawyer,” said Rapp. “You can tour the cave, and there are several other buildings in that complex, including the theater [with seating for 100.]”

Hannibal’s hotels, two blocks from downtown, are suitable for small meetings. The 94-room Quality Inn and Suites has a 4,800-square-foot divisible ballroom; the 79-room Best Western has only a small conference room but great river views. Downtown is nearby.

“Everything is easily accessible and within walking distance,” said Rapp. “It’s impossible to get lost here.”

But if you do get lost and run into a child in a straw hat, a word of advice: Don’t offer to help him paint his fence.

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