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Hannibal, Missouri: The Town that Created Mark Twain

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 1, 2022 3:01 am

Hannibal, Missouri: The Town that Created Mark Twain

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 1, 2022 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, we listen to Richard Garey, Mark Twain aficionado, talk about the gateway to the West, Hannibal. This town spared Mark Twain from nothing, exposing him to poverty, death, racism, and the ability to make decisions for himself.

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No logins, no signups, no accounts, no hassle. Go to Zumo.tv for some holiday cheer. That's X-U-M-O.TV. And we continue with our American stories and we love to bring you stories of places. Across this great country of ours, Hannibal, Missouri was in the mid-1800s a gateway to the vast unknown territory beyond the Mississippi and the town that shaped Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the father of American literature better known as Mark Twain. Here is Richard Gary who spent the better part of three decades portraying Twain in a play he's written based on transcripts of Twain's own onstage material. In the early 2000s Richard bought an old stable in the heart of Hannibal, Missouri and turned it into a theater where he performs regularly. We just had to sit down and ask him about this wild town and the man it produced and we bring you this story because on this day in 1835 Mark Twain was born.

Here is Richard Gary. Well what you have to understand is that when you cross the Mississippi River you're in the west. It also was a river town and that combination of being a western town and a river town assured that this this was going to be wild. And then people are heading west and this was the main immigration route because they wanted to get out to St. Joe where the wagon trains were.

So you could take the Oregon Trail, you could take the California Trail or the Santa Fe Trail from St. Joe. Steamboats would hit town, every type of character on earth would get off. Sam Clemens, one day he was up here in this area somewhere and he heard yelling. So his curiosity got the better of him, went down. Two men are yelling, some sort of argument and one of them said, well let's just take this argument to arms. And he said, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, well let's just take this argument to arms. And the other one said, well that's fine with me, I'll just shoot you dead.

He's kind of like the old westerns, you know. So they went out, paced off 15 paces, turned and fired. And the little one was right, he got the other one right in the chest. They both got shots off.

Sam Clemens is standing there, can you imagine his mother with all her children growing up and all of that. And so they picked the man up, they took him over to Grant's Drug Store and put him out on the floor. And when shooting like that would happen in a small place, and about a thousand people lived here at that time, they all gather down there, what's going on.

And so the late comers, and Sam describes this, the late comers come up and they go, oh move over, I pay taxes, I have as much a right to see a man die as anybody else, move it. And so he said someone ran out and fetched a heavy Bible and brought it back and he said I was just a boy but I thought it was cruel, very cruel, because they opened that heavy Bible up and they put it down on that poor man's chest. He was struggling to breathe. And according to the story that pretty much did it, he breathed his last there. But he used that story in Huckleberry Finn. It's The Killin' of Old Boggs by Colonel Sherburne, but it actually happened right down there.

And he said all writers that I know, they take everything that's ever happened to them and eventually it goes in the material. But this little alleyway here by the building is Dead Man's Alley, well-earned, wide open gambling places, saloons, stabbings in this alleyway. The whole town had that atmosphere and that's why I say a Wild West town.

Not totally lawless, but there's certainly that element. You know, the local is always trying to keep a lid on things and then people coming from who knows where and really they came from all over the world through here. On one occasion an English lord came through here on safari, you know, and that made sense because just like the went to Africa, they came here for American game.

You know, grizzlies, buffalo, bighorn sheep, whatever, you know. And so he came through with his entourage, got off a steamboat, headed on safari. The steamboats, it's part of the lore here. It's one reason the town existed as a trading center. There were no roads in those days, just none.

Just trails. But the Mississippi was their highway here. Huge commercial and transportation vehicle in the center part of the country here. Like Sam Clemons' family, they came up here on the steamboat.

They didn't come cover wagons. He wasn't born here. He was born west of here in a tiny little place called Florida, Monroe County, Missouri.

And I think Florida had about 100 people in it when he was born. They've preserved his house. It's over there as a tourist attraction. It's inside a building and it's a tiny little house. He said, I've always referred to it as a palace, but there are photographs now.

So I shall have to be more guarded. When he was four, they moved here for greater opportunities. And his father built that house over on Hill Street, the White House over there.

And that's where they lived first here. Then after his father died, they were very poor. Can't imagine anyone more poverty-stricken than he was as a boy. And became our first celebrity worldwide. He could get off a train in India and be instantly recognized.

He's a worldwide phenomenon. But he came from this little, little place. In those days, people helped each other out. But he says his mother was not too proud to take any job. She took in washing. His sister gave piano lessons over at the house.

They did literally everything. And then she took him out of school at the start of sixth grade. And he was apprentice to Mr. Ament, who ran a newspaper. The building was right here in this lot. The hotel was over here in that building over on that side. There was a store down below and his office was on the second floor. He didn't get paid anything as an apprentice.

But he got room and board, so that's one less mouth to feed. And he's learning a trade. And he says he has no regrets from those days because right down there is where he learned to write in that newspaper office. And I can throw a stone down there from here. You know, it's just wonderful having that in my backyard. And we've been listening to Richard Gary, who has spent the better part of three decades portraying Twain in a play he's written based on transcripts of Twain's own onstage material.

More from this story in Hannibal, Missouri, the town that created Mark Twain. This is Our American Stories. Hey, there's a better way to fly. Instead of being stuck in endless lines and packed onto planes, try simplifying your travel with Surf Air. Save an average of two hours on every trip and avoid crowded airports with a new way to fly private. With Surf Air, you'll fly from smaller airports closer to your home. There are no lines, no waiting, and no stress. SurfAir.com, the best alternative to commercial air travel that makes flying easy. Get a free quote on your next flight at SurfAir.com.

