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Shelley Fisher Fishkin <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 9 Sep 1999 12:54:14 -0500
text/plain (79 lines)
I am posting the following on behalf of Terrell Dempsey,  Secretary of the
Hannibal Historic District Development Commission. [This letter will also
appear in the next Mark Twain Circular.]  You may respond directly to the
Forum or mail or email  your responses directly to Mr. Dempsey at the
addresses listed at the end of the letter.]

Request from the Hannibal Historic District Development Commission

Dear Mark Twain Scholars:

        The Hannibal Historic District Development Commission  (HDDC) is
seeking your help. We are charged by the City of Hannibal with supervision
of the historic district which includes the boyhood home of Mark Twain. (As
many of you undoubtedly know, the home is the original structure on the
original site, as are all other buildings in the Historic District except
for the John Clemens office, which was moved to the present location.)

        The Mark Twain Home Foundation which owns and operates the home is
proposing to build new buildings in the historic district in the immediate
vicinity of the Home. (The foundation members include one historian, bank
presidents, real estate developers, an attorney, and manager of the local
cement company and the newspaper publisher).  The foundation's immediate
plan is to construct a church and a school. (We understand that there is a
desire later on to construct a printer's shop.) These structures will not
comply with HDDC guidelines because they are not structures that actually
existed on the location, or for that matter in Hannibal. They are
"fictions," if you will-ersatz reconstructions of old-looking structures
that were never there. These buildings will comprise a village in the
immediate area around the boyhood home to the north and east. Actual
structures in the proposed area in Twain's time included a grocery store
Orion operated for a while, a hotel and an unspecified commercial
structure. The HDDC does not oppose careful reconstruction of these

        The Foundation has been reluctant to state why they believe the
church and school would be appropriate, except that they wish to "honor"
Mark Twain. The Foundation has indicated that the local Baptist college has
been consulted and services can be held in the church on Sundays for
tourists and that Twain went to two churches in Hannibal. No reason has
been offered for the school except that Twain has been widely read in
schools and one-room schools are associated with him. The HDDC was told at
a city council meeting that the school building could be used as a meeting
place for bus tours.

        The city council has instructed the Foundation to go to the Zoning
Board for a variance. We are to express our opinion to the Zoning Board as
well. Our concern is simple; the proposed constructions are not history.
They are tourism. We would like your help in our efforts to articulate why
history should matter to Hannibal, and how respecting history can actually
be good for tourism.  . We are woefully unprepared to address the Twain
issues. Therefore, we would like your opinions on the following issues:

1) How important is historical accuracy in Hannibal's depiction of Twain
and the town?  And what affect would efforts to preserve the historical
integrity of this area have on your decision to visit or return to Hannibal
as a tourist?
2) What was the role of the church in Twain's life and is the construction
of a church an appropriate way to honor him?
3) What were the schools Twain attended? What was the role of school in
Twain's life and is the construction of a school appropriate?
4) Should the Foundation build ersatz structures or should money be put
into the rehabilitation of existing mid-19th Century building stock? (There
are many such buildings in the Historic District.)
6) What are the risks of a reconstructed village to people's experience of
7) How can Hannibal best honor Mark Twain and simultaneously promote

Your thoughtful replies would be most appreciated. If the decision
regarding these structures is made on a strictly political basis, the
result is a foregone conclusion. Please mail or email your replies to:

Terrell Dempsey, Secretary
Hannibal Historic District Development Commission
City Hall, 300 Broadway
Hannibal, Missouri 63401
Fax: 573-221-2808
email: [log in to unmask]