While I respect Terrel Dempsey's work, I do not think that he offers a fair assessment of the state of Twain in Hannibal--however accurate his description of the deterioration of Grant's Drug Store might be. With that said, blaming the deterioration of the building on an anemically funded foundation is like blaming an uninsured driver for not fixing his/her car after a severely damaging wreck. I grew up in Hannibal, have worked at the Hartford House, and now teach at Elmira College. I have dedicated my undergraduate and graduate studies to Twain and his works. I continue to write, present, and publish on Twain--my latest publication deals with Hannibal's presentation and preservation of Twain and his characters. There are aspects of Hannibal's presentation and preservation of Twain that will act as nails on a chalkboard to many Twain scholars. The majority of these come from the Hannibal Jaycees annual National Tom Sawyer Days (NTSD) celebration. Yes, the NTSD is fun, but it is most certainly inspired by a misreading of many of Twain's texts. The Boyhood Home & Museum has done a great deal to combat this distortion of Twain. They have diversified Hannibal's presentation of Twain, which is, in my opinion, the most significant improvement. The upkeep and restoration of a building, especially one that needs to be done in a way that is authentic, is no small feat. Even the Hartford House struggles with this--and there is no finer living museum than the Hartford House! It is important to keep in mind that Hannibal is not Hartford. They are vastly different in geography and culture. The Twain of Hannibal is far from the Twain of Hartford. I am not saying that Hannibal should be held at a lower standard, but that it should be kept in perspective. Hannibal represents the source of Twain's writing, whereas Hartford stands as a testament to Twain's success as a writer--which, without it, he would not have met Livy, who paid for the house. There will always be expenditures that not every follower agrees upon and dismisses as "silly." A proactive approach to rectifying the deterioration of Grant's Drug Store--which the Boyhood Home & Museum knows is in need of repair--can best be done by making a contribution to the Boyhood Home & Museum. Donations can be made to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, and, in the past, I know that donors have been able to designate what their donation will go toward. As Twain-ians, Twain-iacs, Twain scholars, and whatever else we are called, we are all responsible for the preservation of Florida (MO), Hannibal, Hartford, Elmira, and everywhere that the name Twain is spoken--and while we have a communal interest in Twain, that does not mean that we will all agree about the scholarship and preservation regarding him.
Elmira College .
From: Vicki Dempsey <[log in to unmask]>
To: TWAIN-L <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Mon, Jun 11, 2012 7:57 pm
Subject: Sad neglect in Hannibal
I have been contacted privately by many of you for insights into the
current state of things in Hannibal, but today's experience draws me
out of my self-imposed exile from the Twain world. I had a visit from
a lovely former foreign exchange student from Brazil. She wanted her
husband to see the Hannibal sights. For the first time in years I
went through the museum. I am shocked to report to you that the
foundation and board have allowed the Pilaster House/Grant's Drug
Store to decay horribly. It is even more appalling that the site was
on the states Most Endangered Property list in 2009 -- and yet nothing
has been done. For those of you who do not know, the Pilaster House
is where the Clemens family was renting rooms after John M. Clemens
filed bankruptcy. It is where he died. This is the last place Sam
lived and enjoyed the free childhood he celebrated in Tom Sawyer.
Shortly after he entered the world of work as an apprentice.
This building is one of only two real structures related to
Sam Clemens that the organization supposedly cares for. It breaks my
heart that while building a faux "Huck Finn" house and dolling up an
old pizza parlor and store building as museums they allowed an actual
historic structure that is essential to the development of Sam to
rot. I will try to take some photographs on Wednesday to post on my
facebook page and give you all my address. I wish I were
exaggerating, but there is no hyperbole here.
I don't know what is wrong with Hannibal. I have been
thinking about it for a long time. I know many of the people on the
board. They are not bad people. But they assuredly are not
historians or preservationists. It makes me terribly sad.
I know they are going to say they don't have money. The reason is
that they spent their money on silly things.