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That's Zumo.tv. And we return to our American stories and to Richard Gary's storytelling about a small town in Missouri called Hannibal. It happens to also be the place that Mark Twain put on the map. Let's return to Richard. He had a, his mother rented a little slave, Sandy. In all respects, except officially, he became his brother.

Lived in a house over there. I think it's all those experiences that led, you know, to his amazing movement from the culture of his time to someone who created that tiring, heroic black figure. We don't give him enough credit. He's criticized for using the n-word, but oh, he was so far ahead.

This is Racism Central right here. When he grew up, he was willing to examine everything. He, he believed that you needed to examine everything. He said, you need to look at life.

You need to think about it and then make up your own rules. And he said, that's not as easy as it sounds, but I think that's what he did. And he grew up thinking that slavery was God ordained. His father was a slave holder.

Half the town was slave, half were eke. But he, he didn't, as he grew up, he didn't just accept it. He was willing to challenge himself, to think about it. And of course, he had some great influences like Sandy and like Uncle Dannell. He was a slave on his uncle's farm. He was a slave on his uncle's farm. He was a slave on his uncle's farm. He was a slave on his uncle's farm that used to tell them stories every night. He was a master storyteller, not formally educated at all, but he said the most educated man I ever knew. He told them all the Uncle Remus tales long before Joel Chandler Harris wrote them down.

They were folklore. And so he would hold them spellbound. And he said, that good man gave me my love of story and literature single-handedly. He said, he just handed it to me every night I heard him.

And so he's the model for Jim, Uncle Dannell. But all those experiences, he thought about, he pondered. And then I think the catalyst when he went out to California, he saw how the Chinese were being treated and it outraged him. And he took up their cause in the newspaper.

That was his first foray into defense of a minority. And then Huckleberry Finn is into that whole question of slavery and the rights of black men. What you see in Huckleberry Finn is this boy and this man going down the river trying to escape from that hole.

The boy is escaping a drunk, abusive father. And Jim is escaping slavery. And as they go along, those read the book, it slowly dawns on Huckleberry. It slowly dawns on Huckleberry, this is a man.

I've never thought of him as a man, and it's just a little chipping away, chipping away, chipping away. See, they told them in Sunday school that if they didn't tell him to run away, they would go to hell. And that's quite a threat and something that would have a lot of influence on a kid. And they see some lines and Huckleberry says, that might be Cairo. I better go paddle shore and see. So he had made up his mind telling him, but he had already written a letter too. So he pushes off and Jim says, there you go, the old true huck.

You the only white gentleman ever keep his promise, old Jim. He took the tuck out of him and he got to thinking. So he tore up the letter and he said, well, I'll just go to hell. See that, you see, that's when he goes, this is my friend.

This is a human being. I'm not going to do it. I'll go to hell. That's what it means. It's powerful. Now it hits you right.

It's like, it's what I call Hannibal finesse. He takes a two by four and slaps you across the face with it. You know, wake up.

This is what, and anytime you're denigrating one of these people, you know, what are you doing? But what makes it even more powerful is that he came out of all of that where it was just an everyday thing. He's immersed in that racism. I mean, up to his low neck, you know, in it every day.

Yet he comes out of it. And that's part of what I've been fascinated with, you know, this, how that, how did that happen and what, and I think part of it is, is that, that independence here where nobody forces anyone to their point of view here. You can fly your own flag if you want, you know, and it's still here. And I think it used to be more prevalent in America that that was possible. You know, I don't disagree with you.

That's fine. We can still be neighbors. I remember my grandfather saying that.

A man came over. I'm from Tennessee originally. My grandfather had a cotton farm that I worked on growing up. And my grandfather always voted Republican. Now, if you don't know much about the South in those days, that was the protest party. That was the party of Reconstruction. That was anti-racism. And the Democrat Party was the party of Jim Crow and keeping people down.

And the guy came over. See, my great-grandfather fought for the Union. He was born in Ireland, came here, hated slavery, fought for the Union in the war. And so my family had always been Republican there in the South. So this guy comes over and says, Chester, you're going to have to vote Democratic this time. There's just no way you can vote Republican. And my grandfather said, well, there is.

I just go in and mark my ballot. He said, no, you're really going to. I'd hate to get rough on you. And my grandfather said, well, you can get as rough as you want, but we'll still remain friends.

And you'll vote Democrat and I'll vote Republican. And yes, there was a time when such things happened. I think they still happen here today, though maybe not as frequently as we would like. And you were listening to Richard Gary. And my goodness, I don't think there's a guy in America who knows more about the subject of Hannibal, Missouri, or Mark Twain. And again, he has spent the better part of three decades portraying Twain based on Twain's own writing and some of the transcripts of Twain's own on-stage material. The father of American literature, Mark Twain, born on this day in history in 1835. Mark Twain, the town he spent the formative part of his young life. And that's Hannibal, Missouri, the story of both.

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There's a better way to fly private. So you never became a soccer star, but you could still show out during the FIFA World Cup 2022 with cool soccer swag from Frito-Lay, the official USA snack of the FIFA World Cup 2022. Add your picture to the Golden World Soccer Ball, then pass the ball to fellow fans for a chance to score custom swag. Scan the QR code on specially marked bags of Leis, Cheetos, or Doritos, or visit FritoLayScore.com to join the Pass the Ball Challenge.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-01 04:16:19 / 2022-12-01 04:24:13 / 8

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