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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 9 Jun 2008 11:01:29 -0500
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Mark Twain Museum
"Dr. Regina Faden" <[log in to unmask]>
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Dear Fellow Twain Forum Members:

I am writing in response to the concerns over the Hartford House and about
the Hannibal museum.  I apologize for the long email but I would like to let
list members know what is going on here in Hannibal.  In order to tell the
museum's story, I recently presented a paper at the American Literature
Association about what the museum is doing to talk about Twain and the ideas
and values he believed in.  (The response from Twainians seemed very
positive.)  As part of realizing that goal, there have been some changes
made at the museum and there are more to come.  For anyone who hasn't been
to the museum, in the past it presented the stories of the white, fictional
characters of Tom, Huck, and Becky to the exclusion of Jim and any
historical or cultural context, including Twain himself.  This approach was
well described in Shelly Fisher Fishkin's book Lighting Out for the
Territory.  One of the reasons that I was interested in joining the museum
in 2004 was that the board had decided to reinterpret its sites in order to
talk about Twain, slavery, and the context of his life and works.

Today the Interpretive Center (a rehabbed building) uses Twain's words as
much as possible to talk about his early life, including the subject of
slavery and its impact on Hannibal and Sam himself.  The exhibits help
people understand how Sam's experience here helped inspire his fiction -
balancing the actual and creative aspects of his life and works.  In the
newly reconstructed Huck Finn House (yes - he is a fictional character),
where Tom Blankenship and his family once lived, the exhibit discusses the
novel of Huck Finn and the controversy that has surrounded the book since
its first publication.  The message of the exhibit is that Twain was dealing
with a problem we still have with us today, racism, and we ultimately
recommend that people read the book and make up their own minds about it.
The last text panel reminds people that slavery still exists all over the
world today - demonstrating that Twain's work is still relevant.  Other than
the Huck Finn House, which was entirely paid for at the time by a board
member in memory of his sone, there has been no new construction at the
Hannibal museum.  (A rehab project was completed in 2002 and was completely
funded at the time).

We are now working on the preservation of the Becky Thatcher House and
developing new exhibits to be housed therein.  The exhibits will focus on
the friendship between Sam and Laura Hawkins and then the characters of Tom
and Becky (how Sam & Laura changed and grew older but Becky and Tom have
remained eternally young).  Again - Twain's will be the most prominent
voice.  Other exhibits will explore the experience of childhood in the 19th
century: school, work, and home and how this experience was shaped by race,
class, and gender, using the characters of Tom, Becky, Jim, and Huck to
illustrate these differences (i.e. Jim couldn't go to school and Huck didn't
want to).

As funding allows, the Justice of the Peace Office and Grant's Drugstore
will be preserved.  New exhibits in the JOP Office will discuss justice in a
frontier town in the and In Grant's, exhibits will desribe the
precariousness of life in the 19th Century (as demonstrated by the impact of
John Clemens' death on his family) as well as some Hannibal history to tell
people more about the town, its population, its culture, its values.

Just to be clear, the museum charges an $8 fee for adults, $6.50 for seniors
and $4 for children from 6-12 (under 6 free).  Originally the museum was
supported by the city but now the museum needs to generate income because it
no longer receives any tax support from the city.  We offer a variety of
cultural programming, such as monthly programs on Twina and related subjects
for children and adults, concerts, book clubs, and others, like the African
Documentary Film Festival in February.  Such programs are not at all unusual
in museums; museums are meant to contribute to the overall cultural life of
their community.

As argued by Robert Archibald, Ex. Director of the Missouri Historical
Society, in The New Town Square, museums should also be forums for the
community to discuss issues of concern.  Yesterday we hosted a program about
the desegregation at Hannibal High school in 1955.  Three 6th graders
developed a video for National History Day and interviewed members of the
community who had experienced this great transition.  One of the African
American community members spoke to the audience about the positive and
negative aspects of growing up black in Hannibal, but his central message
was to move forward and continue the success that so many African Americans
from Hannibal High have achieved. There was great dialogue as members of the
community, black and white, talked about their experiences during that time
with honesty and humor.  Yesterday afternoon's program was only part of the
effort the museum has made to create dialogue in the community between the
African American and white communities.  We also developed an exhibit about
African American local history.  Last week, there was a positive article
published about the exhibit in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.  I am
including the web address for the story.

I invite anyone who would like to call or visit the museum.  Any of the
staff or I would be happy to talk with you about what is going on here and
where we are headed.  Please visit our website for information about our
Teachers Workshops and the Young Authors Workshop - both exciting programs
designed to develop future generations of readers and writers who know and
love Mark Twain's works.  We believe education is the key to the museum's
future and these programs will introduce Twain to thousands of
schoolchildren and empower teachers to tackle such controversial but
essential works as Huck Finn.  Our free, downloadable lesson plans have
already been accessed more than 20,000 times.

While this email has been long, I wanted to share the museum's story with
you.  We are all interested in the same thing - sharing Twains story of
social justice, compassion, respect for the individual, and of course an
appreciation for humor, fun and our world's beauty with people everywhere.

Thank you.

Regina Faden, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum
120 North Main Street
Hannibal, MO 63401
p. 573 221-9010
f.  573 221-7975
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