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Samuel Clemens left his boyhood town at the age of 17, never to live there again.

But you wouldn't know it by the look of things now. The phone book is replete with references to his literary career.There's the Mark Twain Produce Co.; the Mark Twain Area Counseling Center; the Mark Twain Citgo & Convenience; Mark Twain Antiques; the Mark Twain Dinette; the Becky Thatcher Girl Scout Council; Mark Twain Distributing Co.; the Mark Twain Senior Citizen Center; Injun Joe's Campground; and Mark Twain Jeep-Eagle.

The most appropriate knock-offs for a town with a well-known native author are the Mark Twain Book & Gift Shop and the Mark Twain Printers.

Hannibal, population 18,000, feeds off the ghost of Samuel Clemens and the lore of Tom Sawyer.

The stellar attraction is the Mark Twain Museum and Boyhood Home. The museum complex includes Dr. Grant's residence; Dr. Grant's pharmacy; and the law office of young Samuel's father, justice of the peace John Marshall Clemens.

The new Mark Twain Museum has Norman Rockwell's original illustrations for the Heritage Press editions of "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn." Rockwell, the only illustrator of Twain's books to visit Hannibal, gave the paintings to the city.

Becky Thatcher's house, where Clemens' childhood heartthrob Laura Hawkins lived, and Mark Twain Cave, famous for its miles of confusing passages, are other Twain-related sights that are not part of the museum.

The self-guided museum tour (admission $4 adults, $2 children) starts at the Museum Annex where you see a short slide show and then view photos and memorabilia that sketch out the life and times of Samuel Clemens.

He was born Nov. 30, 1835, in nearby Florida, Mo., and moved to Hannibal with his family when he was four. In 1844, they set up housekeeping in a white clapboard home, two blocks from the mighty Mississippi. Fascinated by the river, he gave it a prominent role in some of his books.

The Boyhood Home, donated to the city in 1913, was refurbished in 1990 to look as it might have during Clemens' childhood.

Characters for "Tom Sawyer" came to life in the small but comfortable two-story residence. Cousin Mary was modeled after his sister, Pamela. Aunt Polly was really his mother, Jane Clemens. Childhood friend John Briggs was the role model for the fictional Joe Harper. Judge Thatcher was Sam's father.

Rooms are reminiscent of scenes from the book. The dining room is where Aunt Polly made Tom take the dreaded painkiller medicine and where she rapped his knuckles for stealing sugar. The second-story corner bedroom is where Tom used to sneak out at night.

In 1846, the senior Clemens' law practice took a turn for the worse and he lost his home. The family moved across the street to live with the Grants.

In 1847, when Sam was only 11, his father contracted pneumonia and died in the Grant home. Mrs. Clemens later raised enough money that she and her children moved back to their home as renters.

In 1859, Sam started a two-year stint as a riverboat pilot. In 1862, after a brief time in the Confederate Army, he and his brother Orion left for the West, passing through Salt Lake City and following the Overland Trail to Virginia City, Nev.

There, during the peak of the mining boom, he nurtured the seed of a writing career at the Territorial Enterprise. In 1866, when he moved to Sacramento, Calif., the seed had grown into a seedling. He spent six months in Hawaii as a correspondent in the Sandwich Islands.

In 1867 he went to Europe, writing "Innocents Abroad" on his return.

During his European adventure he met Olivia Langdon, sister of his friend, Charles, on a Mediterranean cruise. Sam and Olivia married in 1870.

He worked for the Buffalo Express until 1871, when they moved to Hartford, Conn., where they built an ornate, two-story home that reminded Clemens of "the grandeur of a Mississippi steamboat."

They had four children but only one survived to adulthood. She had one daughter who married twice but had no children. Except for his books, Clemens has no posterity.

Olivia died in 1904. Clemens then built a grandiose home he named "Stormfield" in Redding, Conn., where he lived until his death in 1910.

Aside from the museum complex, Hannibal's most popular attractions are a Riverboat cruise and the Mark Twain Cave.

But to acquaint yourself with the mystique that captured Clemens' imagination, you don't have to spend a dime.

Walk past the Clemens Hotel, the Becky Thatcher Book & Gift Shop, the Mark Twain Card Shop and other tourist enticements. Head straight to the Mississippi.

Sit on the levee and watch the world go by.

Barges the size of football fields pass in front of you. You can hear trains crossing the bridge built by the Hannibal and St. Joe Railroad in mid-1800s.

Cars approach the town from the east on the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge.

Of all the Mark Twain knock-offs, the bridge crossing the river he loved is probably the one the author would be most proud of.

If you don't think Mark Twain lives, you're wrong. Just go to Hannibal.



Getting there

Hannibal is an easy half-day's drive from Nauvoo. The most direct route is on the Iowa/Missouri side of the river. Follow U.S. 61 south from Fort Madison or Keokuk, Iowa.

On the Illinois side, take Highway 96 south to U.S. 24 east, then get on the southbound Interstate near Fowler and follow the signs to Hannibal.

Bridges cross the Mississippi at Fort Madison, Keokuk and Hannibal. If you're adventurous, a ferry crosses the river between Meyer, Ill., and Canton, Mo.

For a free visitors guide, call the Hannibal Visitors and Convention Bureau at (573) 221-2477, or write it at 505 N. 3rd St., Hannibal, MO 63401.

The Mark Twain Cave, a mile south of town, is open year-round. Admission is $9 for adults, $4.50 for children 5-12, and free for children under 5. Lantern tours are conducted in nearby Cameron Cave, discovered in 1925. Admission is $11 adults and $5.50 children 5-12.

The riverboat cruise is aboard a rebuilt paddlewheel boat. The one-hour sightseeing cruise is $8 adults, $5 for children 3-12. It leaves at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. The 6:30 dinner cruise is $25.95 for adults and $15.95 for children 3-12.