Located in Hannibal, Missouri, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum preserves nine historic buildings connected to noted American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, best known by his pseudonym Mark Twain. Born on November 20, 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens grew up in Hannibal, Missouri along the west bank of the Mississippi River. As a young man, Clemens held apprenticeships with printers and typesetters and contributed articles to his brother’s newspaper before embarking on careers in mining and riverboat piloting.
While working as a journalist for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise in 1865, he published a short story titled “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which received international translation and widespread acclaim for its unique humorous style. Writing under the pen name of Mark Twain, Clemens published a number of noted novels and short stories throughout his career, including the 1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its 1885 sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, inspired by his young life in Missouri. Today, Huckleberry Finn is widely considered to be the “Great American Novel,” and Twain is renowned as one of the greatest humorist writers of the 19th century. Since 1912, Twain’s childhood home in Hannibal has been operated as a living history museum, along with a number of other museum and historic buildings preserved as part of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum complex. In 1962, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home site was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is operated year-round as a living history museum complex, owned by the Mark Twain Home Foundation, which seeks to promote appreciation and understanding of Twain’s literary works and ideas. As one of nine properties within the complex, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home is located at 206 Hill Street in Hannibal, bordered the original whitewashed fence that served as inspiration for Tom Sawyer’s fence. The two-story home was the residence of the Clemens family from 1839 through 1853, and is credited as inspiration for the locations within Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Visitors may explore the home’s fully-restored rooms behind protective plexiglass walls, with all rooms furnished with period-appropriate decor and accessories. White statues of Twain are showcased inside every room, along with quotes related to topics of boyhood and coming of age. A garden on the property, surrounded by a stone wall, is also maintained by the museum.
In addition to the Boyhood Home, eight other properties comprise the museum complex, including a Museum Interpretive Center that serves as an orientation point for visitors. Opened in 1983, the Interpretive Center contains exhibits chronicling Twain’s life and career, including a Victorian-era printing press and recreated writing study area. A timeline mural chronicles the history of the Clemens family, along with important social and cultural facts about the Hannibal area.
Visitors may also explore the nearby Huck Finn House and Becky Thatcher House, where Twain’s childhood friends Thomas Blankenship and Laura Hawkins, the inspirations for the novel’s Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher characters, resided with their families. Though the original Huck Finn House was demolished in 1911, it was recreated by the museum using vintage photographs using wood and materials salvaged from other nearby homes. A recreated period-appropriate backyard garden is highlighted, along with plaques explaining the home’s history and significance in Twain’s novels. The fully restored Becky Thatcher House contains a small gift shop, interactive exhibits, and Children’s Play Discovery Area allowing young visitors to dress up in period-appropriate clothing.
The Hannibal Justice of the Peace Building is also located within the museum complex, showcasing the former offices of Twain’s father, John Clemens, who served as the city’s Justice of the Peace from 1844 until his death in 1847. Original case records of cases Clemens presided over are on display in the building, which served as the inspiration for scenes in both Tom Sawyer and The Innocents Abroad. A two-story Museum Gallery building is also featured, containing collections of Twain and Clemens family artifacts, along with original Norman Rockwell paintings and original illustrations by A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court artist Dan Beard. Exhibits chronicle Twain’s career as a riverboat pilot and the world of his Tom Sawyer novels, and listening stations allow visitors to listen to audio recordings of Twain’s writings. A Tom and Huck Statue is also displayed at the foot of the neighborhood’s Cardiff Hill, and a Boyhood Home Gift Shop offers souvenirs related to Twain’s works.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Held since 1956, the museum’s annual Tom and Becky Program is held in conjunction with the city of Hannibal, crowning two local 7th graders each year’s “Tom and Becky” after a pageant selection process. The yearly winners are available for public appearances and performances at local events throughout their reign. An Inspiration of Tom Sawyer program features appearances by Mark Twain impersonator Jim Waddell, who appears at the museum complex Thursday through Sunday afternoons during the summer months. A Music Under the Stars concert series is hosted from June through August, featuring performances by local rock, country, and blues artists. The museum also holds scholarly conferences and young author workshops throughout the year and participates in Hannibal’s annual National Tom Sawyer Days festival, held over the Fourth of July holiday.
120 N Main St, Hannibal, MO 63401, Phone: 573-221-9010