Angle to Key West: Old Times on the New Mississippi (10/30)

Mile 298 on Upper Mississippi – October 30, 2012

I stood next to the statue of Samuel Clemens and watched the river go by. The entirety of Hannibal, Missouri’s historical district is devoted to him, or more accurately, his pen name Mark Twain.

It’s where he grew up. It’s where Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are as real as fictional characters can be.

A part of Mark Twain is painted on everything that can stand it in Hannibal. There’s Tom’s house, complete with a fence ready for whitewashing. Across the street is Becky Thatcher’s place. Muff Potter’s jail is gone, but a sign marks the spot. Stores reference Aunt Polly and Pudd’nhead. Huck and Tom have a statue at the end of main street.

It feels a bit too Disney, too made up and perfect, less like Huck and Tom’s hometown and more like an elaborate trick by the King and Duke to separate tourists from their money, but it’s still fun if you see it for what it is.

I wondered around a bit, took pictures, then disappeared back to the river.

Six tugs with ninety barges waited to go through Lock 22. They waited in lines miles long on either side of the lock as I slipped past over the low concrete wall.

I looked at them and thought of Hannibal and how the Mississippi is as made up and perfect as the town. I wondered if Mark Twain would recognize the still water, dredged and trimmed for freight, as the fast-moving, wild river brought to life by his pen. Then I laughed at the idea of Huck and Jim dragging their raft around a lock so they wouldn’t have to wait half the night for a line of barges.

But it’s still fun if you see if for what it is.

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5 responses to “Angle to Key West: Old Times on the New Mississippi (10/30)

  1. Doug,
    You are just around the corner from Florida and maybe a few weeks into getting to the Gulf, but we will be welcoming you, in one way or another, as you move along.
    Bob Teare in Pinellas County

  2. Daniel…Great analogy drawn here. Love it. Hope to see your weather get a wee bit warmer as you make your way to the Gulf. When you get near the Panhandle I’ve got plenty of fences for you to paint. I know how much you like that kind of work.

  3. Mark Twain — what a treasure. Here is one of my favorites Twainisms about science and I used it in a courtroom many years ago:

    “In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
    - Life on the Mississippi

    And another just for fun:

    “Be good and you will be lonesome.”

  4. “Progress!” The Everglades in Florida is pretty much all engineered too… thank god for the remnants of how the planet used to be!

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