It was a rainy and gloomy day in old Hannibal, so we were eager to spend some time inside.
And inside we were, going way underground to Mark Twain’s Cave.
Now this was a thrill. The cave is very real, having been discovered in 1819. And it was a very real playground for Sam Clemens. It was a magical place that no modern parent would ever allow a child near, and, even then, its danger was its allure.
But its fame and its most legendary events are imaginary. It shows up often in Mark Twain’s writings, most famously in Tom Sawyer. We saw where Tom and Becky got lost! Where Injun Joe was hiding! Where Injun Joe stashed his ill-gotten gains! Where he died! Wow, it was thrilling.
This is no small baby cave, either. We were in it for well over an hour with a guide and we only touched a part of it – the path outlined in red.
Its miles of limestone cliffs and rocks are very dramatic, but we were happy to have some electric illumination. Candles and lanterns just wouldn’t cut it for me. Our guide demonstrated those effects, and even turned all the lights out. Good thing we don’t have claustrophobia.
This place has always attracted tourists and they started in earnest after Hannibal became a Mark Twain destination, early after Tom made his debut on the public stage. And of course, many of those people felt compelled to leave their mark. What is that compulsion, exactly? Some names are famous. Sam Clemens’s name has yet to be found, but there was the matter of Jesse James, who actually hid out here with his gang at one point in their fugitive escapades, and enjoyed cave life. Jesse even signed his name, but we only saw a picture of it, as the actual signature is being well protected.
Though this cave is made of limestone, it must be a gold mine for the owners – and it is still in the original family of the man who first commercialized it in 1885. For example, we heard that 720 people went through yesterday at $16 a head. And this isn’t even prime tourist season!
I think they have eclipsed Tom and his fence.