This was the letter I sent in response to Shelley's post.
Dr. Wesley Britton
Harrisburg Area Community College
One HACC Road
Harrisburg, PA 17110
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Terrell Dempsey, Secretary
Hannibal Historic District Development Commission
City Hall, 300 Broadway
Hannibal, Missouri 63401
email: [log in to unmask]
It has come to my attention that the town of Hannibal is currently
discussing plans to erect buildings in the historic district that surrounds
Mark Twain's boyhood home that are neither historic nor germane to the
centerpiece of this district, that is sites dedicated to the memory of the
young Sam Clemens. As a Mark Twain scholar who has enjoyed what Hannibal
has to offer its visitors, I write this as a letter of concern. If there
are indeed historic buildings that could be renovated rather than building
artificial structures, this would be both an opportunity to preserve what
was real in the 19th century and a chance to widen opportunities for
tourists who come to Hannibal seeking the flavor of the times Twain wrote
about. But destroying these in favor of dubious old-fashioned structures
seems an unusual way to depict history.
In my past visits to Hannibal, I enjoyed the chance to explore Hill Street,
the Mark Twain Cave, the play, and someone's home whose name slips my mind.
The only site that struck me as garish was the wax museum, but I can
understand the commercial desire to capture tourist dollars with less than
authentic offerings. However, the erection of buildings not associated with
Twain would not encourage me to revisit the town nor prompt me to recommend
others to do so. A historic district has on obligation to be just that. If
structures are to be created that wish to capitalize on Twain, a print shop
with authentic machinery of the time would seem more appropriate, or a
riverboat museum, or a museum dedicated to the Hannibal of the 19th century.
A church? As the statue overlooking the Mississippi just outside of town
proclaims, "His Religion was humanity." To attempt to associate Mark Twain
with church attendance would be misrepresentative to a large degree,
especially as John Marshall Clemens did not attend regular services, Mrs.
Clemens was known for her frequent changing of church affiliation, and Sam
Clemens himself had deistic leanings. A schoolhouse? Perhaps a one-room
schoolhouse of the times might be an interesting site, but not within the
historic district where one never stood.
If the town of Hannibal wishes to build such structures, I do not believe
they should be considered part of the historic district. If there are
historic buildings that can be refurbished and made available for tourists,
they should be appropriately funded and designed. Tourists coming to
Hannibal seek to learn about Mark Twain: if he is the centerpiece, then both
his spirit and flavor should be honored. If not, the credibility and
honesty of the town will diminish. I, for one, would find this most