Friday, October 20, 2017

In the Footsteps of Mark Twain

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt

The calliope, an air-operated Tangley Calliaphone, played bright music from America’s past while the riverboat plowed through the muddy Mississippi. I sat beside my husband, who had joined me by plane at the end of my road trip traveling the Oregon Trail backwards on the way to a family reunion. A photograph from the trip shows us looking relaxed and happy. You’d never know that our toddler had just thrown a grand tantrum. After being strapped in a car seat for the better part of each day for a week, she'd had more than enough of our road trip. All she wanted was to run and play. Why wouldn't we let her?
Of such is life.

Mark Twain Riverboat at Glascock's Landing, Hannibal, Missouri; Image by Chris Light (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Freed from what should have been a pleasant cruise but had become a memory-maker of another kind, we returned to our accommodations at Hannibal’s Belvedere Inn. We’d chosen this Italianate mansion turned bed-and-breakfast for its vintage beauty. The palatial ceiling and incredibly tall windows in our room made me feel like a child at a grown-up tea party. They knew how to build a mansion back in 1859. 

After a night’s sleep and a breakfast buffet, we visited the boyhood home of Samuel Langhorne Clemmens (aka: Mark Twain). The picket fence surrounding the home would have needed whitewashing in young Sam’s day, of course. The home itself was modest but comfortable. Seeing the environment where young Samuel grew up connected me with a bygone era. I could almost hear the neighborhood kids playing on a summer day or shouting with joy while swimming in the river.
Boyhood Home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain); Image by Andrew Balet (Own work) [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
We went across the street to see the childhood home of Laura Hawkins, an early playmate of Samuel's. Laura’s birthday fell on November 30th and Samuel’s on December 1st, so the families often celebrated together. She was Samuel’s childhood sweetheart and the inspiration for Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Laura didn't wind up with Samuel, however. She married a physician named James W. Frazer, and the couple had two sons. He left her a widow in her forties. In 1895, Laura signed on as matron of a home for orphans and the destitute. She and Samuel Clemmens were lifelong friends who stayed in touch with one another.
The Becky Thatcher House, Hannibal Missouri By Andrew Balet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Laura Hawkins' account of going to school with her childhood sweetheart.

The day had grown hot and our feet weary, so we grabbed a quick bite to eat and went back to our room to rest. We had the usual tourist's restlessness, so before long we decided to take a walk around Hannibal. Because it’s that kind of place. No matter how big Hannibal grows, I suspect it will always feel like a small town. While on our walk, we noticed a house on a hillock standing out some blocks away. We started uphill towards it, but the heat and fatigue plagued me. I kept going anyway, intrigued by the commanding home.

We followed the last stretch of aging sidewalk to discover that we’d stumbled on a historic home open to the public. To our delight, the Rockcliffe Mansion had not been spoiled by renovation “improvements,” but had largely been left in its original state. We were not allowed to take photographs, lest our flashbulbs destroy the fragile antiques. Unspoiled treasures such as I have never seen before and may never again lay on every hand, down to exquisite wallpaper, tiffany windows, carved woodwork, light fixtures, statues, carpeting – the list is too long for me to describe here. 

Rockcliffe Mansion on the NRHP since September 18, 1980, at 1000 Bird St., Hannibal, Missouri on top of a rocky hill. The name Rockcliffe is very appropriate. Built by a lumber magnate, the home sat empty for over 40 years. The mansion is now a B&B in Mark Twain's hometown. Image by Smallbones (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Images of the interior of Rockcliffe Mansion. 

We toured all the areas of the mansion except the parts that were off-limits. Rockcliffe Mansion offers bed and breakfast accommodations. I'd like to go back and sleep there someday, although like many homes steeped in history, it has a reputation. You see, this was Hannibal's haunted house and informed the description of the "ha'nted house" in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Mark Twain stood on a special platform built over the Rockcliffe Mansion’s main stairway landing in 1902 and gave a speech to the town’s worthies. Looking out over the foyer from much the same place that he stood, I could almost see his admiring audience, dressed in their best, listening, smiling, laughing. Mark Twain knew how to entertain a crowd. The realization that it had been his final visit to Hannibal brought a lump to my throat. Wealth, fame, fulfillment in work, an audience most writers can only dream about – he had it all. It hardly seemed fair. 
The sum total of even a celebrated man’s existence fades with time. 

Jesus’s words came to me then. "Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don't break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Matthew 6-19-21; World English Bible.

This is why I write, to proclaim that our mortal life is not all there is, that it doesn't end with the grave, and that human souls are more important than treasures that one day crumble to dust.

About Janalyn Voigt

My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I 'wrote' in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my interest in storytelling and influenced me to become a writer.

I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy. 


Hills of Nevermore by Janalyn Voigt

Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish circuit preacher bent on helping her survive?
In an Idaho Territory boom town, America Liberty Reed overhears circuit preacher Shane Hayes try to persuade a hotel owner to close his saloon on Sunday. Shane lands face-down in the mud for his trouble, and there’s talk of shooting him. America intervenes and finds herself in an unexpectedly personal conversation with the blue-eyed preacher. Certain she has angered God in the past, she shies away from Shane.

Addie Martin, another widow, invites America to help in her cook tent in Virginia City, the new mining town. Even with Addie’s teenage son helping with America’s baby, life is hard. Shane urges America to depart for a more civilized location. Neither Shane’s persuasions nor road agents, murder, sickness, or vigilante violence can sway America. Loyalty and ambition hold her fast until dire circumstances force her to confront everything she believes about herself, Shane, and God.Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

Learn More About This Book


  1. Wonderful post and the pictures added the beauty of the places you visited. Hannibal, Missouri is on my bucket list to visit. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Pictures can't do Hannibal justice, Marilyn. Prepare to be wowed by the place.

  2. Fun post! We visited Hannibal about 20 years ago, so it was fun to see your pictures and remember. Thank you for sharing.

  3. This post had landed in my spam box. I am SO very glad I found it. Your visit to that town sounds so very special, and I wouldn't mind taking a similar trip as you...I've always romanticized the Oregon Trail. Thank you for your vivid descriptions!

    1. You're welcome, Connie. We could travel together, I think. To prevent our emails from landing in your spam box, make sure to add the address they come from to your email address list. Thanks for being such a loyal follower.