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  • My family, extended by grandfather and cousins, went to Hannibal yesterday.

    We drove up on Saturday morning intending to stay the night. The main reason for the trip was to view a performance of Hal Holbrook's one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight". This was given in the auditorium of the Hannibal high school, and was in part a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home museum.

    The museum is an amiable if rather sentimental preservation of the Twain family home, complete with a white wooden fence that is advertised as the model for the famous scene in "Tom Sawyer". I'd seen it before, about twenty five years ago, and although the museum installations looked somewhat more modern, it was much the same yesterday as it was then.

    Certainly not a representation of a pithy performance by Holbook, concentrating largely on politics, religion and the press and proving that nothing has changed at all over hundred years if you look with a sufficiently gimlet eye.

    I enjoyed the show, but it felt a little distant. Ironic, really, considering that Holbrook was reiterating how contemporary Twain's criticisms continue to be.

    My eye was drawn elsewhere.

    To the river.
  • And the railroad.
  • Hannibal is situated in a natural echo bowl, and any sound made in the town reverberates around the surrounding countryside.

    Such amplification made the sound of the diesel locomotives, liberal with their horn blasts, dominate the town.

    I saw a few barges, but a lot of trains. Good reasons for that, the Mississippi River is still low and traffic reduced.

    Naturally, I had to hunt for a Twain quote to cover this particular scenario.

    Substitute "BNSF" for "C B & Q", and you have one.
  • The romance of boating is gone, now. In Hannibal the steamboatman is no longer a god. The youth don't talk river slang any more. Their pride is apparently railways -- which they take a peculiar vanity in reducing to initials ("C B & Q") -- an affectation which prevails all over the west. They roll these initials as a sweet morsel under the tongue.

    - Notebook #20, reprinted in Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Vol. II.
  • Twain never lived long enough to see the truck and trailer do to the railways what the railways did to the waterways, but I find it pleasing that both river and railroad continue to work their magic albeit less fashionably.

    Twain himself declared that he was never happier than he was as a young riverboat pilot before the start of the Civil War.

    We set our own time and our own place and these influence all that follows.

    That, I think, was essence of what this weekend showed me.

    I feel a little wiser tonight.
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